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Nokia's Burning Ships strategy

In the recent series of exposés on Nokia’s new strategy I sought to paint a background for what caused such a dramatic decision:

This gives a backdrop to the decision, but it does not explain the most crucial part of the decision: why did Stephen Elop decide to maintain an exclusive platform for Nokia rather than a multi-platform approach as chosen by successful competitors such as HTC, Samsung and Sony Ericsson.

Where is the Windows Phone Tablet?

The Windows Phone platform currently has hardware specifications that imply a cellular phone device. What is interesting in light of the new WebOS TouchPad, the newly announced Android tablets, the RIM Playbook and the iPad is that this supposed “third horse” of Windows Phone has no hint of present or future presence in the tablet form factor.

That might have something to do with the plans to move Windows to the tablet form factor. Perhaps Microsoft thinks that pocket size devices deserve a separate operating system, platform and ecosystem than portable mobile computers. Perhaps Microsoft plans to have two separate interfaces for these tablets (slates vs. tablets?) Then again, Ballmer held up a Windows Phone and said “This is Windows too.”

The price of Windows Phone: Nokia's evaporating smartphone share

In the last quarter Nokia sold 28.3 million Symbian phones. The average selling price was €156 or approximately $210. That price was down 17% year-on-year.

According to the company,

The 17% year-on-year decline in our converged mobile devices ASPs was mainly driven by general price erosion and an increase in the proportion of lower-priced converged mobile devices sales.

ASP erosion has been a fact of life across all of Nokia’s products for quite some time, checked only by the increasing mix of smartphones. However the smartphones it sells have been consistently positioned for lower price points. This is consistent with Nokia’s long-term goal of serving “billions” of users.

The trouble with the new strategy is that the Windows Phone product lines currently in the market are not likely to be priced in the $200 range. The reason is that the minimum specifications for Windows Phone 7 are:

Who will buy the next 150 million Symbian smartphones?

Stephen Elop stated that Nokia expects to sell approximately 150 million more Symbian devices before the transition to Windows Phone is complete. Assuming that figure is achievable (which is far from certain) I tried to understand how that figure will affect the volume and share numbers for Nokia in the coming years.

It’s very likely that the first WP phones will not ship in large volumes until 2012. Product development cycles being what they are, unless there is an ODM rebranding (i.e. taking an HTC phone and gluing a Nokia sticker on it) the minimum development time is at least 12 months. Keep in mind that Nokia does not have engineers to build such a product today and hiring them alone can take months.

The following two charts show what a two year forecast that adds up to 150 million Symbian devices looks like. I assumed Windows Phones begin to ship in 2012 and, keeping in mind that WP7 is designed for a higher hardware specification than the current Symbian phones, I show a modest ramp for a total of 15 million units in the first year.

Nokia employs as many people to develop its smartphone software as Apple does to develop all its products

In a recent post I pointed out that Apple’s R&D was about 2.2% of sales in the last quarter. Bernstein took a look at the R&D for Nokia and presented a chart showing the difference between the mobile industry players in terms of total expenditure on R&D.

I took inspiration from that to plot the Devices R&D for both Nokia and Apple over the entire 2010 period. I also compared that with sales and computed the ratio between R&D and sales.

The result is shown in the chart on the left.

Bottom line: Nokia spent 10.2% of phone sales in 2010 on phone R&D while Apple spent 2.5%.

Bernstein goes on to argue that at least for Devices,

Nokia spent $3.9bn in R&D in 2010, almost 3x the average of its peers, 31% of the industry’s R&D total spending, for an output that we can qualify as visibly disappointing.

To relate the $3.9 billion for Devices into head count, they estimate that Symbian projects employ 6,200 people; MeeGo and Qt 1,800; Services 1,800; and S40 1,800. Hardware headcount is assumed to be 4,700 and 900 more for fundamental research.

Stephen Elop's ecosystem messages

Yesterday I made my predictions on Nokia’s new platform strategy. They should  be treated as pure guesswork, but they are informed guesses. I based them on public information.

That information comes in the form of statements from Nokia’s CEO at the earnings call. I made a table of all the statements that dealt with platform decisions and my interpretations of those statements.

You may do your own interpretation, but to me there is significant evidence here to support my predictions.

Predictions on Nokia's new platform strategy: new OS for the US

Nokia must compete on an ecosystem to ecosystem basis.

In addition to great device experiences we must build, capitalize and/or join a competitive ecosystem. The ecosystem approach we select must be comprehensive and cover a wide range of utilities and services that customers expect today and anticipate in the future.

Nokia CEO Discusses Q4 2010 Results – Earnings Call Transcript – Seeking Alpha

These kind of statements are signaling that there will be fundamental changes announced.

Here are my guesses for the February 11 announcement:

Were Nokia and Symbian always inter-dependent?

Several readers pointed out that in my discussion on the market share of modular vs. inter-dependent market shares for smartphones, Nokia was incorrectly classified as having an inter-dependent software architecture since the Symbian platform is/was a modular component.

The problem is that the relationship between Symbian and Nokia is not that of independent modules. Nominally, the two are independent and mutually exclusive, but, in practice, Symbian has always been so heavily dependent and influenced by Nokia that it’s never been possible to declare its governance fully independent.

Nokia's moderate-intelligence-phone performance

A complete market overview will follow when all the top tier vendors report the last quarter, but in the mean-time here are some data that are available:

Smartphone volumes for Nokia, Apple and RIM:

NYT blames yet another culprit: Nokia’s Culture of Complacency

“I am sure there are things we could have done better and innovations we missed,” Ms. Suominen added. “But that happens to all companies. We have been very successful with some other innovations.”

She cited Nokia’s large patent portfolio and its 770 Internet Tablet, a compact, flat-screen device without a phone, released in 2005. It worked with a pen stylus and was made for Internet browsing but is no longer sold.

via Nokia’s New Chief Faces a Culture of Complacency – NYTimes.com.

If I may suggest a better list of innovations for Nokia to stand behind:

  1. The first GSM call in 1991 was made on a Nokia phone and a Nokia network
  2. The first mass-market smartphone, the Communicator in 1998
  3. First compact smartphone, the 7650 in 2002.

While these innovations and “firsts” happened many years ago, Nokia’s ability to innovate is just as important at the low end. Nokia was the first company to address the lowest tiers of the market with over a billion customers served. This was no small feat and many observers faulted the strategy when it began in the middle of the decade.

I would not discount the difficulty and determination required in reaching those customers. Engineering a profitable low end product is as hard if not harder than engineering a high end superphone. More importantly, you have to find a way to distribute to these hard-to-reach customers and find ways to make the product useful, usable and affordable. Were it not for these efforts, the company would be facing collapse today, similar to the fate of Motorola or Ericsson: squeezed in the mid-range.

Blaming “culture” is nothing more than suggesting bad management. The culture of Nokia did not change between the few years when it was successful and the years when it was not.

The challenge Nokia faces is not complacency. It’s that the business model for selling voice-oriented phones is diametrically opposed to the business model for selling data-oriented phones. In one case you cooperate with and sustain operators, in the other you compete with and disrupt them.  It looks damn near impossible to do both with the same organization. Everything must be done differently. The real problem is that Nokia has not realized this and therefore can’t build its own replacement.