Rising from the dead
A former tech giant hopes a tie-up with Microsoft will safeguard its future, writes Rod Chester
NOKIA’S plan to rise from the ashes is to stick with Microsoft’s Windows on its phones but to follow Apple’s system of offering an ‘‘ ecosystem’’ of products that could include a tablet.
Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop visited Australia to outline his vision of how the once-dominant company can claw its way back to a doubledigit market share.
Elop is unwilling to put a timeframe on that goal and the challenge is substantial.
Only 2.4 per cent of mobile phones sold worldwide in the last quarter of 2012 were Windows phones, compared with 72.4 per cent for Google Android and 13.9 per cent for Apple.
Nokia’s first step towards widening its product range is the addition of the Lumia 620, available in Australia soon for $329. The budget version of the Lumia 920 and 820 model phones is aimed at young users and comes with a removable two-tone back.
In the longer term, Elop says Nokia will have a broad portfolio that could include a tablet, perhaps 7-inch and 10-inch models similar to Apple’s iPad range.
‘‘ We haven’t announced tablets at this point but it’s something we’re clearly looking at very closely,’’ Elop says.
‘‘ We’re studying the market. Microsoft has introduced the Surface tablet, so we’re trying to learn from that and understanding what’s the right way to participate and at what point of time.’’
Since Elop took over Nokia in late 2010, he has overseen a dramatic change, starting with his company-wide memo in which he described Nokia as being on a ‘‘ burning platform’’ and faced with staying and perishing in the flames or leaping for a new direction.
His leap meant Nokia phased out the Symbian and MeeGo operating systems and aligned with Microsoft as the company’s favoured partner for Windows phones.
The reaction to Elop’s agenda has been passionate, with some praising him as the company’s saviour while others lambast him as having thrown the baby out with the bathwater in ditching Nokia’s software.
Elop says he doesn’t Google himself often as ‘‘ it’s really not helpful’’, but he is not backing away from the decision to pair Nokia with Windows.
‘‘ When we made the decision to place a bet on Windows Phone it was very clear to me that we had to — as quickly and as aggressively as we possibly could — shift the focus of the company into a new direction,’’ he says.
Our effort is heavily biased towards those things that make us stand out
‘‘ When a business person or a consumer is purchasing a smartphone today, what they are actually buying is much more than what you see in your hand.
‘‘ They’re also buying the full range of applications that may be available for the device. They’re buying all of the cloud-based services that are required to make this a complete experience. Mapping, navigation, music, entertainment, unified communications, office productivity, on and on.’’
Elop says Nokia is offering an ecosystem that hopes to be seen as the main alternative to Apple’s iOS or the Android system on Samsung devices.
‘‘ Anyone coming into the market today with something new, in order to be successful, I believe, will need that whole ecosystem and there’s a lot more to it than just the device itself,’’ he says.
Elop says before switching to Windows, Nokia was investing resources into its own operating systems which he called ‘‘ underlying plumbing’’. That effort, he says, was misdirected because it was not the area where the company would win or lose the marketshare battle.
‘‘ Our research and development effort is now heavily biased towards those things that make us stand out,’’ Elop says.
Two of those key areas, which Elop emphasised within minutes of walking into a room of Australian journalists, were Nokia’s strength in mapping, particularly compared with the flop of Apple Maps, and the Lumia 920’s capabilities as a camera.
His visit to Australia came days after the launch of the new BlackBerry phone and operating system.
The Canadian Nokia chief declined to comment directly on BlackBerry, but he pointed out the area where he feels Nokia holds the advantage.
‘‘ Photography is one example where we can make a big difference and you can put our device next to everyone else, including some of the ones just announced in the last day or so, and say, ‘ Boom, this is so much better’,’’ he says.
This new approach of focusing on areas of advantage, Elop says, has made Nokia more creative and was reflected in the record number of patents Nokia filed last year. Messiah: Stephen Elop has been praised for taking Nokia in a new direction.