updated 06:40 pm EST, Tue February 8, 2011
Nokia CEO memo reveals fear of iPhone, Android
(Update: full memo) Nokia has been circulating a memo that has fueled beliefs the company is about to undergo a major platform shift. The note by new company CEO Stephen Elop characterizes Nokia as "standing on a burning platform" where its insistence on Symbian and the status quo has left it attacked on all sides. A TechCrunch copy of the note from late Tuesday has Apple's iPhone controlling the high-end, Android the mid-range and a slew of Chinese companies getting the bottom.
The only choice for Nokia is to jump off of its platform, as it was better to embrace the unknown than to face destruction with what you know, the memo read. More details would be made public at the company's February 11 meeting, but how many of these would be publicized would depend on how much attention Elop wanted to get.
It further supports notions that Nokia may be on the verge of a platform switch that would see it drop one of its Symbian editions or even MeeGo in favor of a common platform such as Android or Windows Phone 7. A "well-placed" insider expected Windows Phone 7 to be the choice, but that it might not be ready until 2012. Microsoft's OS could end up being the major platform for Nokia in the end, another source said.
An OS shift would be part of a much larger attempt to break back into the US after years of declining share during the relative neglect of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo's reign as CEO. The company is believed to be putting down significantly stronger roots in the tech-savvy San Francisco Bay Area and acknowledging that Europe is no longer the center for smartphone development. Nokia has had a presence in the US for years and insisted repeatedly during the Kallasvuo era that it was due to recover, but it never committed significant efforts to getting smartphones through to carriers and instead hoped customers would pay the frequently $500-plus prices for unlocked devices.
A Windows Phone 7 switch would be a gamble for Nokia. The OS has tightly controlled hardware specifications and limited customization that would erase Nokia's self-proclaimed uniqueness. The OS also has yet to gain any significant traction and wouldn't necessarily be helped by Nokia, even if it counted on its large smartphone market share as leverage. Android is theoretically better for Nokia as it would maintain an open platform and allow much more customization.
Most suspect a WP7 switch would come in part as a debt of gratitude to Elop's former employer, Microsoft.
Update: A full copy of the memo has emerged and has made it clear that Elop is disappointed in MeeGo. There may at best be one phone using the OS this year, he said. He also admitted bluntly that Symbian was "non-competitive" in North America. Apple and Google were not only taking market share but robbing Nokia of an "entire ecosystem."
"The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience," he he said. "Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes."
Nokia has "poured gasoline" on that burning platform through its attitude, Elop added.