Think different – Nokia was the Apple of mobile phones

What many of you might not know is that the reason Nokia became the biggest mobile phone manufacturer is because of Apple. When all their competitors were standing still, Nokia decided to think a bit differently. This story was one of the hidden gems in “Fast Strategy“, a book co-authored by Mikko Kosonen, a former executive at Nokia, and it tells the story how Nokia was able to challenge Motorola, Ericsson and other big players of yesteryear.

“When everyone saw mobile telephony as a professional service, Nokia’s leadership saw mobile phones as consumer – almost fashion – products. Rather than predict five or ten percent maximum penetration rate, Nokia quickly imagined everyone in the world having one – or why not several? – mobile phones for personal as well as professional use.” (page 3)

“[On the importance of strategic insight] Some insight may result from intense personal awareness and conviction, such as Pekka Ala-Pieitilä at Nokia being an avid Mac user and seeing the potential for Nokia to turn mobile phones into mass market consumer goods the way Apple was doing for personal computers.” (page 21)

One has to wonder why this Mac-love was only visible in the strategic thinking while Nokia’s Mac-support (PC Suite and other things) has been abysmal throughout the years.

So, what has changed so dramatically that blogs and business newspapers are declaring doom on Nokia? First of all, Nokia’s DNA changed the moment the became #1 mobile phone manufacturer in the world. Before that they were a challenger, trying out

Nokia 1100, the best selling consumer electronics device in the world

The Nokia 1100, the best selling consumer electronics device in the world

different things and taking risks. But now they are playing defensive, trying to maintain their market share. According to Kosonen, Nokia is trying to counter this by being “strategically agile”.

But it isn’t just that. The backwaters of mobile innovation, USA, suddenly became relevant. I would argue that this is mostly due to Blackberry and iPhone and the huge domestic market. Also, one has to remember that the US is overpresented on the internet, so once the web broke through to mobile devices and Apple started to market the idea of software apps on mobile devices, things seemed to change a bit. Nokia has never been strong in the US, or for that matter in any market where consumers do not choose their own phones and where Nokia has never been able to work with operators. That’s probably the only thing that has been constant.

Couple of weeks ago yet another analyst group forecasted how Apple could pass Nokia in as soon as 2011. Now, this fantasy was based on how iPod users would convert to iPhone users and how Apple should launch low-cost iPhones (especially to developing countries) and sell customized ringtones and overall act in a non-Apple way (and eerily like Nokia). And yet, we’re still talking about smart phones which so far represent a tiny minority of total mobile market.

Sure, Nokia needs to get its act together, especially on the services front, but it’s too early to say that they’re doomed. Especially when you consider that Nokia is pretty strong in the developing countries. My prediction is that it’s not Nokia that will be irrelevant in the mobile phone market in the future, but the US market ‘s importance will fade and it is the mobile players that win elsewhere that continue to matter. The sheer size of mobile phone markets in Africa just boggles the mind.

In the new world of the mobile web, Nokia’s biggest problem is their own legacy, something that slowed Ericsson and Motorola down when Nokia was decided to bring mobile phones to the masses. Apple, on the other hand has shown that it can take advantage of market discontinuities in many different markets where traditional barriers to entry are crumbling down.

“For decades, the dominant players were EMI and RCA, and more recently Sony Music, which had built up the assets and capabilities … In today’s digital world, however, companies like Apple, which have none of the traditional music industry capabilities, are becoming leading players.”

In summary, it’s all about bringing technology to the masses. Apple did that for smartphones, but Nokia, inspired by Apple’s success bringing personal computing to masses, did and continues to do that for mobile phones. It’s just Nokia struggles with the US and smartphones for the rest of us. In Fast Strategy, Cisco’s Corporate Vice President Strategic Allainces, Steve Steinhilber is quoted to have said “…five years ago could Nokia really have expected Apple to be the main threat to their high end phone business?”


Related posts:

  1. Why Nokia will stay on Symbian and others have Android phones
  2. iPhone 3G, enterprise and the importance of mobile operator
  3. Microsoft will not FOLLOW Apple in phones
  4. The mobile web is knocking on our doors
  5. Where I want mobile phones to (d)evolve towards

One Response to “Think different – Nokia was the Apple of mobile phones”

  1. vincentvw says:

    are we doing synchronised blogging now (ref. to the 1-hour difference in posting)? Cool! :)

    Look forward to the next postS.

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