Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

Summary: Nokia has reigned as the leader of the mobile phone market for years, but has never seemed to gain much respect from the media and smartphone enthusiasts in the US. Are they really much different than other smartphone makers and can we come to appreciate them too?

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In a month I will be heading to London to cover my first Nokia World event and as I plan my trip and think more about Nokia in the smartphone world I wanted to share some of my thoughts with you all and get some feedback on the company. I grow weary of the constant hammering that Nokia gets here in the US by the media, some of which is admittedly quite understandable and valid, and have been thinking a lot about why there is such disgust and lack of love of Nokia here in the United States. Are we giving Nokia a fair look and looking at Apple, RIM, and Google through a different set of glasses or do they deserve such treatment in the US?

Let me first start by saying I am a long time fan of Nokia smartphones. I started using them in 2002 with the Nokia 3650 on T-Mobile and I am the writer of the Nokia Experts site, part of the Smartphone Experts family of sites. I write that site because of my interest and passion in their products and am not paid by Nokia or anyone else to write the site. I have gotten a couple of devices from the SPE staff to evaluate for the site over the year and a half I have been writing it. I wanted to let you know this about me since I do have strong feelings for Nokia products (positive and negative) and am writing this as an opinion piece, which is much of what this blog is about.

Nokia is not perfect, but neither is anyone else

Nokia has had some recent blunders in the smartphone market with issues like the anemic internal hardware of the Nokia N97 flagship product and rather convoluted Ovi services, but they are not the only ones who have messed up with things either and we need to look fairly at everyone. Apple has issues with the iPhone 4 and took a long time to add some basic smartphone functionality (cut/paste, multi-tasking, video recording, etc.) to their iPhone line, RIM had a weak web browsing experience and ugly interface for years, Google (includes vendors with Android devices) has several versions of its Android OS out with a rather disjointed user experience and common force stop/memory low errors with software, Palm has a wonderful OS with troublesome hardware, and Microsoft just gave up on the smartphone market for a year to work on Windows Phone 7. Each of the major smartphone operating systems and manufacturers has issues with many fixed with firmware updates after the devices are released. We have grown into a consumer market that almost expects devices to get better after release rather than being their best when we purchase them. It seems to me that we often overlook the others and slam Nokia unfairly. Do you agree or disagree?

Nokia S60 UI not so different

One issue that I see a lot of people focusing on when talking about Nokia's S60 lineup is the difficult and complex user interface. I think this is more of an issue for people in the US since those in other countries have grown up using the S60 interface and actually find it to be familiar and friendly and they do not want it changed significantly. I admit that it does take some time to get familiar with the S60 interface, but after you do then you find it to be extremely customizable and powerful. As Steve Litchfield pointed out in a recent All About Symbian article that mirrored many of the thoughts I have had swirling in my head, the Symbian user interface is not much different than what we see on most other smartphone platforms yet people treat it like it is ancient and outdated. There are definitely elements in consistency that need fixing, but overall S60 functions much like every other smartphone OS.

There is also the Maemo 5 UI in the Nokia N900 that is pretty revolutionary and offers a multi-tasking interface that may be the best on the market with one of the most powerful mobile browsers we have ever seen.

Nokia in the US

As I mentioned above, my first Nokia device was the Nokia 3650, a Series 60 (now named S60) smartphone, and I received this as a free phone from T-Mobile. I primarily used it as a fantastic Bluetooth wireless modem for my PDAs (funny that some devices still can't do this), but it also ran a large number of applications and included functionality found in PDAs. Nokia had these Series 60 smartphones available all over the US market and throughout the world, but I believe that the majority of people did not even understand the power of the device they owned. I remember growing up and people getting Nokia phones, not necessarily Series 60 smartphones, for free from their carriers. Many people were quite happy with the high quality, durability, and RF reception of their Nokia phones in the past and I honestly think for many people over the age of 30 Nokia is still thought of in the US as the maker of free simple mobile phones rather than as a smartphone maker.

