Should Nokia flip the Symbian switch back on to stem the tide?

Should Nokia flip the Symbian switch back on to stem the tide?

Summary: The latest financial report is out from Nokia and things are not looking good. They are seeing success in North American, but falling hard around the world. If they breathe life back into Symbian, can that help outside the US?


The latest financial figures have been released for Nokia and ZDNet writers covered it pretty extensively (links below). I read through Andrew's post and see he talked about the highlight for Nokia here in North America where sales and services are up 45 percent thanks to the Lumia and Windows Phone. However, figures are poor across the rest of the world where Symbian reigned supreme until just a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, Stephen Elop killed off Symbian with his "burning platform memo" and after recently purchasing the Nokia 808 PureView I have to wonder if Nokia could have been in a better financial position if they had continued Symbian development.

If you take an honest look at Symbian and the power and customization that is built into the operating system you will find it is a very capable platform and with continued development and support from Qt developers it could be even better. Symbian was never popular in the US since Nokia pretty much gave up on North America just as Sybmian was getting ramped up and more advanced. If US consumers remember Nokia from the past, it was usually associated with the free phone your carrier gave you that could survive a tornado or hurricane and not a device that was a smartphone.

Related ZDNet Nokia coverage

Throughout the rest of the world though, Nokia's Symbian lineup did very well and led the smartphone market with an incredibly high market share for years. I understand that Symbian devices were on a slight downward trend when Mr. Elop came to Nokia, but that was due in large part to the success of the iPhone and rise of Android. I think Nokia should have continued Symbian development alongside of their embrace of a brand new and untested mobile operating system, Windows Phone, rather than cutting all the existing platforms off at the knees and throwing all their eggs into one basket that is precariously balanced on one company, Microsoft.

As I stated in my review of the Nokia 808 PureView, Nokia still knows how to innovate and make fantastic products. I have been using my 808 PureView with my T-Mobile SIM in it for over a week and it is still more than capable to perform with Symbian Belle FP1. Symbian was the rock upon which Nokia was based and without it I fear they have to rely on Microsoft and Windows Phone too much for any chance of a comeback in the mobile space. I am doing my part to support Nokia and Sybmian, but is Nokia doing their part achieve success?

Topics: Mobility, Nokia, Smartphones

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  • Ecosystem

    Ecosystems are becoming more important than they used to be in this space, and Elop was right to kill off Symbian. Going forward, you're going to be looking at Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and the big evil, with most everyone else relegated to niches. Microsoft is going to keep working on it, and they will make more headway as Windows 8 familiarizes people with Metro. Nokia made a smart decision to be the first-of-choice carrier for Windows Phone, rather than an also-ran, late-to-the-game Android offering, or to remain on a burning platform. Note that Microsoft brought out a tablet, not a phone. There's significance to that.
    • 100% Agreed, just add market share

      At the present, MS is only addressing approximately 33% of the cell phone market via its partnership with AT&T. VZW and Sprint both have one phone each that are more than 12 months old and, of course, do not support LTE. Moreover, MS does not have any presence in prepaid. Sure, I think Cricket or Voyager have a $400 HTC device, but let's get real. We all know the stores about retail reps being highly anti-MS since the release of WP.

      Well, WP8 is MS' opportunity to change all this. Any suggestion that Nokia should do this or that before WP8 has been on the market 6-12 months is simply a speculative, worthless, hit piece. WP8 should see great devices on all four major carriers at or very close to its official launch. Now, if MS has been paying attention, then they'll have had serious conversations specifically with VZW about getting their reps fully on board.

      So with all this said, how much better would WP sales have been if they had the 900 and the HTC Titan II on VZW, Sprint and T-Mobile? And finally, MS has not chance of truly correcting the ship until they push WP aggressively into prepaid which amounts to approximately 20% of the U.S. market.
      • It's up to Windows Phone 8...

        You make a lot of great points jjworleyeoe. One has to wonder how many phones Nokia would've sold if the Lumias were on Verizon, Sprint, etc.

