Nokia Drops the Bomb
It wasn't all that long ago -- back on February 11th 2011 -- Nokia announced it was getting to bed with Microsoft and turning its smartphone platform from the incredibly successful Symbian to the incredibly unsuccessful Pocket PC Phone Edition/Windows Mobile/Windows Phone/Windows whatever-Microsoft-is-calling-it-this-month.
Naturally, industry watchers went nuts, including this Wired article saying Nokia was "killing Symbian." (Such statements, by the way, violate my First Rule of Thinking About Technology).
And the impending death of Symbian? Well, that's not entirely accurate. The official press releases said they have, "the intention to form a strategic partnership with Microsoft to combine complementary assets and expertise to form a global mobile ecosystem and to adopt Windows Phone as our primary smartphone platform..." [emphasis added].
Seriously? You Think Nokia's Gonna Kill This?
What a shock we got two months later when Nokia announced two new Symbian-based phones: The E6 and X7, both with the latest update of the Symbian OS. The world was aghast! How could Nokia bring out new Symbian devices when they were about to kill Symbian??!!
First of all, in a letter to developers released the same day as the Microsoft announcement, Nokia said it is still planning to sell an additional 150 million Symbian devices... nearly two years worth of sales even with a declining market share.
But what happens after that? Does Nokia kill Symbian altogether? In 2010, Symbian was the most popular smartphone OS in the world with more than one-third of the global market. There were nearly as many Symbian phones sold as iPhone and Android combined. I don't see any killing there at all. With all its troubles, don't you think Nokia would continue to embrace the most popular smartphone on the planet for as many years as it can?
Nokia's Possible Scenarios
I'm thinking there are three things Nokia could do at this point:
- Dump Symbian and lose the lower end of the market (and the majority of smartphone sales). This seems to be what is expected.
- Dump the new strategy of CEO Stephen Elop--who, by the way, was just hired away from Microsoft--and continue with the Symbian growth curve.
- Let the two platforms live side-by-side and move Windows to the upper end while continuing to support Symbian at the lower end as the market adjusts to more-expensive smartphones worldwide.
The Nokia/Microsoft announcement came at a time I was just finishing up a forecast for GigaOM on mobile handsets and smartphone platforms. I'd been working on it for a LONG time and was eager to just get it published. And, to tell the truth, I don't believe Nokia would embrace Scenario 1 above and dump Symbian, regardless of all the other forecasters seemed eager to do. So now there's some controversy -- even from within GigaOM in an article called When, Exactly, Is The Timing of Symbian's Demise -- about the validity of all the forecasts in this market.
My forecast calls for this: Android and iPhone continuing their dash to market domination. Combined, they'll eclipse Symbian's market share during 2011. However, my assumption is that Nokia sees that it can sell more than 700 million Symbian phones by 2015, instead of stopping at 150 million in 2012.
Here's one other assumption that's being made by other forecasters (look it up... don't make me call them out): That Microsoft's OS will magically replace Symbian's market, nearly phone-for-phone. I'm here to tell you, the resource-hungry Windows Phone system will not become the worldwide bestseller -- after 10 years of struggling -- simply because Nokia's out there trying to sell it to their (decreasingly) loyal customers.
Here's what my original forecast looks like. If there were a title for it, I think it would be, "Nokia realizes what a good thing it has in Symbian before it's too late."