We still see some low end Nokia phones at T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon today and Nokia does have a small US market share. We have seen some recent S60 smartphones released by AT&T (Nokia E71x) and T-Mobile (Nokia E73 Mode and Nokia Nuron), but nothing like what we see in Europe and other countries. AT&T hobbled the experience of the ESeries with the E71x having an overabundance of crapware and carrier lock down (nothing new for AT&T outside of the iPhone) so it wasn't as good of an experience as it could have been. T-Mobile USA doesn't work like this and both the Nuron and E73 Mode are good choices for smartphones. I personally have been using the E73 Mode as my main T-Mobile device for over a month and find it to be a fantastic and very capable smartphone. The great thing about the Nuron is that T-Mobile has some very low data plan rates for the device while it gives you the full free Ovi Maps navigation capability and S60 5th Edition operating system.

The mindshare of Nokia in the US still appears to be one of the cheap low end phones and Nokia is going to have to work hard to help people understand that powerful smartphones are available for an excellent price and offer some amazing services like Ovi Maps. They are also going to have to continue working with carriers because most folks in the US will not buy unlocked smartphones and do not understand that the initial price of a mobile phone is nothing compared to the carrier monthly minimum fees that subsidized phones require them to pay.

Pricing: Let's compare apples to apples please

If you look at the carrier subsidized model that reigns here in the US, then the few carrier subsidized phones from Nokia are dirt cheap compared to other smartphones. The AT&T E71x launched at $99, the Nokia E73 Mode is available at $49.99, and the Nokia Nuron is available for free. These are fantastic deals for capable smartphones and Nokia should be doing well with them, but I still believe people don't think of Nokia as a smartphone maker in the US.

The higher end Nokia devices are sold only as SIM-unlocked devices from the Nokia USA site and through other online retailers like Amazon and Newegg. The great thing is that these devices are sold both as SIM-unlocked devices and as no-contract required devices while the smartphone sold through carriers are no-contract phones only that are still locked to the specific carrier. The upcoming Nokia N8 is available for pre-order now through the Nokia USA site for $549 and by comparison the 16GB iPhone 4 is $599, the 32GB iPhone 4 is $699, and the T-Mobile Samsung Vibrant is $499.99. Again, keep in mind that these carrier phones are still locked to the carrier and AT&T and/or Apple will not SIM unlock the iPhone. I understand that most people don't care about non-contract pricing since they plan to stay with a carrier for a long time, but it may be important to those of use who travel overseas or who buy new smartphones quicker than the 2-year contract length.

Market share

According to Gartner data going back to 2007, Nokia led with just over 50% of the smartphone market share, but a couple serious competitors entered the field (Apple and Google) and others started focusing on consumers (RIM) so that their share has slipped to the current level of 34.2%. The next place company, Samsung, is now up to 20.1% with LG in third at 9%. Symbian's lead has fallen from over 65% to 41% with RIM in second at 18.2% and Android in third at 17.2%. Nokia and Symbian still have significant leads, but they are falling fast in the high end smartphone market and Nokia cannot rest while everyone else rises in a market where smartphone purchases are up 50% from 2009.

Nokia previously stated that 2010 would be a transition year as they moved from their S60 platform to the Symbian platform that includes Symbian^3 devices launching first with the N8 in September. They also switched their high end strategy a bit and dropped Maemo to work with Intel on the MeeGo platform with devices likely not appearing until early 2011. I don't think they are sitting on their laurels and they must understand and see what is happening in the smartphone market. There are some very intelligent people at Nokia and I think we can count on them rolling out compelling products in the future and fighting hard to maintain and even increase their worldwide market share.

Nokia does extremely well in the lower end mobile phone market with their S40 products flourishing in developing countries. There is very little profit made on each device here, but Nokia is helping to connect the world and improves the lives of millions with these products as you can see with projects such as their Ovi Life Tools.

Nokia is also very conscious of the environment and works hard to promote good stewardship of our planet.

Future of Nokia

I already ordered my Nokia N8 smartphone that should be available sometime in September. It is already being downplayed by US media as a device with an old user interface that won't succeed. However, it is the world's first penta-band 3G device (means it will work with 3G data on AT&T, T-Mobile, and throughout most of the world), it has a 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics and Xenon flash with the largest sensors ever seen in a camera phone, it is the first Symbian^3 device, and the SIM-unlocked retail price is lower than almost any other carrier locked, no contract price in the US for a smartphone. My only current concern with the N8 is the processor speed and internal memory, but with OS optimizations there may not be any actual issues here and the N8 should do well if they are not a problem. Nokia has stated that the N8 is a mid to upper level device, but it is not their new flagship high end device and that type of device should be coming in 2011 with the MeeGo operating system. I hope we see more about MeeGo at Nokia World next month too.