        Even so, it's hard to call Windows Phone a success at this point--the numbers just aren't there yet. However, since its customer satisfaction numbers are so high, it suggests to me that WP's problem is not software or hardware... but marketing. I've yet to see a WP commercial that actually gave consumers a reason to buy one. Microsoft needs to change that with the launch of Windows Phone 8.
  • Interesting how MS is blamed for this one

    RIM: circling the drain, MS has nothing to do with it.
    Palm: dead, MS had nothing to do with it.
    HP WebOS: dead, MS had nothing to do with it.
    Motorola: dead, MS had nothing to do with it.
    HTC: dying, MS had nothing to do with it.

    The truth is that the mobile market is dominated profit wise by Apple. While they are using extremely anti-competitive measures to stay on top, Apple deserves to have gotten to the top with a mix of great leverage (iTunes was the key to iPhone's success, without iTunes, iPhone would have been a fail - talk about the ultimate in bundling) and marketing and later on, starting with the iPhone 4, great hardware. The software has always been a bit crippled but nothing is perfect.

    Then you have a mobile OS that is given away on the low end (Android) which, while not contributing to profit, takes away the oxygen for any company that wants to charge for a mobile OS. Yes, Android does compete in the high end smartphone market but that is not where it gets its ~50% marketshare from.

    So you have company after company struggling to profit in a market that has a 9000lb gorilla bully with a gaggle of lawyers at the high end and a free OS paid for by the page hits of its users at the low end. This is a tough market to profit in. RIM can't do it. Palm couldn't do it. HP couldn't do it. Motorola couldn't do it. HTC can't do it. Not one of them "bet the platform" on MS yet MS is seen as the "kiss of death" in the mobile market? It makes no sense. It is the sign of a weak and feeble mind. Apple and Google are the "kisses of death" in the mobile market. No one has figured out how to profit with those 2 running the show.

    I fear that if MS fails with WP8 that we will be stuck with Apple's profit monopoly at the high end and Android's marketshare at the low end. That isn't choice. This isn't healthy for the consumer.
    • yes

      keep in mind Apple started all this.. 2007 first iPhone is released, can you imagine where we would be without Apple?
      • Yes, I can imagine

        We would have the Nokia Lumia 900, a device that by all objective measures is a great device, and whose owners are extremely satisfied with the device doing well and profiting.
        "- 96 per cent of owners are extremely satisfied or somewhat satisfied with their Lumia 900

        - 95 per cent of owners are willing to recommend the Lumia 900"

        We would have WebOS, again a mobile OS that was praised objectively as being a fantastic OS, doing well in the marketplace.

        Instead, we have a company that leveraged its MP3 monopoly in order to enter the smartphone market very late and kill all the competition.

        So the answer to your question: can you imagine where we would be without Apple?
        is: Yes. We would have a much healthier market instead of one dominated by a 9000lb gorilla bully monopolist.
        • And to think Gates got spanked for bundling a browser...

          Toddbottom3 is right on. Fans can sing the praises of Apple and Android, but looking at the business and future of smartphone choices and ecosystems, those two leave us cornered.
          Still, were Nokia to revive Symbian and Meego support, it might be too late. When Elop took over, he only had to settle a couple of schoolyard spats and assign Meego and Symbian their assigned roles, and still could have leveraged Windows on lines of models.
          Apple has gotten away with far more anti-trust moves than MS ever did; it almost seems quaint, the tussle over including IE in MS bundling. Apple certainly has created great, simplified products, but its lockouts and lockins remain un-investigated. That's why there are anti-trust laws - to support competition.
          None of this helps Nokia now; we just have to wait for the Windows 8 cross-platform OS to be realized and for people to try it out. Windows very well could be the next dynasty based on this, as Apple is basically adding a few mods to its old products. We'll just have to see.
          Jim Brady
          • Oh? Please enlighten us on Apple's violations of 15 USC.

            Better yet, write a brief and forward it to your local US Attorney. I'm sure they'd appreciate your help and get right on that!
          • History is a great teacher but you do have to listen

            While I've already provided evidence of Apple's anti-trust violations below, keep in mind that you get tried for the crime AFTER you've committed it, not before, and during. MS was tried long after they bundled IE for the bundling of IE. Apple IS being anti-competitive right now, that much is absolutely undeniable. Apple DID leverage their iTunes monopoly to break into the smartphone market and kill off the competition. Again, that much is absolutely undeniable. Will they ever be punished for it? We'll see. Hopefully they are punished severely for their current anti-competitive practices that they are currently being tried for, as I've linked to below. Consumers are harmed by higher prices on books, something Steve Jobs is quoted as saying is totally acceptable. He wanted consumers to be harmed.
          • Oh, I think Apple successfully denies it quite frequently.

