Nokia exec promises to balance carrier preferences with brand identity

LONDON--When Nokia (NYSE:NOK) releases devices running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows Phone platform in the United States next year, it will try and thread the needle between catering to carriers' desires to put their stamp on the devices and maintaining the purity of the Nokia brand, a senior Nokia executive said.

In an media roundtable interview here on Wednesday shortly after Nokia unveiled its first Windows Phone devices, Kevin Shields, Nokia's senior vice president of program and product management for Windows Phone, said the company will be flexible in catering to carriers' needs but will also stand by its values and brand integrity. His comments highlight one of the challenges for Nokia, especially in the U.S. market: How much should it be willing to compromise with carriers to get their support and how much will it strive to create a new brand identity based around Windows Phone? Shields said Nokia will try not to compromise the user experience in working with carriers.

"At the end of the day, if you go in and mess it up, then you've got nothing," he said. "You have to maintain that core principle."

"I do think there is degrees of freedom where you can address and partner with them on a number of apps that are important to them without slipping into the Android situation where there is ridiculous fragmentation," he said. "We have the ability to have a voice with our products, and in a way it's both our challenge and our opportunity."

In the United States, many phones, particularly those running Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android platform, come pre-packaged with carrier-branded applications derided by some as "bloat-ware." 

It's still unclear which U.S. carriers Nokia will partner with on Windows Phone. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said that Nokia will release LTE and CDMA devices for specific markets, and Nokia has reportedly been working closely with Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) and T-Mobile USA on its first Windows Phone devices, to hit the U.S. next year. Historically, GSM carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have been Nokia's strongest U.S. partners. There were several indications here about a Nokia-Verizon teaming, including a Verizon staffer at Nokia's event and a Nokia marketing official gabbing about how well negotiations are going with Verizon.

Shields said he thinks Nokia still has a long way to go to regain a U.S. market presence and said Nokia is focusing on bringing something different to the market to compete with Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS and Android.

"In the discussion we're having, the message we're bringing resonates," he said. "I think they're [carriers] starting to come to our perspective, which is that there needs to be a third answer, and that third answer can't look like the first answer and can't look like the second answer. We have a strong position on what that answer is."

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