Nokia will continue to sell millions of their low end devices around the world and if they play their cards right they should maintain and maybe grow their smartphone market share as Symbian and MeeGo devices start hitting the street in 2011. Their influence and impact in the US still remains questionable as they must work with the carriers to succeed here in our rather dated infrastructure. I am trying to educate people through my Nokia Experts site and think there is a lot of room for improvement here in the US.

My hope is that the media and other smartphone enthusiasts approach and look at Nokia with a more open mind and just because you may not be familiar with an operating system that doesn't mean it sucks. Nokia is very well liked by millions of people (the Symbian Foundation reported that they and a majority of them are from Nokia while Nokia also reports 1.7 million Ovi Store downloads per day) and it sure would be nice to see people in the US appreciate their products too.

UPDATE: Thank you all for the comments made so far, much more encouraging than I thought I would see at this point. One of the main points being made that I should have focused on a bit more is that Nokia smartphones are still indeed first and foremost great phones. I know many of us that read these blogs are all about the data and computing power in our smartphones, but there are millions of people who just want a good phone and Nokia excels in this department.

I also meant to point out that people do not get much hands-on experience with Nokia's smartphones since so few are sold via carriers and when people actually get the chance to use them they are often surprised at how good they are. As you can see in the Third Annual Smartphone Round Robin that I participated in last year, every editor of the Smartphone Experts family of sites was caught off guard by the functionality and capability of the Nokia N900 and N97 mini with one comment made that I shouldn't be allowed to bring a mini computer to a smartphone battle.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility, Nokia, Smartphones

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47 comments
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  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    I've seen zero marketing for Nokia devices in the US for about 10 years. It doesn't matter how good their hardware or OS is if no one knows to try them.
    ahitz
  • Well there is that silly logo:P

    Certainly does not inspire confidence.. ha!

    Pagan jim
    James Quinn
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    Matt, with that post you have rekindled my belief that there some Americans that can see beyond the crap spouted by some US Web pundits
    dkeppler
  • It's the carrier-centric model in the US that is to blame

    I think Nokia makes great devices. It actually makes devices with awesome "phone" functionality. We have been carried away by the Droids and iPhones where the 'Phone' is just another application with sub-par performance. Nokia has not compromised this part. Having said that, I think Nokia has not learnt to play by the rules - here in the US. The kind of strenuous testing and customization that US carriers impose must have kept Nokia away from the states. I think it has now realized that if it needs to break into the US market, it has to play second fiddle to the carriers. Nokia is probably late but can still catch up. I don't buy the argument that S60 or S^3 is outdated. I know people (Europeans and Asians, of course)who simply love the Symbian OS and don't seem to care about the iOS and Android. Hopefully, MeeGo will bring the US audience in as well. Nokia is still the world leader in smartphones. It must be doing something right. Besides, a point about Nokia to be appreciated is that it hasn't jumped on the Android bandwagon. It has decided to take a short term hit in favor of long term gains. Developing the Ovi ecosystem will also benefit the company in the long run while Motorola and HTC will be crippled by their dependence on Android (and hence, Google). Nokia still needs to improve on some counts - it needs to start churning out devices at a faster rate in the US (look at the speed with which HTC and Motorola are putting out devices). It must work and come out with strong high-end smartphones with Verizon - without that, it won't be addressing 50% of the US market. Decision making in the company must be de-centralized from Finland - I say this because I worry if the Fins are still skeptical about the US carrier-centric model. Finally, it needs a heavy marketing push in the US. I can't emphasize this enough as a lot of people barely know about Nokia in the US. Millions need to be spent on an advertising campaigns throughout the year until the US public gets familiarized with the brand.
    EnnisDM
    • Excellent point about the phone

      @EnnisDM Very good point about the phone functionality that I should have mentioned in my post (maybe I will update it soon). Nokia has the best RF reception and call quality of any smartphone I have tried out and you are correct that this is not sacrificed for other data features while many other smartphones are crappy phones. Nokia also excels in the camera department with their Nseries devices, again while still giving you the best phone experience.
      palmsolo (aka Matthew Miller)
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    From 1998-2007 I had 2 Nokia phones and 2 Motorola phones. I definitely preferred the Nokias to the Motorolas. But then I tried a Sony Ericsson and in no time I felt like the Nokia was a bit "stale". And it certainly didn't help with each passing year that my carrier had fewer and fewer Nokia models to choose from. I'm in the market for a new phone, and while I do not iAnything (not wanting to worship Steve Jobs or be tied to iTunes), I'm not sure I'll consider Nokia. But even as I write this, maybe it just comes down to what's available from my carrier in terms of what I actually consider.
    bmgoodman
    • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

      @bmgoodman If you can hold off buying a new phone for a few months, it might be worth it. I read in a recent article that Nokia plans on launching a number of devices (with carrier support - most probably AT&T and T-mobile) later this year or early 2011.

