This morning, I followed a Twitter exchange between Randall, someone in the industry that I follow and a few others. The discussion was about Nokia’s

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Nokia going with Android would not have worked

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This morning, I followed a Twitter exchange between Randall, someone in the industry that I follow and a few others. The discussion was about Nokia’s decision to go with Windows Phone instead of with Android. MeeGo also showed up in the exchanges. I followed the chat quietly and with keen interest, and enjoyed Randall’s responses which resonated mostly with my position on the saga. Here, I share the conversation with you, and include a few comments of mine.

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Nokia-Android-WP-Samsung-Randall

Like many here have expressed, the desire for an Android Nokia was what triggered off the conversation. Randall responded with a desire to see an “open” Lumia, and things got going from that point.

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Would Samsung really have buried Nokia had Nokia gone with Android?

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Trust is not enough


Yes; Nokia is a trusted brand, but it takes more than trust to succeed in the market. Nokia was also financially weak and struggling. In my opinion, it would have been foolhardy for Nokia to go head-to-head against Samsung in the Android market. The result would have been a massacre.

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In the above tweet, Randall makes a very valid and strong case. Samsung is one huge conglomerate and were subsidizing their phones division. Samsung also makes many phone components. These often overlooked facts are key reasons behind Samsung’s successes in the smartphone war. How was Nokia going to compete head-to-head with that? But there is more:

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MeeGo. You Go Too


Randall thinks that MeeGo could have worked. I like that he used the term “could”. The custom MeeGo user interface that Nokia put on MeeGo was superb, but I found the OS itself a bit unpolished here and there. Then, there was the question of apps. MeeGo didn’t have a lot of apps available. Yes; it could have worked.

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Symbian devotees defect to Android


It is true that devotees of Symbian, Nokia’s former smartphone platform, are picking up Android-powered Galaxy smartphones from Samsung, no doubt. I am still not convinced that a direct collision with Samsung was going to be in favour of Nokia considering the circumstances – Nokia’s cash issues back then being the major crux. Randall nails it – Nokia killed two birds with one stone in choosing to go with Windows Phone. Sounds like smart strategy to me – get the resources you need to fight with, and stay out of the direct line of fire of the giant on the field.

One Camp per platform


I have expressed similar sentiments to those expressed here by Randall: iOS has Apple, Android has Samsung well rooted (even back then), and Nokia saw a chance to become synonymous with Windows Phone. They have succeeded. At the moment, about 75% of the Windows Phone market belongs to Nokia. Windows Phone IS Nokia. Nokia would have existed in the shadows of Samsung had they gone with Android.

ABC. HTC

HTC is almost a perfect reflection of what would have happened with Nokia had they gone Android. Look at the stunning and powerful devices that HTC produces. Yet, HTC sales pale beside what the competing Samsung products sell. The difference is so clear that it is almost unfair. The reality is that while HTC is a trusted brand too, it is a small and also financially weak player going up head-to-head with the dominant force in the field. It will take a Bible-day miracle for them to succeed. Note too that HTC had a head start in the Android market. As a matter of fact, they were the progenitor of the Android race.

I see all the valid reasons why Nokia went with Windows Phone. That does not mean that I also do not see the platform’s limitations. I do. I live with them daily, as I use a Lumia as my primary device at the moment. Limitations or not, I love Windows Phone, perhaps in the same way that iOS enthusiasts love that platform too. Much as I also enjoy Android for its functionality, I have no excitement about an Android-powered Nokia. I am happy with Android phones from Samsung, TECNO, HTC and Sony. Like I also said before, Nokia picking up Android exclusively would be bad for the ecosystem. Not only would we have less choices, Nokia would likely end up dead. Then we would end up with even fewer choices.

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The New Price War

Meanwhile, as far as Android goes, if you look at the current dynamics clearly, it looks to me like the winner in that market will pop out of China, sooner or later. Android’s strength is that it is free, making it easy to churn out inexpensive smartphones. Right now, the inexpensive smartphones are coming out by a flood from China. This is a new war that neither Nokia or Samsung seem able to keep up with. Imagine if Nokia had gotten in the ring and chosen to slug it out with Samsung, and then these new low-end players showed up to snap at their ankles right there in the ring. Nokia would have been unable to survive that.

