Nokia regains its fighting spirit

Having your chairman and head of software quit on the eve of your annual developer conference isn’t the normal way to open a show.
That’s how Nokia kicked off Nokia World in London this week, with the resignations of Anssi Vanjoki on Monday and Jorma Ollila Tuesday.
Bizarrely, though, the timing paid off.
An apparently rejuvenated Niklas Savander, executive vice-president, of markets, proudly proclaimed that Nokia makes no apology “for the fact that we’re not Apple or Google or anyone else,” pointing out that the firm still knows how to sell a handset or two with sales of 260,000 smartphones per day.
Savander was combative enough to twist a Steve Jobs catchphrase into a mocking comment on the iPhone 4’s antenna problems, as he declared the firm had begun its “fight back to smartphone leadership.”
His optimism could stem from the arrival of fresh blood at the top of the firm, with the resignations of Vanjoki and Ollila making fundamental change in the company’s direction almost inevitable, said.
Canadian-born Stephen Elop will be the firm’s first non-Finnish CEO when he takes over next week, and will provide much-needed knowledge of the US market where Nokia currently underperforms.
That makes it conceivable that Nokia might appoint staff from other markets where it hopes to improve its business – for example emerging markets, which remain a key focus for the firm.
It unveiled a slew of mid-tier feature phones and low-priced units designed to “maintain its leadership in voice and data for the masses,” mobile phones boss Mary McDowell said.
But its high-end presence remains a concern, with only three new smartphones running the latest Symbian ^3 operating system unveiled, bringing the tally to four models including the N8.
Nokia attempted to woo developers with talk of more monetization opportunities courtesy of simplified Symbian development software, free apps signing, and in-app billing, which was enabled in a refreshed Ovi Store.
Its other selling point, though, remains the reach of the platform.
Forum Nokia vice president Purnima Kochikar said the firm has sold 175 million Symbian handsets, most of which can download the new development SDK.
For all that, the fact remains that Android and iOS are homing in fast on Symbian’s market share.
Gartner predicts Android will have the second-largest market share of all major operating systems in 2010 behind Symbian, and will be challenging for the lead by 2014 with a market share of 29.6% compared to Symbian’s 30.2%.
Vanjoki immediately ruled out the prospect of running rival software when he took the helm at Nokia’s mobile solutions division in July, specifically denying rumors of an Android Nokia.
“Symbian and MeeGo are the best software for our smartest devices. As such, we have no plans to use any other software,” he said.
However, Informa Telecoms & Media analyst Gavin Byrne believes Nokia may reconsider its stance on Android, particularly if it continues to underperform in the “lucrative and fast-growing smartphone sector.”
Even without Vanjoki’s departure, a switch in tack from Nokia is not beyond the realms of possibility.
After all, this is the same “unique” Nokia that once declared it would never work with Qualcomm – and look how that turned out.