      I'm myself waiting to buy some good Nokia device (N8 is really tempting!). I lost my iPhone 3G 5 months back and am still paying for that account without having a phone (luckily, I also have another mobile with Verizon that my office provided) as I don't want to change the plan and get tied into another 2 year contract with some stupid device.
      EnnisDM
      • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

        Pre-ordered a Nokia N8! I was just informed that we will be losing our work cell phones. Our company is cutting costs by taking back our phones! crap! Now, have to wait for another month for the N8 without any mobile in hand! Going to feel like being in stone age :(
        EnnisDM
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    It's unfortunate, but the US culture only looks at itself as the quintessential gold standard, when in fact it's such a minuscule market with regards to a huge number of technology venues (including the smart phone market). Most of the best smart phone technology is never even seen here in the US. If you want to get your hands on it, you have to either go through back channels in different countries or go overseas and get it yourself. Sorry to say, the American market choices are weak, at-best. There is, once in a while, something worth checking out over here, but the likes of the android and iphone-like devices here in the States are still far behind that of some Nokia and native Japanese/Chinese/Taiwanese products which are designed heavily around media content. If the US consumer saw what other markets outside the US had to choose from and how for how long its been available, I think there would be a largely disappointed (if not upset) consumer base (especially when these high-end devices cost a lot less than what we're being gouged for by the carrier/vendors here in the good ol' US of A.)
    richardanelson000
    • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

      @richardanelson000 I partly agree with your opinion. The US market is not a minuscule market. Especially with regards to high-end smartphones, major profits are from the US. But as far as functionality and technical superiority go, there are others who are far ahead.
      EnnisDM
    • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

      @richardanelson000, I think this was very true prior to the iPhone's introduction in its home market. However, with this ecosystem experience and bundled gaming capability, the whole market has responded to a much more demanding US consumer potential. Along with Google's Android entry, I think the US market has long since turned this corner and will continue to have a significant influence on both ecosystem development and hardware. Frankly, Nokia missed the US train...though it does retain the capability to reenter the US foray over time. Near-field, payment capabilities, and other value added security and convenience factors will gain momentum in the US; technologies in which Nokia is very strong and where other markets have already well integrated solutions (e.g.: Japan). I think Nokia's approach remains compelling but will depend on the success of Qt/Webkit developments and ecosystem integration efforts. It's UI strategy seems well in hand for a huge comeback and its hardware and OS capabilities remain top-notch.
      Stoli89
      • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

        @Stoli89 "I think this was very true prior to the iPhone's introduction in its home market." We're talking about the crippled-for-the-US-market ORIGINAL iPhone here? The one reduced to using 2.5g "Edge" for connection, because 3G coverage was as rare in the USA as hen's teeth? I'd sit down... you seem to have shot yourself in the foot.
        BigRonW
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    I used Nokia phones with tmobile for 6 years, I hooked my nokia to my laptop and used it as a modem to go online, 9.95 a month with tmobile for unlimited internet, it ran at 103gb. Sadly tmobile cancelled me when I moved to alaska. They also had the best reception, twice as good as the Motorola I started out with.
    gswank54
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    Interesting post. I own a Nokia 5800XM and remain flabbergasted with all of the US hype around front facing cameras, video calling, multi-tasking, etc. This little smartphone has provided these capabilities since late 2008 and for a fraction of the price of flagships from its competitors. The Symbian OS is incredible and embeds a number of features which Android can only deliver with 3rd party apps. It's very efficient and requires nearly half the hardware power to do the same job. The UI is OK but lags well behind the iPhone and most Android platforms...but it works very well. Of course, Nokia recognized the UI has become a dominant differentiator...even above call quality and reception...hence Symbian^3 and ^4 UI's now forthcoming. I was recently in the USA and compared my OVI maps to both my dad's Garmin and Droid Eris' Google maps. We were both impressed with the Nokia and when I told him OVI maps with voice navigation was free...he was not so pleased with his Garmin purchase from last year! I did not have unlimited data while stateside...so (IMHO) OVI maps definitely trumps Google maps when it comes to international travel. I know the N8 will dominate on the media creation/consumption side of things, but will nevertheless await reviews of its speed and stability before purchase. Yes, the ARM 11 with hi-end GPU have posted exceptionally competitive results, but I will still take a short wait and see from credible reviewers before purchasing this device.
    Stoli89
  • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