            You really should learn what the word "undeniable" means. While you're at look up "non sequitur."

            As for all your "evidence", wake me when someone with a law degree in a position of authority agrees with you and prosecutes Apple for something. You keep saying Apple is being anticompetitive and then you reference products and actions that have been present for years. I'm the first to admit that the US Government is sometimes slow to act, but if these " anti-trust violations" were as obvious as you seem to believe, you'd think a legal professional somewhere in the Dept. of Justice would have noticed. Since all we hear is crickets, I'll have to conclude you're wrong.
          • Did you just admit the DoJ has no lawyers?

            "wake me when someone with a law degree in a position of authority agrees with you and prosecutes Apple for something"

            Apple is currently being prosecuted for anti-competitive behaviors by the DoJ. I pasted a link below. Sorry if the RDF gets in the way of actual reading of real information. It is tough for you to look informed when all your information comes from the Ministry of Truth located at One Infinite Loop, So Say We All.
          • That RDF works two ways.

            Where do you get these conclusions? At what point did I ever say the DoJ has no lawyers?

            As for the ebook Collusion suit. Yes, I concede DoJ has filed suit against Apple AND 5 publishers for collusion, 3 of which settled. Let's see what happens between now and 3 June, 2013 when oral arguments start. This case is shakier than the one against Curt Schilling, and I predict an Asst. US Attorney is going to be out of a job next year. Seriously, ask yourself this simple question; how can you be engaging in anticompetitive behavior when another company already has 90% market share?
          • Oh boy, now I get to ask you where you got your law degree from

            "how can you be engaging in anticompetitive behavior when another company already has 90% market share?"

            Clearly you can considering MS is under investigation for not allowing alternate browsers in Surface RT, a tablet and OS that have precisely 0% marketshare while Apple and Android have 99% marketshare. But you are the lawyer here right? You know better than the DoJ lawyers, right? Maybe you can explain it to us? Maybe you can explain to us how stupid all those DoJ lawyers are while your law degree (which you will prove to us shortly) makes you so much more informed?

            If you can't, mind if I give it a go, again, based on actual history instead of RDF? It is undeniable that Apple is the 9000lb gorilla in the tablet market. They used that monopoly position to pressure the publishing industry to give Apple favorable terms for the sole purpose of hurting Amazon and consumers get caught in the cross fire with higher prices. It is anti-competitive because Apple is using their power in 1 market to influence another and it is harmful because consumers end up paying more for the same product.

            "At what point did I ever say the DoJ has no lawyers?"

            You asked, and I quote:
            "wake me when someone with a law degree in a position of authority agrees with you and prosecutes Apple for something"

            Since you already knew that Apple was being prosecuted for anti-competitive behavior by the DoJ, you clearly believe that they have no lawyers or you wouldn't have asked for me to wake you up "when someone with a law degree in a position of authority agrees with you and prosecutes Apple for something".
          • Your conclusions are asinine!

            My question is valid, I know that because I stole it from a trade lawyer. There's been some head-scratching over the eBooks collusion case for exactly that reason. I'm willing to bet that on June 3rd next year there will be a lot of non-involved lawyers in the courtroom to see how the government presents this case. Of course that's assuming it even goes to trial. That trial is occurring a year from now, and is LATER than Apple wants it and SOONER than the DoJ does, which should tell you something. I would not be surprised if it's dropped or settled without a penalty before then. Otherwise we can debate the facts next year when they come out.

            As for "MS is under investigation for not allowing alternate browsers in Surface RT", well-that's in the EU. I thought we were talking about the DoJ and US anti-trust laws. And when it comes to the DoJ, Microsoft is currently untouchable with Windows RT! Go back and read the famous "Findings of Fact." It, literally, only says anything about “Intel-compatible PC operating systems.” SurfaceRT is, by definition, exempt, and DoJ would have to re-litigate from scratch anything regarding it. That is, after it's actually released and attains monopoly status.