When a price war rages, smart brands know that differentiation is key. In this, Nokia is fairly secure. They have differentiated by going with Windows Phone. They also have both the lower end and high end of Windows Phone covered. Meanwhile, some new fish are eating Android’s low end. Perhaps this is why Samsung remains committed to Tizen. Someday, Prophet Mo says, Samsung will migrate and become the champion synonymous with Tizen. Some Chinese brand will then rule Android, as Nokia’s reign in the kingdom of Windows Phone gets consolidated.

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11 comments

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  2. Brilliant and well said, I would have preferred Nokia made phones for both platforms. let’s also remember that when Nokia announced it was going all out Windows, Samsung wasn’t yet the behemoth it is now.
    the question I like to ask is, had Nokia announced Android powered devices along side windows phone, how would have Samsung responded? Nokia is currently the best selling WP device maker, it tells that people trust the brand, folks aren’t picking up other WP powered devices by Samsung, HTC, and other brands. they picked up Nokia due to part loyalty part trust.
    Nokia had a strong presence in Europe in the dying days of Symbian, if they had switched to Android the cult following would have stayed. imagine how well 41mp on a Android device would sell.
    Nokia missed it, they seriously did.

  3. I think these guys have looked at the issue far too simplistic, Nokia was in a healthy situation (with cash reserves of over 9 billion dollars) prelude to employing Elop, they also had 30% of the smartphone market, if they had adopted Android they would have also been able to aggressive market their offerings. before Nokia made the switch to Windows Phone it had close to 30% of the smartphone market (with Symbian), if Nokia had made the switch from symbian to maemo and maybe chose to keep its options open (like it did with s60, s90, s40, s80 transitioning into s60v3 to symbian^3/4, and maemo/meego and taking along android)it would have been in a better financial situation, at least its loyal customers would still have options to pick from instead this stupid “take it or leave it” stance with Windows Phone

  4. See, this highlights a lot of issues.

    First, when Nokia was struggling and deciding which direction to go, the Samsung Galaxy S 2 was not yet a hit. Nokia still had the time and wherewithall to put out a Nokia branded Android phone but they needed a bailout that it seems Microsoft were prepared to give. Remember the hit for Samsung started with the SGS2, then escalated to the Nexus devices.

    As for HTC, “Quietly Brilliant” really sums it up. They do great devices but simply don’t have or do the PR stuff as good as Samsung. They aren’t based in as many countries. Seriously, how much advertising do you see around the HTC One by comparison to the S4? And how many devices have they sold despite little self-promotion?

    As it is, it is too late for Nokia to join the Android bandwagon as Samsung simply dominates. Microsoft are in it for the long haul, they’ve been in the mobile space for a while. The Windows Mobile iteration has morphed into WP. So even if Nokia as a brand disappears, I really don’t expect WP to.

  5. Well well, I concur with Randall and Mr. Mo that Nokia is better off not going Android path. Yes, an Android Nokia would die fast in an already crowded field. Customer choices in OS platforms would also be limited.

    However, I disagree with the prophecy that Chinese brands will take over and rule Android on basis of cheap pricing alone. Maybe they can rule the low-end and mid-range phone markets, yes. But the high-end Android turf will still be ruled by the American Google Nexus force, Korean Samsung/LG giants, Taiwanese HTC legend, Japanese Sony force and American Motorola machine. All these formidable Android brands are GLOBAL PLAYERS, unlike Chinese brands that are at best territorial players either in China or in emerging markets like Nigeria.

    And I foresee Samsung not abandoning Android but maintaining a duo dominance in both Android and Tizen. I also foresee HTC and LG also maintaining duo influence in Android and alternative platforms like Mozilla or Ubuntu.

    The smartphone industry is going to get more interesting as years go on, as the major OEMs have new aces up their sleeves. Zach Epstein of BGR, while reviewing Apple’s new iOS7, gives a hint and I quote:

    “And truly I hope Apple has some surprises in store for us — some real innovation — because based on what I’m hearing from well-placed sources at one of Apple’s biggest rivals, things are about to get pretty exciting in the smartphone industry over the next few years.”

    And who doesn’t know Apple’s biggest rival(s)?

