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Nokia welcomes Android developers

Barcelona, Spain – Today at Mobile World Congress, Nokia unveiled five new affordable handsets including a new family of smartphones debuting on the Nokia X software platform. Based on the Android Open Source Project AOSP, and backed by Nokias deep ties with operators, the Nokia X platform gives AndroidTM developers the chance to tap into, and profit from, a rapidly expanding part of the market.

via Nokia welcomes Android developers; expands global developer footprint with momentum across Lumia and Asha » Nokia – Press.

It’s worth remembering the distinction between operating systems, platforms and ecosystems.

Today’s announcement is consistent with the declaration of Nokia is engaged in a “war of ecosystems.” Note that this is in contrast to “a war of platforms” or a “battle of operating systems” or a “competition of devices.”

Devices are commoditizing, operating systems are commodities and the Android platform is a commodity. Value will not be captured in any of these technology modules. Ecosystems are another matter. It’s where Facebook (and its acquisitions) reside. It’s where Google lives and it’s where iTunes has been for a decade.

Nokia’s adoption of AOSP as an operating system is consistent with the ecosystem strategy set forth three years ago, and is also consistent with Microsoft’s competitive strategy.

Which is why I believe Microsoft is not only comfortable with this development but had agreed to it over a year ago when work on this initiative was already well under way.

Nokia's price for exclusivity

Days after Nokia announced the end of life for the Symbian platform I wrote a post titled Who will buy the next 150 million Symbian smartphones? The reference was to claim by management that before there would be a complete transition to Windows Phone, 150 million legacy Symbian phones would be sold, keeping the company financially stable before the new ecosystem took root.

I reproduce the original forecast I made below with the addition of what actually happened.

Nokia's Lumia brand strategy for the US

Last July I asked the question “How many Lumia phones were shipped in the US?

My answer was 630k through the first half of this year.

I revisit this question following Nokia’s latest quarterly report.

As a quick review, Nokia reported the following performance for its mobile phones operations:

 

The most worrying thing of all however is that Nokia’s smartphone performance has collapsed. With only 6.3 million units shipped, the company may be the worst performer among eight competitors I track. They were below RIM’s shipment total.

What will happen to Nokia?

There is no shortage of information about what happens to companies in distress. The cause of distress varies widely and is often not well understood but the actions and symptoms of distress are very consistent. We can look at examples in each industry, even in each product category for a rich set of distressed company data.

For over a year I’ve been chronicling the decline of incumbents in the mobile phone industry. However, decline cannot continue indefinitely. At some point a company “exits” the industry. Either through a sale or divestiture or, rarely bankruptcy. The list of exits is already long. The length and the correlation between exit and the lack of recovery implies that Nokia will also exit.

But how, exactly?

Will Nokia be acquired? If so, then by whom? What other options exist? How can we analyze this?

Forecasting Nokia's Windows Phone sales and Microsoft's mobile customer acquisition cost

Our agreement with Microsoft includes platform support payments from Microsoft to us as well as software royalty payments from us to Microsoft. In the first quarter 2012, we received a quarterly platform support payment of USD 250 million (approximately EUR 189 million). We have a competitive software royalty structure, which includes minimum software royalty commitments. Over the life of the agreement, both the platform support payments and the minimum software royalty commitments are expected to measure in the billions of US Dollars. The total amount of the platform support payments is expected to slightly exceed the total amount of the minimum software royalty commitments.

From Nokia’s Q1 2012 financial interim report

The figure of $250 million for Q1 is the same as the amount Nokia received for “platform support” in Q4 2011. This means Microsoft has paid $500 million over two quarters. During the same time frame Nokia shipped approximately three million Windows Phone devices. The average cost to Microsoft to acquire a Nokia Windows Phone user is therefore $167 per user. This is down from $250/user in the last quarter.[1]

If the royalty is equivalent to a license fee then the more interesting question is how and when will the royalty payments nearly match the platform support payments as expected. This might give us an estimate of what both parties are expecting from the relationship.

Nokia's evaporating brand value

Nokia reported Q1 results following very closely the warning issued last week.

There were few surprises. There is much more detail in terms of regional performance which might be a better indicator of how the smartphone strategy is playing out. I plotted the data in three charts.

