Christmas buying season missed, can Nokia promises keep it relevant?
By David BRAUE
You have to feel at least a little sorry for Nokia. With Christmas coming up, it finally managed to get its Windows Phone 7-based Lumia 800 smartphone into the market (albeit not in Australia) and show the world that it's serious about reinventing itself. But its serious Christmas play – the long-mooted tablet, which was originally supposed to be based on the sweet but now-binned MeeGo operating system – will actually come next year.
In the short term, Nokia will be all but irrelevant to holiday shoppers as it struggles to not only reinvent itself, but to stay in the minds of ever more demanding smartphone owners who will not forgive the struggling Finnish giant for foisting another tepid mobile platform into the market. These days, shiny and sexy trump brand loyalty every time.
The good news for Nokia: by all accounts, the Lumia 800 is as good as any other WP7 device in the market. The bad: it's not really any better – a fact that led the Huffington Post to call it "so well-built that it is almost a letdown it does not shoot lasers or give back massages… You are paying a premium for design, not performance."
Sound familiar? Critics have been complaining on this last point, but in relation to Apple, for yonks. But they keep buying iPhones and iPads as quickly as Apple can make them. Apparently Nokia still hasn't internalised the need for a device that's as sweet to use as it is to hold.
Can Nokia tap into our collective love of design quickly enough to save itself from financial disaster? Time will tell. But it is now clear that, apart from its nicely designed WP7 phone, Nokia's fortunes in the mobile space rest squarely on a device that nobody has seen and an operating system that may or may not ship next year depending on how Bill Gates' whim is hanging on any given day.
Nokia has a lot riding on its Lumia smartphone line – and a tablet
that may or may not ship in time for anybody to still care.
Yes: rather than shipping real, actual product, Nokia's only offering to the tablet-hungry Christmas market is the vague promise, reported in a French newspaper, that it's aiming to release a Windows 8 tablet by June 2012. It will also, we hear, invade France with a volley of WP7-based smartphones – which are compared to the BMW 3, 5, and 7 series in a presumed nod to their relative cachet.
Microsoft doesn't have the best record when it comes to shipping new OSes on time, but it can ride out delays as it owns its market: Windows 7 is selling extremely well and remains very well-received. Nokia, however, can afford nothing of the sort: its strategic turnaround has already cost it thousands of jobs this year and it can only tap into market goodwill for so long before everybody just gets bored and walks away.
It's already happening: Forrester Research has just warned that "consumer interest [in Win 8] has plummeted.... Windows product strategists will have to overcome several disadvantages associated with being a fifth mover in the tablet market."
Things will get worse before they get better. Remember that by next June, Nokia's wundertablet will almost definitely be competing against the iPad 3 and Samsung Galaxy S III tablets. Nokia needs to not only better existing devices, but to factor likely improvements of these devices if it's ever going to have a hope of relevance.
If Nokia can't get some real traction soon – and I mean the kind that comes from real consumer purchases, not just breathless marketing reveals and drooling paeans from reviewers that would never in a million years actually buy the Lumia 800 over the iPhone or GS2 – it will have to give up on smartphones altogether and focus on selling feature phones by the million in developing economies.
This would, in short, make it not the BMW but the Yugo of the mobile-device industry. Remember the Yugo? That was the Eastern Bloc-built 1980s car that "had a rear-window defroster – reportedly to keep your hands warm while you pushed it". Its fate was as sudden and decisive as that of Yugoslavia itself, which was broken into its component pieces after fractious infighting made it unviable to continue in its current state. Nokia may be praying it's on to a winner with its Windows 8, but by the next Christmas buying season we should know whether the one-time industry Goliath meets the same fate.
Will you buy the mythical Nokia tablet, or the more-tangible Lumia 800? Or is Nokia just a train wreck in motion?
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