Nokia World 2010: Nothing much to see for US market

Nokia held their Nokia World event last week, but I doubt very little announced or shown off will have any effect on the US smartphone market. The US wireless carrier system will not change and Nokia needs to figure out how to work with carriers to have any impact here.
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

I have talked and written about my hobby site, Nokia Experts, here before and last week I made my first trip to Nokia World. I wrote up my closing thoughts of the event on the NE site, but wanted to also post some things I have been thinking about regarding Nokia here on ZDNet. We see very few official carrier smartphones from Nokia here in the US and the smartphone market share in the US is almost nothing, especially when you see them still leading at near 40% in the worldwide market share numbers. I've been a Nokia fan for several years and had hopes they would launch some of their newer devices here in the US through carriers, but after meeting with folks last week I highly doubt we will see anything change for Nokia in the US in the near future for a couple of reasons.

UPDATE: For some further, deeper thoughts on why I will continue to buy Nokia devices in the USA and write about Nokia on Nokia Experts and ZDNet, check out this latest post.

US consumers

US consumers do not think of Nokia mobile phones as smartphones and honestly we have seen just a few (E71x on AT&T, E73 Mode and Nuron on T-Mobile) over the last couple of years so there is no reason to expect that they would. In the good old days of mobile phone adoption it seems everyone was given a free Nokia phone to get started and they worked well as durable, decent quality devices. I think many US consumers still have the impression that Nokia makes low end, throw-away cell phones.

The US wireless market is different than many other areas of the world and most all phones are sold in stores through a subsidized pricing model. High end Nokia smartphones are sold here only as SIM-unlocked devices and while this may be cheaper in the long run due to no contracts, ability to tether without carrier charges, and other factors it doesn't matter because the initial price is generally $500+ and the expected high end smartphone price today is $200. I have tried explaining the two year cost differences to people, but am done trying to convince anyone any more since I am not going to change anyone's mind with these $200 subsidized prices being thrown in their faces.


I talked to a few executives and Nokia employees and get the overall impression that the US market is just getting lip service from Nokia. I heard things like "the US is a priority" and "we will be taking steps to address the US market", but there were no carrier announcements or any other solid proof that anything is actually happening in the US market. Nokia announced that 100 operators have signed on to sell the new Nokia N8, but not a single US carrier is in that large group of operators.

I understand that the US market is different and Nokia sees that, but Nokia needs to also understand that the US market is NOT going to change to sell their devices so they need to figure out how to work with carriers or we will never seen wide adoption of Nokia devices here no matter how good they might be. I heard a lot about the US media not understanding the global impact of Nokia and got the feeling that there was little respect for the US smartphone media and consumers. I actually was sympathetic to Nokia in this regards when I posted an article responding to Peter Rojas' post on GDGT, but after further retrospection of Nokia World I am more sympathetic to Peter's take on Nokia. I don't agree that they need a complete UI overhaul, but they do need to think more about taking on the higher profit margin smartphones we see from all the other players. Nokia will sell millions and millions of devices around the world, but if they are only making a few bucks from each of these low to mid level devices they will continue to decline financially while the high end smartphone market continues to roll on.

The US media has been a bit forgiving towards Apple, Google, and RIM when subpar devices have been released, but Nokia cannot afford to release a subpar device like the Nokia N97 here and see it get slammed for performance when compared to the flashy and fun iOS, Android, and BlackBerry devices. Microsoft and Palm/HP have new gear coming soon and I honestly don't think anyone here in the US cares much about Nokia making a play in the US with the already huge collection of smartphones we have available to choose from.

Also, the only Nokia service that is worth using for US buyers is Ovi Maps. Ovi Maps is actually fantastic and gets better all of the time. However, there is no US support for the Ovi Music service so hearing all about it just brings angst to Nokia smartphone owners who cannot use the service.

I like that Nokia reaches the world with their devices and seems to honestly care about and take steps to preserve our planet. I also think they consider the US as a strange mobile market that is still in the early development stages with consumers attracted to eye candy. They need to figure out how to sell their global message and still reach the US market and honestly I don't see that happening anytime soon.

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