Leaked Nokia memo paints gloomy picture

Ben Parfitt
Leaked Nokia memo paints gloomy picture

An internal company communication that has been leaked online has outlined the true extent of the trouble at Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia.

Just a few years ago the company appeared to be an untouchable force leading the mobile phone market. However, following the smartphone boom Nokia has found itself quickly falling behind the pace.

Though its hardware remains strong, particular criticism has been reserved for its Symbian OS platform which lags badly behind the likes of Apple's intuitive iOS or Google's emerging Android.

The memo from Nokia CEO Stephen Elop – and published by Engadget– starts with an oddly menacing analogy about a man standing on a burning oil platform in the North Sea. It continues:

"We too, are standing on a 'burning platform' and we must decide how we are going to change our behaviour.

"There is intense heat coming from our competitors, more rapidly than we ever expected. Apple disrupted the market by redefining the smartphone and attracting developers to a closed, but very powerful ecosystem.

"In 2008, Apple's market share in the $300+ price range was 25 percent; by 2010 it escalated to 61 percent. They are enjoying a tremendous growth trajectory with a 78 percent earnings growth year over year in Q4 2010. Apple demonstrated that if designed well, consumers would buy a high-priced phone with a great experience and developers would build applications. They changed the game, and today, Apple owns the high-end range.

"And then, there is Android. In about two years, Android created a platform that attracts application developers, service providers and hardware manufacturers. Android came in at the high-end, they are now winning the mid-range, and quickly they are going downstream to phones under €100. Google has become a gravitational force, drawing much of the industry's innovation to its core.

"While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.

"The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

"We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market.

"At the midrange, we have Symbian. It has proven to be non-competitive in leading markets like North America. Additionally, Symbian is proving to be an increasingly difficult environment in which to develop to meet the continuously expanding consumer requirements, leading to slowness in product development and also creating a disadvantage when we seek to take advantage of new hardware platforms. As a result, if we continue like before, we will get further and further behind, while our competitors advance further and further ahead.

"And the truly perplexing aspect is that we're not even fighting with the right weapons. We are still too often trying to approach each price range on a device-to-device basis.

"The battle of devices has now become a war of ecosystems, where ecosystems include not only the hardware and software of the device, but developers, applications, ecommerce, advertising, search, social applications, location-based services, unified communications and many other things. Our competitors aren't taking our market share with devices; they are taking our market share with an entire ecosystem. This means we're going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

"This is one of the decisions we need to make. In the meantime, we've lost market share, we've lost mind share and we've lost time. How did we get to this point? Why did we fall behind when the world around us evolved?

"This is what I have been trying to understand. I believe at least some of it has been due to our attitude inside Nokia. We poured gasoline on our own burning platform. I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally.

"Nokia, our platform is burning."

To read the memo in full, head over to Engadget.

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Tags: nokia , platform , burning , elop , leaked , memo

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