It’s now a year since Nokia made its dramatic decision to switch from Symbian to Microsoft’s Windows Phone as its principal operating system, as the phone maker tried to find a way to compete with the success of smartphone rivals Apple and Google.
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Nokia unveiled its fourth Windows Phone device, the Lumia 610 which could bring Windows Phone to the mid-market masses. And yet it was a Symbian phone - admittedly one with a gigantic 41 megapixel camera sensor - that grabbed most of the headlines.
The handsets that Nokia showed off at MWC show that this is a company coming to terms with a new competitive landscape - one where it has to fight battles on a number of fronts.
Five new phones
The company unveiled five new handsets: three phones - the Nokia Asha 202, 203, and the 302 - for budget-conscious phone fans and emerging markets, where it is still a strong player. It also showed off the 808 PureView, a Symbian Belle phone with a 41 megapixel camera sensor, as well as its new Lumia 610.
So will Nokia be irritated that despite a huge change of direction it is was the Symbian phone that has grabbed most of the headlines? Unlikely: the 41MP sensor on the PureView 808 has created tremendous buzz for the company and is a reminder of Nokia’s engineering excellence and there would be little surprise if this technology appeared in the Lumia range as well.
But good hardware alone is not enough to compete in the smartphone market, which is why Nokia also showed off new apps including Nokia Reading for ebooks and audio books, an updates to its Nokia Transport and Nokia Drive apps.
Ovum analysts Tony Cripps said that on paper the combination of Nokia, Microsoft, an aggressively marketed mid-range Windows Phone device, and Nokia-developed applications looks strong.
But he warned that if this doesn’t kick-start demand, both companies’ hopes for renewed relevance in the smartphone market “will be seriously dented.”
While switching to a new operating system and delivering four new handsets in a year is quick work, Nokia still has plenty to do: it might have sold one million Lumia devices in its last financial quarter, but that’s still tiny compared to the 37 million iPhones Apple sold in its last quarter.
Still, Nokia could find an unexpected ally in mobile phone operators keen to see more smartphone competition, according to Cripps.
“Carriers are looking for more variety in their handset portfolio: historically they’ve been looking at getting a balance between different manufacturers, but increasingly they’re looking to get a balance between the different software platforms. There’s a sense that carriers get disconnected from their subscriber base and at least having some variety in the portfolio helps to limit the affect that any one platform has.”
Nokia’s tablet gap
The Nokia tablet is also a notable absentee. While most of its rivals are offering smartphones and tablets -admittedly with little success apart from Apple - Nokia hasn’t got anything to show, yet. But thanks to Nokia’s new closeness to Microsoft, the advent of Windows 8 - which will also get showcased at MWC this week - might change that.
“The arrival of Windows 8 on ARM might make a difference here. Windows on ARM lets them carry over a lot of their expertise around embedded systems ,” said Cripps.
Nokia is gradually putting all the pieces of its strategy in place - now it has to persuade consumers and business that its products are a compelling alternative to iOS and Android.