  6. HTC is almost a perfect reflection of what would have happened wwith Nokia had they gone Android. Look at the stunning and powerful devices that HTC produces. Yet, HTC sales pale beside what the competing Samsung products sell…

    Yeah, the entire argument seems sound but without pinpointing the reasons Samsung is ruling on the Android ecosystem, it becomes lame. Given, HTC makes solid phones that uses better materials on its exterior but while HTC concentrated more on beauty, Samsung concentrates more on performance and functionality. The majority of people who may buy these devices probably won’t care about the specs, but the bloggers would eventually sway their decisions on which devices to spend their money.

    If Samsung products will always be better in functionality and battery life coupled with their better camera, it can only be difficult winning them. Samsung have been consistently making devices that are considered to be better performers year after year, so why wouldn’t they sale better? If Nokia had chosen Android instead of Windows Phone, this PureView camera technology would have been a huge plus for their products, placing them in good stead for product differentiation within the Android ecosystem and they certainly wouldn’t have been slouch in other key areas that matters. Look at how well Nokia mimicked Android with their Symbian Anna and you can be sure that given the Android leverage they would have performed.

    Are these guys analyzing this whole thing considering Nokia’s huge fanbase? If Nokia still have some of their former hardcore fans, including Mr. Mo behind them and some more, how much more if they had chosen Android instead, which is closer and better than the experience Nokia fans are used to on Symbian. If all the considerations of cash, subsidizing hardware and marketing actually holds true for Samsung, why were Samsung not able to even earn a meaningful respect in the Symbian era? Is it not obvious that it is Android that projected Samsung, even as I admit they had to work hard to make it at the top.

    I still believe Nokia made a mistake going with Windows as their solo platform of choice and I believe further still that if they decide to adopt Android right now, they will soon start commanding serious respect on the Android ecosystem. They actually have deeper marketing reach than Samsung a year or two ago and that could still count in their favour. If people, both the knowledgeable and the less knowledgeable are still buying Nokia hardware these days that are powered by lame Windows Phone, then they would still have bought Nokia Android phones and be happier with them.

  7. Truth be told, Nokia made a mess for them selves. Nokia had a lot of loyal customers and I was one of them until they turned there confused backs at us. (customers ). I used an N81 8gb after which I switched to an N900. It was an ok phone but had lots of issues and no apps so after using that for a year I moved on to the N9 which was promising. Surprisingly Nokia dumped that too just like they did with the simbian, maemo5. Meego was a gesture based o’s as far back as 2011 and it’s amazing that seems to be the trend now. (bb os10). How could Elop miss that? Anyway I don’t trust Nokia with there Lumia’s cos they repeated the same thing again with the Lumia 900 to 920. I switched to Android Samsung Galaxy Note 2. I’m not happy with it cos it lacks quality but I can live with that. Nokia would have died faster if they had adopted Android.

  8. I agree with you that Nokia going with Android would not have worked but would disagree with some aspects:

    1. Nokia is already losing the price war due to WP. It is subsidizing Lumias heavily (prices of Lumias are going down way faster than 808 & N9 which is making Nokia lose money). Plus with Microsoft’s “cash injection” now finished & Nokia having to pay MS license fees, it only is going to get harder to compete.

    2. Microsoft’s cash injection may seem to be to help Nokia secure some cash but strangely they are Billions of Dollars worse in total reserves than they were before the new strategy. For me that was just to sweeten the deal for investors & board members to get on with the strategy and nothing else.

    3. Nokia had it’s own differentiation with MeeGo taking over and with Nokia’s “Qt for Billion” strategy, apps would have sure made their ways (Qt apps were and still are being added to Nokia Store as we speak). Having access to millions low-end Qt-enabled (Meltemi according to many) developers would have joined in. Plus with MeeGo rumoured to get Android runtime support once, making Android apps available on Nokia Store would have been easy (Look at BlackBerry 10 for instance).

    4. Samsung in 2011 was no way near Nokia was in terms of reach and only after the new strategy that some of Nokia’s strong base left for Samsung (including stores & franchises like many Nokia priority Stores in India). Samsung succeeded coz Nokia let it’s position go.. If Nokia had kept it’s string position without jumping with just WP, Samsung would not have made this much growth.

