Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nokia: Caught Between A Hard Place And A Bunch of Rocks

There's talk that Nokia will go Android despite its claims to support Symbian.  And is also talking of working with Nintendo or Microsoft using Windows Phone 7.  True or simply wishful thinking among various interested parties, the bottom line is this:  Nokia is still trying to find a way to compete effectively against the iPhone and Android.  The writing has been on the wall for a long time now.

The rumors of Nokia going with Android is interesting.  While I don't like to post rumors, I'm going to skirt the line and look at this from an analytical perspective.  First, Symbian is failing to catch fire outside of strongholds where Nokia has a historical presence.  Even so, those foundations are wavering.  It'll only be a matter of time before they give way to stronger, faster, and more innovative companies like Apple.

But does joining Android make any sense for Nokia?  Just how much more different can Nokia be from Samsung, Motorola, or HTC? I'll give you an example.  Coming out of CES, the main stories are about Android 3, Honeycomb, tablets.  But the bigger story missed is that they are virtually all the same tablet powered by the same OS and a majority of these tablets worth buying are powered by Nvidia's Tegra 2.  

Thus, by switching over to Android, and it's looking more and more likely that is the case, can Nokia suddenly innovate with Android to the point that it can make a compelling device that leaps head of its Android cousins from other companies? And if it manages to do that, can a Nokia tablet jump ahead of Apple's iPad and iOS?

I just don't see how that is going to happen.  Here is what'll happen.  Nokia will slap a skin on top of Android 3 to provide its sense of ownership and its take on the front end UI.  It may have its own music, media, and Android app store.  It may have an 8MP camera while others are using 5MP but that is hardly a feature that will make throngs of savvy mobile warriors switch to Nokia.

Just as it is the same in the tablet market, it'll be the same for Nokia in the smartphone market.  Using Android 2.x will still make it just one of the boys Google has making devices based on its free Android.  

Clearly, this will be a huge coup for Google in convincing the largest cellphone maker to join its camp.  Google will virtually ensure that Android becomes the number one mobile platform overnight.  Good for Google.  Not sure if it's good for Nokia.  However, it'll be bad for these companies:

  • Microsoft.  Trying to battle iOS, it would have to content with a much more powerful Google.  Right now, there is a lack of effort from Redmond in the tablet market.  A Nokia tablet will make a successful assault from Microsoft a year or two from now harder to fathom.
  • HP.  Web OS will make a big splash in February when HP unveils what its got planned.  And I'm am certain there will be a slew of slates and even a couple of smart phones, HP isn't likely to provide a compelling challenge to the iOS ecosystem.  It's more likely that HP's plan of attack will be in enterprise.  And in a world where consumers are bringing their own gears into work, I'm not sure Web OS has the staying power to compete with the big boys.  If anything, HP should have been courting Nokia.  Now, that would be different.
  • RIM.  Playbook got some rave review coming out of CES.  However, it has not been battle tested in the market against the iPad or Android 3.  More ominous is that it lost its head in the US to the iPhone and will be surpassed by Android in 2011.

There is a remote threat to Apple but Android has been a main challenger to its mobile plan from day one.  But here's the interesting part.  Apple may secretly be giddy about the prospect of Nokia joining Android.  The iOS show no sign of slowing.  And joining Android simply makes Nokia just one of the boys who make Android devices, but also eliminates the threat Nokia possess as an individual company.  It would have been more troublesome for Apple had Nokia put its eggs into the WP7 basket, though making devices using Android does not necessarily preclude Nokia from using any other OS.  Still, Nokia will cease to be looked up as a company that is competing in the mobile market but as one of many in the Android camp.

And on talks about working Nintendo, there is nothing that shows us that is happening.  But I really would be interested in Nokia going that route and truly working with a gaming giant than becoming a minion for Google or Microsoft.

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