"We're way ahead of them [Apple and
Google]," said Nokia Oyj. (HEL:NOK1V)
President and head of North American operations Chris Weber in an interview
with VentureBeat. He's referring to
his company's planned cloud offerings with new corporate BFF, Microsoft Corp. (MSFT).
I. Full American Launch Pushed to 2012 as Nokia
Works to Build Carrier Relationships
If you listen to Mr. Weber talk, you start to
notice similarities with Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer. Like Mr. Ballmer,
Mr. Weber is blunt and bullish. And from his rhetoric you might not
realize that his company's platform of choice -- Windows Phone 7 -- is in distant
fourth place behind Google Inc. (GOOG), Apple,
and Research In Motion Ltd. (TSE:RIM).
Nokia recently pledged to go
"all in" with Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, stating that all
handsets sold in America would carry the new operating system.
But for all the bravado, Mr. Weber's talk reveals
troubling as well as promising signs. It's hard to fault him for his
enthusiasm, but his revelation that his company's Windows Phone 7 lineup won't
hit most of America until 2012. He says that while shipments "in
volume" remain a year away, the platform will
launch "somewhere" in the U.S. this year, leaving
open the possibility of a launch in one market, or a handful of markets.
The message seems ominous -- no back-to-school WP7
sales for Nokia; no holiday WP7 sales for Nokia; virtually no 2011 WP7 sales for
Nokia. So why the potentially disastrous delay?
Mr. Weber is fresh blood at Nokia. Like new
CEO Stephen Elop, he comes from an executive history at Microsoft, where he
served as head of enterprise sales. And like Mr. Elop, some critics might
call him a "trojan horse". And he's been busy.
Of the 14 executives reporting directly to him,
Mr. Weber reports replacing approximately "10 to 11" of them.
That's a roughly 80 percent turnover rate.
But Mr. Weber insists the change has been for the
best. One major shift he's working to accomplish is to switch Nokia from
the mindset of selling stand-alone unlocked devices to selling
carrier-subsidized phones -- something most of his competitors have long done.
Nokia's unusual sales model has been part of what
has turned off U.S. buyers in the past, so it seems pretty logical to change
it. But it's also part of what is delaying Nokia's Windows Phone 7 launch
till next year. Relationships with carriers don't sprout up overnight.
II. Nokia Loves Microsoft, But Does Microsoft
Speaking of relationships, Nokia's loyalty and close
partnership with Microsoft is appearing increasingly curious, in that it's mostly a
one-way street. Microsoft is showing little interest in giving Nokia
"exclusive perks", which one might expect.
It's unclear exactly how Nokia is going to
differentiate itself from competitive Windows Phone 7.1 "Mango"
designs from other partners like Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (SEO:005930), HTC Corp. (SEO:066570), and LG Electronics (SEO:066570). Nokia claims it will do so
via battery life and imaging quality (which may include superior photo-shooting
tech or perhaps some high-res display magic).
That's plausible, but it doesn't give Nokia much
of an edge. Most of Mr. Weber's enthusiasm covers base elements of Mango,
not his company's phones. For example he blasts Android and Apple's iOS,
saying that they are "outdated" in basing their phone on the app
grid, rather than interactive widgets like Microsoft's phone.
Microsoft does have perhaps the most
innovative interface on the market. And Mango will bring improved call
quality and host
of other fascinating features. Mr. Weber demoed one during his
interview -- touch free voice commands. When the phone receives some sort
of input, the user can interact with it (say respond to a text message), all
without ever touching the phone. This is similar to Android's
voice-to-text features, but takes things even a step farther by removing the
touch requirement from the equation.
Mr. Weber also plugged Microsoft's SkyDrive, which
offers WP7 users 25 GB of cloud storage space. He also cited the WP7
version of Microsoft Office 365 -- as another strong potential selling point of
Ultimately what's good for the goose may be good
for the gander. If Microsoft can finally break through in sales, Nokia
may be dragged along, even if it's not necessarily outselling its WP7 peers.
HTC demonstrated this approach with Android, using it to rise from
relative obscurity to a spot as one of the world's top phone makers.
So for all the smack talk and for all troublesome
delays, Nokia does prepare to have some good stuff in store and be making some
necessary changes. With any luck 2012 could prove a much better year for
the company than its