The Nokia Limbo

India is a familiar territory for Nokia. They were once the undisputed kings here, and still trail Samsung only by a small margin. You could say it’s a second home for them, looking at the sheer number of users here.

The Nokia Limbo

Samsung stuck around for years, but with a pretty small share. Then, Android came by, and the Samsung Galaxy S happened. Samsung iterated and built upon it quickly, taking over profits and market shares slowly but forcefully. At the time, