Feb 24th, 2014

Seven years ago, Nokia was the world’s most popular smartphone brand, hoarding nearly 50% of global marketshare. Today, a defeated Nokia reluctantly showcases new products at MWC 2014, barely claiming 3% of the global pie. How the tides change.

The inevitable downfall can be traced back to one quote by then Nokia exec Anssi Vanjoki,

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.37.25 AM“Nokia using Android would be like Finnish boys who pee in their pants for warmth during the cold winter.”

Nokia finally peed their pants today, announcing the Nokia X+, Nokia X+, and Nokia XL (read the announcement, watch hands-on video). There is good reason to believe the warmth of these Nokia Android Phones won’t last long: the Nokia brand will soon fall under the Microsoft banner, where they’ll relegate the software to Windows Phones, further dooming any chance of a Nokia revival.

Elop’s “peeing in your pants” quote can’t be made responsible for dooming Nokia, but the company culture and direction rooted in that statement can. The comment is slathered in corporate arrogance; you can almost sense that Elop would rather the company go down in flames than have to swallow their pride and march to another industry leader’s drum. And that’s exactly what happened.

In 2007, when Google announced Android, supporting the yet-to-exist platform wasn’t exactly cool. Industry analysts poked fun, tech publications mostly raised doubts, and only a small contingency correctly predicted its eventual dominance.

But Nokia brass didn’t make those statements in 2007, they made them in 2010, when Android had already become a proven winner. You can read that frustration in the quote, sensing the captain of a sinking ship, defiantly staying on board as a matter of principle. Had Nokia made this decision earlier, the state of the company (and Android) might be very different.

Nokia Global Smartphone Marketshare

Nokia Market Share
(Source: Statista.com)

Android has gone through some interesting periods with every new hardware iteration. The original T-Mobile G1 is almost laughably adorable these days and it wasn’t until the Motorola Droid launched in 2009 that Android posed a serious threat to iOS. It sparked an “iPhone vs. Droid” showdown whose nomenclature confused the participants of any technology discussion or debate – from soccer moms to industry analysts – and sometimes still does.

“Droid the phone? Or Droid the platform? You know Droid and Android aren’t the same thing, right?”

Motorola seemed to own the Android spotlight for quite sometime, eventually passing the baton between a few hopeful heirs including HTC. Many more temporarily powered the hype machine such as ASUS  and the Transformer Prime and Sony when the first Xperia was rumored, but none had the staying power that Samsung brought with their Galaxy series.

The Samsung Galaxy series is undoubtedly Android’s most dominant and successful brand and it’s here to stay. But might the story be different if Nokia embraced Android early on? Could Nokia have regained their stronghold by leveraging their global presence to put affordable Android’s into the hands of the masses?

We may never know.

Whether or not you’re in the market for a new phone, you may want to consider buying the Nokia X, X+, or XL… as a collector’s item. It’s quite likely that these will be the last Android devices that Nokia ever makes.

Back in September 2013, Microsoft acquired Nokia for $7.2 Billion. The deal still needs to earn regulatory approval and jump through legal hoops, but nobody is expecting any holdups, with finalization likely coming in March. Once that transition is complete, Microsoft will likely axe any Nokia Android initiatives, instead preferring to exclusively push their Windows Phone brand.

Or maybe not. With Nokia’s white flag waving and Ballmer gone from Microsoft, the fate of each company lies in very different hands, and in fact embracing Android is one thing that current Microsoft bigwigs are considering. In fact, Microsoft is considering bringing Android Apps to Windows, something we think would spell the death for Windows Phone altogether.

Android could save Nokia and Microsoft needs Nokia to save Windows Phone, but is there room for a love triangle?

What should Microsoft do?

Microsoft is in dire straits. There is no debate that computing is moving mobile and Microsoft desperately needs a horse in that race. Right now, their horse is Windows Phone. Right now, Nokia is the only manufacturer actively focusing on Windows Phone. Lose that edge and the Nokia brand will crumble altogether. If that happens, Microsoft and their Windows Phone dream are in trouble.

So why not continue making Android Phones? Doing so would diversify their risk. If Nokia’s Android phones enjoy success, it creates two huge wins:

  • They’re able to create their own “Nexus” for Android Phones, creating an experience with Bing, Skype, Windows, etc… that they consider industry leading when integrating Android for the typical Windows user.
  • They’re able to sustain further development for Nokia Windows Phones and the Windows Phone platform as a whole using revenue and assets from the Android Phone initiatives.

In the end, Microsoft has to consider the fact that Windows Phone might either die or be faced to take a drastically different route. If they can’t realize that right now, then they’re staring down an alley that looks awfully similar to the one Stephen Elop described.

So listen up, Microsoft. After all of that talk about peeing in their pants, Nokia finally manned up and got potty-trained with Android. It wasn’t a fun decision to make, but they swallowed their pride, and they did it. Now that you’re in charge, does it make sense to set Nokia back another 5 years by once again refusing to use Android? Do you realize you’ll inevitably come to the same conclusion?

I hope the Nokia X is not the last Nokia Android phone we see. As odd as it sounds, I want Microsoft to be successful with a viable 3rd mobile OS alternative, and selling a lot of Nokia Android Phones might be the only of ensuring that happens.

“Innovate or die,” they say. But when “innovate” isn’t working, you’ve at least got to adopt and adapt.

local_offer    Nokia  Nokia X  Nokia XL  

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