            Again, you keep using the word "undeniable" when Apple and at least 2 publishers have denied it. You may think it's "unbelievable" or "unconscionable", but you can't say it's "undeniable." As for "anticompetitive", again if you know the definition of that word, you really can't apply it in a situation where the motive is to COMPETE. The DoJ may try to make the argument that trying to make your competitor less competitive is in itself anticompetitive, and if they do I, and many others, will be reading that transcript carefully. Regardless, this is far from a slam-dunk.

            And don't count on the idea that "it is harmful because consumers end up paying more for the same product." The DoJ has two problems there. First, the tendency is to assume 90% market share is more of a threat to consumer pricing than anything else. Second, prices overall dropped after Apple entered the market. That's a slightly weaker argument, since you can go back-and-forth endlessly on individual title prices, but the point is that no position in this matter is unassailable.

            The fact is that Apple probably did collude with the publishers, but the problem is that collusion is extremely hard to prove. The US legal system is, for better or for worse, based on the premise that it's not what you did that matters, it's what the prosecution, or plaintiff, can PROVE you did. So, unless there's a smoking gun email or one of the other publisher executives turned state's evidence, the DoJ likely has a very weak case, and this would be reflected in their desire for a couple more years to investigate.

            Finally, just to clarify-wake me when someone with a law degree in a position of authority prosecutes Apple for something for which it is solely or directly responsible (e.g. that iTunes "monopoly" you get ranting about). Don't worry, I'll wait.
        • Disagree

          Sorry, but as much as I hate Apple, they forced the market to move and improve, as I fully expected they would do when I first heard their announcement. Without them, most phones would still be a mismash of hard-to-find features and a labyrinth of menus.
    • Healthy for the consumer? What the Hell does that mean?

      The consumer is the one who picks the winners and losers. To say that they are somehow wrong or bad for deciding what they want to buy is patronizing in the extreme. Were you ranting to the world all through the 90s and 2000s that the Wintel hegemony was bad for the consumer? I think you've got the Effect part of the current smartphone market right, but you're totally missing the cause.

      Apple is earning boatloads of money because it makes a high-margin device that is alluring enough to make a lot people pay a premium for it. Samsung is making substantial profits because it's leveraging in consumer electronics experience with a free OS to provide mass-market alternatives at more reasonable price-points and decent margins. Everyone else is failing because they haven't found the right mix to compete. It's a simple as that.
      • Clearly you are wrong

        "The consumer is the one who picks the winners and losers."

        Clearly you are wrong or there would be no need for anti-trust regulations, the same anti-trust regulations that Apple are currently being sued for breaching.

        So clearly there are many cases where the consumer is not able to pick the loser because the winner is making it difficult. Leveraging a monopoly in one market to break into another is a perfect example of that. See Apple's leveraging of its iTunes monopoly as a perfect example. I know there are many people who wanted something better than the iPhone 1, 3, or 3GS but weren't able to because they felt they were locked into iTunes. They tried going with WebOS back when Palm was attempting to provide interoperability with iTunes but Apple anti-competitively slammed that door in the faces of all the consumers who tried to pick their winner: a Palm WebOS device.

        "Apple is earning boatloads of money because it makes a high-margin device that is alluring enough to make a lot people pay a premium for it."

        Yup, just like MS in the PC OS market.
    • extremely anticompetitive tactics

      Tell me more about Apple's extremely anti competitive tactics, which you have pulled out of your bottom, Mr. Toddbottom?
      • Okay, here you go
        "European authorities are also probing Apple and the publishers for similar antitrust violations."

        Money (pun intended) quote from Steve Jobs:
        "We'll go to [an] agency model where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and, yes, the customer pays a little more"

        You can thank me later for educating you.
        • Oh, you're talking about books.

          I'm sorry, I thought the topic was smartphones. As for that case, the interesting thing about it is that the government is suing publishers and Apple for anti-trust in an industry that is dominated (90%+ market share) by ANOTHER COMPANY. I'll concede that Apple is a co-defendant in a suit that many DoJ watchers consider fundamentally flawed. I personally like Sen. Schumer's editorial where he writes "The suit will restore Amazon to the dominant position atop the e-books market it occupied for years before competition arrived in the form of Apple." I'm the first to admit that getting a US Senator to say something usually only involves writing a big enough check, but it's hard to assail his logic.