Elop: Nokia will cut its phone development time

Nokia's chief executive says he is trying to instil a 'sense of urgency' to speed up development of Windows Phone-based handsets, but analysts are sceptical
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Nokia is cutting the time it takes to develop new handsets by one third, according to chief executive Stephen Elop.

Stephen Elop Nokia

Nokia's Stephen Elop has said the company will cut the amount of time it takes to develop new mobile handsets. Photo credit: Stephen Shankland

Elop made the promise at the Open Mobile Summit in London on Thursday, where he gave details of the Finnish handset maker's strategy, saying it was looking forward to rolling out "waves" of Windows Phones at varying price levels. His speech also covered how Nokia will make sure its Windows Phones are different to other Windows-based handsets, while not fragmenting Microsoft's mobile platform.

"We think we're going to cut [phone development] time by at least a third in terms of what we do [in the future]," Elop told the audience at the conference. The chief executive added he is trying to instil a "sense of urgency and agility and speed of execution" at Nokia, which he joined from Microsoft in September.

CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood told ZDNet UK at the event that it was "hard to quantify" the timing change Elop was talking about, but "whatever the improvement, one third is better than where Nokia has been historically".

It has been a "systemic failure" within Nokia that the company is incapable of striking while the iron is hot, Wood said. "The fact that Elop has been able to effect that change so quickly is testament to his strong leadership skills," he added.

Nokia adopted Windows Phone as its key focus — and, ultimately, sole smartphone operating system — in February this year. The first Nokia Windows handsets will use the upcoming Mango update to the Windows Phone platform.

Windows Phone partners

"We jumped into the Windows Phone environment late in the Mango cycle," Elop said. "We see far more differentiation [after Mango]. We will have unique differentiation, and we expect that differentiation to accelerate as we go forward."

We will have unique differentiation, and we expect that differentiation to accelerate as we go forward.
– Stephen Elop, Nokia

Nokia's patented technologies, such as SIM-based near-field communication (NFC), will help make its handsets stand out from rivals, Elop argued in his speech. Even so, the company is keen to work with other Windows Phone backers, such as Samsung, he said, noting that a fork in the development path for Microsoft's OS would undermine these efforts.

"We want multiple manufacturers to continue to participate in this ecosystem," Elop said. "We are going to compete like crazy with Samsung [specifically, Samsung's Android business] but, at the same time, we do work with Samsung to ensure the Windows Phone ecosystem is healthy."

Services such as Nokia Maps could end up on rival Windows Phone handsets, Elop confirmed. "That's very much the intent," he said.

Varying price levels

The ability to create a range of pricing levels for Windows Phones was a key reason why the company chose to use Microsoft's platform, rather than MeeGo, he added. MeeGo, a derivative of Linux, was initially intended to be Nokia's next high-end platform, but it has been sidelined at the company.

Elop went on to note that Windows Phone, when it entered the market, was pitched at the very high end of handsets. "We will ensure it comes well down in price points," Elop said.

However, Nomura analyst Richard Windsor expressed scepticism about Nokia's chances of getting a mid-range Windows Phone handset on the market within the next 12 months. "The signs are it'll be at least a year, if it does happen," Windsor said.

Windsor suggested that this left Nokia without a defence against low-end Android handsets over the next year. Nokia used to rule the low-to-mid end of the handset market, and Windsor said its loss of position within this sector is key to the company's current troubles.

Android swipe

Unlike other operators, Nokia did not choose to adopt Android, which now leads in handset market share. Elop took the opportunity to take a sideswipe at Android, calling its openness into question. "If you counted the number of lines of code associated with Android, there's some open-source code," he said. "But if you also add in the proprietary code for search and so on, you might get a very different picture."

In response, Motorola vice president Christy Wyatt said later at the Open Mobile Summit that she has "a huge amount of empathy for what [Nokia] is going through", as Motorola had also been in crisis a few years ago. Like Nokia, Motorola at the time had several mobile operating systems on the market.

"We understand Android isn't open source in the truest sense of the word, but... if Google closed the code... the assets we need are already open source," Wyatt said. "We don't see it so much as a dangerous game."

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