Ris­ing from the dead

A former tech gi­ant hopes a tie-up with Mi­crosoft will safe­guard its fu­ture, writes Rod Ch­ester

Herald Sun - Switched On - - Gadgets -

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.

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