    Nokia does make great products-- I love my E71x and N900. But they have sure not helped by willfully killing their own mindshare. Letting the Nokia theaters go to Verizon and Best Buy was just flat stupid. Same with shutting down Flagship stores. Stupid.

    Presence, presence, presence. Marketing 101.
    fabricator1
  • Part of the problem is also branding.

    Many people in the U.S. only think of Nokia as a manufacturer of low end gangster/'burner' phones, like they used on The Wire.<br><br>Branding sticks. Apple's branding is 'the hip, cool gadget company (with a hint of exclusivity)'. Exclusivity sells; think, Ralph Lauren/Coach/BMW.<br><br>Most people here don't hate Nokia; they're just indifferent to it. <br><br>I used an E72 for a while, but had to return it to Amazon, as it was unbelievably crash-prone and buggy, and I quickly tired of the 'out of memory' (low RAM) error messages.<br><br>Also, the Ovi Store is a wasteland. I could only find stuff like ESPN Soccernet (wtf??), London Tube Maps, and plenty of ring tones.
    Theseus
  • Nokia == phone, but I don't want a phone

    As a tech geek and software developer, I have to say Nokia barely registers with me. I suspect part of it is marketing -- I would compare Apple and Android ads to Nokia smartphone ads, except that I don't recall seeing any. So the impression I have of them is that they build really good phones. But I don't want a phone.

    What I want, and what Apple and Android makers stress, is a computer/internet device/game machine/music player that happens to make phone calls. The lack of apps I suspect is partly image and partly the lack of clarity regarding what OS to develop for, and lack of easily identifiable market. Do I target Symbian or MeeGo as a developer? Neither shows up significantly on app store metrics so if I'm looking at where to investment my development budget it is Android or Apple, and then perhaps RIM. I have heard they have an app store, or will launch one, I think...

    MeeGo sounds a little interesting, but combining one OS with little mindshare with another OS with even less mindshare sounds like a recipe for inconsistency and mediocrity rather than a game changer. I could be wrong, but I have heard next to nothing about it or why it might want to develop for it.

    And that's the issue: as a non-Nokia fan (not a hater, just unfamiliar), it's mostly an issue of out-of-site, out-of-mind and they get labeled as a phone with extra features as opposed to a mobile computing platform.

    Anyway, just my 2c. I'm curious enough at least to take a look see what they have out next time I'm toy shopping. :)
    jasonm78759
    • RE: Nokia rules the mobile phone world so why do we diss them in the US?

      @jasonm78759
      Bingo. Next time I'm out shopping I want a pda/pocket computer/super-phone, not 'a cell phone plus some extra stuff'.

      And when Nokia doesn't *try* to market here, what do they expect? The perfect analogy is like an NFL team that walks on the field, places their helmets on the turf, and expects to win by default, due to name value. Nah-eh. Doesn't work that way.
      Theseus
  • Nokia N900

    I've owned a Nokia 5800 since it came out here in the states. Most of my friends and family hate it for it's 'clunky' and 'slow' interface. I just love the fact I can do anything I want from it - it may not be as smooth as an iPhone or a Droid, but all those transition effects grow old fast anyways. Functionality wise, my 5800 can match most of the phones that have come almost 2 years later.

    I recently got a Nokia N900 and am just surprised how well it does things. After seeing the device, my friends were just in awe with the thing. It provided enough eye-candy for em, but still went on to say it was fat and bulky.

    What Nokia needs to do, more than anything, is make flashy phones. Both software and hardware wise, that is the only way it can appease the US market. Maemo was a great OS, and if MeeGo is going to be anything like it I can't wait.
    dagreatmighty1
    • Don't think it's the "effects" but the speed that is at

      @dagreatmighty1
      issue. My friend a long time computer user and professional is still to this day amazed at his iPad. He keeps singing it's praises and one of those is it's speed or instant on thing.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn