In reporting that Nokia would discontinue North American sales of its Symbian smartphones and its low-end feature phones to focus exclusively on its forthcoming crop of smartphones based on Windows Phone, Ina Fried of All Things Digital broke some news that didn’t qualify as a surprise.
If Kris Kristofferson was right when he said that “freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose,” then Nokia has a lot of freedom in the North American smartphone market.
The Finnish handset vendor, which began its corporate life as a paper manufacturer, wasn’t going anywhere with its Symbian-based smartphones in the USA or Canada. What’s more, North Americans have been turning away from feature phones for a while now. Accordingly, Nokia has chosen to clear the decks, eliminate distractions, and put all its resources behind its bet-the-company commitment to Windows Phone.
Nothing to Lose
It’ll keep Symbian and the feature phones around for a while longer in other international markets, but not in North America. And, you know, it makes sense.
If Nokia wins even a modicum of business with its Microsoft-powered smarphones, it will gain share in North America. From that standpoint, it has something to gain, and very little to lose, as it debuts its Windows Phone handsets in the North American market. Nokia doesn’t need to hit a home run to spin its Windows Phone as a success here. All it needs to do is show market momentum on which can build in other markets, including those where it truly does have more to lose.
Obviously, Nokia’s success should not be taken for granted. The company has a long, potholed road ahead of it, and there’s no guarantee that it will survive the journey.
Battle for Hearts and Minds
While some observers are saying the carriers will be crucial to Nokia’s smartphone success — the Finnish handset vendor will make its phones available through operators rather than selling them unlocked at retail — I disagree.
Once upon a time, mobile subscribers took the handsets that carriers pushed at them, but that hasn’t been the norm since Apple radically rearranged the smartphone landscape with the iPhone. Now, consumer demand determines which handsets wireless operators carry, and Nokia doubtless recognizes that reality, which is why it intends to launch a massive advertising and marketing campaign to persuade consumers that its smartphones are desirable, must-have items.
Will it work? Hey, ask Nostradamus if you can reach him with a medium and a Ouija board. All I can tell you is that Nokia will have to nail its advertising campaign, hit the bull’s eye with its marketing programs, and work diligently in conjunction with Microsoft to attract the attention and support of mobile developers. Great phone designs, slick marketing, a credible mobile operating system (which Microsoft might finally have), and quality and quantity of application support will be essential if Nokia is to resuscitate its reputation as a serious smartphone player.
A lot can go wrong, and some of it probably will.
It’s not going to be easy, but the one thing Nokia has going for it in North America is low expectations. That’s why I think Nokia picked the continent as a potential springboard for its Windows Phone onslaught worldwide.