Saturday, September 11, 2010

Two Months In Nokia's Life

Back in June I questioned whether Nokia might be a new entrant in the f*dcompany,com hall of fame. Until this week that looked a distinct possibility. Nokia shares are down 60% since the iPhone was introduced 3 years ago and until 7 days ago the downtrend looked to be continuing, as the graph of 2 months worth of daily stock prices shows (data from bigcharts.com)

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Yesterday's announcement of a new chief executive (preceded, naturally, by the sacking of the old one) is seen as the catalyst the company needs to change. Stephen Elop, the new chief, is ex-Microsoft (but also ex-CEO of Macromedia, the original developer of Flash). His record is of turnaround and growth.

Symbian is not having a good time. App development is low (no users means no customers means no apps) and the o/s doesn't seem to have adapted to the touch screen / image rich / socially networked world. Perhaps the N8 due out soon will change that (my take on the N8, purely drawn from online reviews, is that they've thrown hardware at the problem so as to hide the lack of progress in the software; it has a great camera, great video etc but that's about it).

Developing a new o/s or even enhancing a current one will be a big job - and so there will be plenty of questions about whether to adopt Android or even Win Mobile 7 given Mr Elop's doubtless flawless contacts in that space. Or perhaps a multi-o/s strategy - why back one horse from the get go? Build on several o/s and upgrade Symbian in the background might work. It will take more than that to sort out Nokia though.

Mr Elop, despite Nokia's strong performance everywhere other than the USA and Europe, probably doesn't have the luxury of time. He'll need to describe and start executing on his plan very quickly. But the man at the top can make a difference - when Steve Jobs returned to Apple it was worth barely $2bn; it's now worth more than 100x that. Is Mr Elop going to do a Jobs on Nokia? His track record - the lack of experience in consumer product - suggests not. But he'll get the benefit of the doubt for now I think and rightly so.

It will be interesting to watch. I hope he returns Nokia to its former status as one of the innovators in the world, even if not to the kind of market share they enjoyed for so many years.

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