The Competition: Can Nokia Get it Together and Challenge the iPhone?

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Interesting and contrasting set of blog opinions, as Engadget columnist and analyst Michael Gartenberg asks the difficult question "What's the future of Nokia?" and SPE's own Matt Miller of NokiaExperts responds with "Nokia’s future is under their control and I believe it will be very bright".

First up Gartenberg says:

Nokia failed to lead a changed market and has been forced into reacting to competitors instead of driving its own vision of the future. As smartphones left the realm of the enthusiast and became mass-market in terms of adoption and feature use, Nokia fell behind.

Now, I don't think that's fatal or long term, and I don't believe Nokia is going out of business. But I do question the company's position in the market and ability to lead without a major change in direction and strategy -- especially in the US and North America. Truth be told, Nokia now reminds me a lot of Apple back in 1996, losing relevance and market share in places that matter but with huge potential to leverage core assets and a terrific brand with millions of loyal fans. And as Apple did in its day, Nokia must now either try to decisively seize back its leadership position -- or lose it entirely.

Miller argues:

I too have some frustration with Nokia because I KNOW they have the capability to lead with devices and an operating system that excites consumers and we just haven’t seen much from them in interface changes or a clear strategy the past year or two. They need to show us that they are in control and will be blowing our socks off with products and services in the future that have no direct relation to what Apple or Google have already done. I have met some extremely talented and smart people at Nokia and they have obviously seen the success of the iPhone and the excitement surrounding Android so I have to believe they have some very exciting projects in the works to challenge both of these platforms in the next year or two.

The iPhone clearly shook up the mobile space, first in terms of user interface with iPhone OS 1.0, second in terms of application delivery with the App Store and iPhone OS 2.0, and thirdly with the price-drop to $99 for the iPhone 3G at the release of iPhone OS 3.0. Those kind of repetitive, rapid fire hits to a market can really disrupt established players, especially when done by a company as secretive as Apple. Add on Google's Android, webOS, and other platform advances, and it takes considerable will and agility to respond in a concise and timely manner. Nokia has shown the ability to do neither so far, but their size gives them one incredible buffer against the upstart smartphone platforms. The only question remains -- can and will they do it before the buffer (and profitability) runs out?

Give both Gartenberg and Miller a read, and let us know if Apple and the iPhone have anything to be worried about...

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, ZEN and TECH, MacBreak Weekly. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter, App.net, Google+.

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There are 9 comments. Add yours.

fastlane says:

Apple didn't really go blindly into the "cell phone" business. As a computer company, they made a small computer and added a phone.
Nokia is still mostly seen as a "phone" maker. Maybe they should try to shake that label in 2010.

fathom614 says:

It sure will be interesting to see what Nokia has up their sleeve in the coming year, but they better not wait to long.

sting7k says:

Nokia needs to take the US market seriously. Americans are done with the cheap phones they give us. Get some N-series phones paired with a carrier and compete. No one is going to buy an $800 nokia when the iPhone and others are across the street for 70% less.

Josel says:

I used only Nokia phones for 9 years, from Manila to San Diego (except for brief encounter with blackberries). Nokia makes very good phones. I kinda miss the brand and "Options" menu.
I'm holding on to my 3G until the 4th gen iPhone. N97's price might go down by that time which is worthy to consider.

YourMobileGuru says:

And the obvious question I have to ask is does anybody really care?

icebike says:

In answer to above, yes, a LOT of people care.
The N800 is the first real Linux phone.
This means developers are EVERYWHERE and they are developing for a platform they already know and understand, and there is no tyrannical gate keeper to deal with. Maemo OS is more opensource than Android.
The potential is awesome, as the current model is vastly under-clocked. Nokia (or your friendly hackers) can turn up the speed on that phone any time they want.
The price is high. about $649 for an Unlocked phone, but this is without a carrier subsidy. About the same as an iPhone if you have to buy it at full retail without subsidy.
Nokia owns Navtec, Free maps. Nokia owns Trolltech, One of the best Cross Platform development tools (used by KDE, Google Earth, etc).
Plus they have like a million years of experience developing Cell phones for all environments, as well as cell tower equipment.
So yeah, they can compete. If they just get moving, they are the 700 pound gorilla in this space.

Dennis says:

Apple is a U.S. computer company trying to distribute the iPhone worldwide. Nokia is a worldwide cellphone company trying to create a cellphone that is also a small computer. You're not going to sell every person on the planet any kind of smartphone without a pre-existing cellular data network, but regular cellphones are obviously essential in the developing world. China, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and parts of South East Asia are just catching up to Europe and East Asia in terms of internet access, cellular data, and computers. All three of those are necessary for the iPhone to function. That leaves out a lot of people.
Over the past 10 years, Nokia has purchased part of Symbian, purchased a company that performs online data synchronization with PCs and phones, developed Maemo through its fifth iteration, opened a rather anemic software store, and made deals with the major record labels for digital distribution. They've experimented with the Internet Tablet, N-Gage integration (before they killed N-Gage), and a netbook, as well as multiple camera-focused form factors. Nokia has just as rabid fans as Apple. As a company, Nokia is looking pretty good, if you count those kinds of things as signs of a healthy company.
The N900 seems to be the newest phone with real geek cred. The iPhone used to have that distinction, but it's simply too common now. The N900 won't appeal to most iPhone users or to most people. But evidently Nokia is doing something right, because unlike some of their

Dennis says:

sorry... because unlike some of their recent phones, the N900 hasn't failed to impress people who have used one.

neil ryan says:

Nokia is doing great things with symbian foundation. people said they needed to update OS and they are from ground up. Using QT.