Nokia held a press event this morning in Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress where they announced new phones and services that try to suggest the company is back on track for growth and better profitability. One of the new devices is Nokia 808 PureView that has the social web ablaze with comments and aspiration. The device holds an astonishing 41 Megapixel camera that crunches out 5 Megapixel photos with very little noise.
In addition to the mother of all camera phones, Nokia announced three new Asha devices as well as a lower end Nokia Lumia 610. All of the Asha devices, which are targeted at the next billion mobile phone users, will be on sale during Q2 for less than €100 (before taxes and subsidies).
Nokia has also announced partnerships with Groupon and Voddler. With Groupon, the company plans to enable location based discounts to consumers. As for Voddler, Nokia has signed to become the sole smartphone partner of the Swedish video streaming service to market its offering to millions of new users in Europe.
In announcing the new devices and partnerships, Nokia also announced a bunch of services including Nokia Transport that enables public transportation guidance in over 500 cities world wide.
Stephen Elop, Nokia’s CEO, outlined clearly in his talk that “The current year was very challenging, but very exciting for Nokia”.
While it is true that Nokia may be back on track with better devices, its technological superiority over its competitors is still hiding the future potential of the company. In other words, we are still left in the cold regarding what are some of the key areas the company is focusing on solving.
Nokia titled its press release from this morning as “Nokia advances on its new strategic direction” with a comment from Stephen Elop that the company is on “a new journey to build great mobile devices”. Unfortunately, for such a large and powerful company, their ambition level should be higher. I’m willing to bet that great mobile devices alone, will not be enough. In the future, people are not paying for devices that excel in individual areas of use, but for superior overall experiences that intertwine across hardware and services.
Technologically, the company has always built magnificent products or mobile devices as Elop himself put it. Over the years Nokia phones have become known for their rock solid performance, be it battery life or the quality of the camera. In the physical sense, the phones have become synonyms for trusted workhorses that get the job done.
One area where the company has clearly lacked is its performance in the quality of their software. The Symbian operating system, while still officially on the company’s agenda, has been moved to run the lowend feature phones for the next billion users.
The Windows Phone platform is clearly a better choice for highend devices than Symbian or Meego, for that matter. The reason is simple – with Microsoft’s knowledge in software, Nokia has a clear chance at improving its marketshare and profitability.
I’m lucky I watched the stream from the press event, because if I had been present I too would most likely have been blinded by the technologically advanced phones and not seen that the company still lacks a clear direction where it wants to go. The bigger potential of its partnership with Microsoft has not yet been communicated clearly enough to make us all understand what it is the company wants to achieve. Let me explain.
It is on track building great mobile phones with both Symbian and Windows Phone, but it tries to achieve this in almost all areas of potential use.
Apple’s marketshare isn’t that of Nokia’s, but its products are said to be the benchmark in many areas because it focuses in positioning the company to solve a few key challenges for people. One of these is to become the hub of people’s digital lifestyles (Steve Jobs outlined this in a keynote in Macworld 2001). Due to its clear communication and execution of its strategy, people are willing to pay huge premiums for Apple’s products. (Apologies for giving a clichéd example with Apple, but the Android ecosystem is even more lost for its future.)
The difference between Nokia and Apple in my opinion aren’t in the user interfaces of the devices the two companies manufacture. It’s in the ways they build on their existing success. Apple’s products leverage a closed ecosystem where each new feature or product builds on existing successful products.
It may seem Nokia is doing a lot of similar things, but the difference is that all these products and additions to the portfolio seem to be almost individual improvements. And therefore, despite building great technological devices without building growing synergies between themselves they remain individual improvements with little benefit to the end user.
Based on today’s announcement for example, a consumer would now have to decide whether they want a killer camera phone (Nokia PureView) or a great lowend smartphone (Lumia 610).
As services become more intertwined and a deeper part of our lives, great technological devices will not be enough in the future. They are merely a window into the digital world of services. Nokia has to have a bigger vision that it is capable of clearly communicating across in such a way where it will play a big role in.
Today’s announcements on partnering with Groupon and Voddler are good examples of this. While they are great improvements to the ways people can now use Nokia phones – they seem like individual partnerships that are hard to attach to a bigger strategic roadmap.
To partially help in devising this strategy and communicating it across – one could ask; once the next billion mobile phone users are online – what are they going to do there where Nokia plays a key role in?