Regional Sales Value

A year ago Europe and China were nearly equally valuable as regions to Nokia (€2.1 billion and €1.9 billion, respectively). Even though sales fell across all regions, China fell so much that it has become the fourth in value and nearly the same value as Latin America (€577 million for China vs. €542 million for Latin America). This is a significant reversal for a very important market. The drop in value is a staggering 70%. Is there some clue as to what caused this?

How Samsung beat Nokia

Nokia currently estimates that Devices & Services net sales in the first quarter 2012 were EUR 4.2 billion, comprised of Mobile Phones net sales of EUR 2.3 billion (71 million units), Smart Devices net sales of EUR 1.7 billion (12 million units),

via Nokia lowers Devices & Services first quarter 2012 outlook and provides second quarter 2012 outlook » Nokia – Press.

We don’t have the total number of Samsung shipments, however estimates exist. They range between 41 and 44 million smartphones and 44 and 47 million feature phones. The low end of that range would imply Samsung shipped 85 million phones.

Nokia’s press release indicates that it shipped 83 million.

This would be the first quarter that Samsung beat Nokia in total phone shipments. It had already overtaken Nokia in sales volume and profitability last year but this is the most cited metric of market performance: being the biggest in volume. Here is the tale of the shipments:

How did this happen?

Nokia vs. Android

Two years ago Nokia sold 30% of its smartphones in Western Europe. Today it sells 15% in that market. Its unit shipments went from 5 million to about half that and its market share went from 55% to 11%. Its rank in the market went from first to fifth.

The fall is exceptional and dramatic. The two charts below show smartphone market shares. The top chart shows global share and the second shows Western European smartphone shares (European share data sourced from IDC).

The other perspective is shown the the following chart which shows actual units shipped.

Nokia a trop écouté les réseaux télécoms

My thanks to Robert van Apeldoorn, journalist for Trends Tendances Magazine, for asking good questions. My responses are reproduced below. The article (in French) is titled “Nokia a trop écouté les réseaux télécoms” and can be found in the June 23rd edition of the magazine along with more details in the article “Comment Nokia peut-il renaître?”.

-About your post “Does the phone market forgive failure”, that puts forward the idea that all mobile device vendors experiencing losses never really recover… It seems that this possible “rule” is more severe than in the computer industry. If Digital Equipement, Compaq, WordPerfect did fail, IBM and, yes, Apple, did survive failure and rebound strongly. Do you think that there is a difference between the industries? What makes the failures more lethal in the mobile device market ?

The observation is unique to the mobile phone market and even there it’s only an observation not a rule. It could be that Nokia will be the first mobile phone company that will recover from severe crisis, but history shows it to be very unlikely. I try to shed some light on the reasons why it’s unlikely and what makes the mobile phone market so unforgiving. I think much of the problem rests with the fact that mobile phones are sold indirectly, through intermediaries who are amplifying both success and failure. A company like Apple was able to recover in the computer industry because it launched new products like iPod which could be sold directly to consumers. It had to convince the consumer and only the consumer. Having to convince a distributor, retailer, value added reseller, operator and consumer would be much more difficult. These intermediaries are “institutional” buyers who are risk averse and have low tolerance for untested ideas. Institutional buyers need to think about dealing with other people’s money not just their own so they are doing the right thing from their point of view.

Nokia needs to persuade first operators, then distributors and then consumers that its new products are great (even though maybe the old ones were not so great.) That’s tough. Apple works in the other direction. It creates consumer demand then “sells” that demand to the intermediaries as needed.

These intermediaries (which Steve Jobs famously called “orifices” to the market)

Is Nokia worth less than Skype?

Yesterday Nokia warned that its guidance for the quarter and the year were “no longer valid.” The surprise to me is that management was surprised. In February I warned that even if Nokia could fool consumers into buying products whose platform was publicly executed, distributors and operators would not likely go along with the deception. Pricing collapse is the proof of a channel breakdown.

That seemed predictable. What I struggled with was how Nokia itself could present such an optimistic forecast. Absent any explanation, Nokia’s forecast of robust sales for Symbian products into the near future belies a failure of understanding of the dynamics of platforms and especially the impact of destruction of trust and brand value that commenced in February. Distress is a slippery slope and it does not model well in a spreadsheet. It takes a leap of non-linear faith to predict the piling-on effect on the up- and the down-side.

Faith in the company’s guidance meant that the market reacted to the bad news by discounting Nokia down to a market cap of $26.7 billion. One analyst even cut his target price down to $4/share, 57% of yesterday’s close. How can this fair? What is Nokia’s phone business worth?