    5. HTC’s problem can’t be used to justify Nokia’s possible situation because HTC neither has the resources or expertise like Nokia. It is like comparing Apples to Oranges.. The only comparison you can make it HTC made few stupid mistakes in execution just like Nokia.

    The biggest mistake IMO that Nokia (and Microsoft made migrating from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone) is alienating the current developer & customer base by going totally different strategy without really giving a smooth migration path.. Nokia’s Qt strategy was giving that with it’s unified UI among others (The current Asha series have the same UIUX). This resulted in many rejecting the new options & going with competitors.

  9. First, thanks Mo for the credit! Very flattering. I’ll offer a bit more of my own thoughts but note that I need to be cautious since I returned to Nokia (part time) last year.

    There have been many good points made on either side of the debate here. Interestingly, one of the points made in opposition of the article’s premise actually supports it.

    It is true that Samsung essentially “came out of nowhere” to seize the Android ecosystem. Some point to that as an opportunity for Nokia to have done the same.

    While Nokia *did* have decent funds available when they changed course, their burn rate was phenomenal. There is no way that could be sustained without immediately generating new income. Microsoft (temporarily) addressed that with a cash infusion that helped Nokia weather the platform transition.

    Just as Nokia was determined to dominate with Symbian (and did), Samsung was determined to dominate the Android market. They have been heavily subsidizing their phone division, backed by much more strength than Nokia has had lately. The result is clearly demonstrated here in this Motley Fool article.

    Even Google fears Samsung.

    There’s no way Nokia could have gone all-in with Android. If they had, they would be just another Samsung casualty.

    Which begs the question of just trying one or two Android devices. Here is where I have to be careful with details, and not reveal specifics about Nokia’s operations, but suffice to say it’s MUCH more costly to take that approach and do it successfully. I agree in principle it would have been nice to see, but the effort would have drained off valuable resources. Going with one smartphone platform was the way to go.

    I wish that platform had been MeeGo. I think it *could* have been, but others may be correct in that ramp-up may have cost too much. Regardless, going with Windows Phone allowed Nokia to differentiate rather than going head-to-head with the Samsung juggernaut. That’s why they still have a chance to survive today.

  10. What’s the catch in “differentiation”? Being different just to lose market share, mind share, revenue etc.? So it makes business sense to go WP & lose everything, but win “differentiation”. If Nokia went Android today, I’d buy both their flagship phone & their budget phone BEFORE reading the reviews. Its not about the hardware, its the content ecosystem, the user experience & the ECONOMY in both emerging markets & the ‘struggling’ developed world. Apple has absolutely nothing for base & middle of the pyramid consumers, that’s why Samsung rode on Google’s coat tails & gained both mind & market share WORLDWIDE. Nokia exclusively focusing on WP was just so wrong. Well kudos to them for switching from DOMINANT to DIFFERENT!

  11. @Aniedi, you will buy both flagship and feature phone without reading the review. That is you.. Millions of phone users around the world will read reviews first. Nigerians have this erroneous view that because nokia had a cult following in Nigeria, it was the same in other places of the world. Nokia was dominant because at that time they had the best offering; a notion Apple shattered with the iPhone and buttressed by Android. Whether Nokia switched from Symbian or not, symbian was a sinking ship. Their market share from that period does not tell the true picture. Blackberry stuck to BbOS and gained market share in Africa and Asia but lost the most important markets in Europe and America which also made BB a sinking ship. In the smartphone wars, some markets are irrelevant as Nokia and BB found out. Nokia moved to Windows Phone to break into the American market. They needed cash and a corporate help of an american company to do that and Microsoft was the only viable option. Windows is gaining market share and is now the third largest platform after android and iOS. Given that they started from scratch in a time when android is swallowing everybody is impressive.

  12. None of those comments make any sense.

    Do people seriously think that Samsung is winning in Android just because of marketing? Anyway, that argument is a moot point. Nokia are pouring just as much money into marketing and advertising the Lumia range from what I can see. You can’t switch on a TV without seeing Nokia Lumia’s advertised these days.

    Also, this is the first time in business I have ever heard anyone refer to losing money consistently for 2 years as being a smart strategy. It’s been 2.5 years since burning platforms and Nokia’s financial position and market share continues to disintegrate. Do people really think that Nokia would have been in this bad a position if they had went with Android?

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