The online incarnation of the UK-based newspaper, the Guardian, carries an interesting article today in which it cites unnamed sources as saying that Nokia is planning to launch a new touchscreen handset that will use the Android open-source Operating System (OS) software. Said to be unveiled at the Nokia World shindig in September, the Android-based phone would ostensibly revive Nokia’s fortunes in the smartphone segment.
Certainly, Nokia’s share of the smartphone market is slipping, as rivals such as Apple and RIM take larger slices of the pie with their consumer-centric iPhone and BlackBerry devices. With offerings such as its popular N96 and burgeoning eseries products, Nokia accounted for just under 50% of the smartphone market (in terms of shipment volumes) at the end of 2007. This had fallen to a little over 43% by the end of 2008 and to around 41% by the end of March this year, according to my numbers.
Figures for the second quarter will begin to filter through soon, but I’m guessing that Nokia’s share of the smartphone market will have fallen to below 40%, despite strong sales of its new high-end product, the N97. More on that in future blogs, once all the numbers are out…
Nevertheless, it’s clear that Nokia is under serious pressure to perform right now. But would the company really consider using Android for a ‘turnaround’ product?
Nokia’s spent a lot of time and money acquiring the former Symbian business and reincarnating the OS as an open-source offering. Symbian also underpins a lot of the software and value-added services Nokia is bringing to the market as part of its aim to become a key provider of mobile broadband services (browsing, entertainment, commerce, location-based information, etc). There’s also the need for a degree of backwards-compatibility between old and new Nokia devices, to facilitate trouble-free upgrades by customers.
Most important, though, is the fact that Symbian works and that many millions of smartphone users are familiar and comfortable with using the OS and associated user interfaces.
That’s not to say that Android and other OSs such as Mac OS don’t work or are in any way inferior, because that’s clearly not so. But I’d be very surprised to see Nokia turn to Android anytime soon. Heck, Nokia’s not even a member of the Open Handset Alliance (the partnership of Android developers)!
But, increasingly, it’s looking as though Nokia has a problem on its hands in terms of sustaining brand loyalty and finding ways of keeping customers coming to it for all their mobile broadband requirements. The freshly-minted N97 is every inch the iPhone rival, yet it is Apple’s phenomenally popular and cannily-marketed App Store that is continuing to drive demand for the upstart, rather than the look, feel or functionality of the device. The comparatively frugal modifications for the newest software and hardware iterations of the iPhone give credence to this belief.
So, would Android make Nokia’s smartphones a smarter investment? I don’t think so. Not unless the revamped open-source Symbian falls short of user expectations and needs.
Tags: Android, App Store, Apple, BlackBerry, iPhone, mobile devices, mobile phones, N97, Nokia, Open Handset Alliance, open source, operating system, OS, Research In Motion, RIM, smartphones, Symbian, wireless broadband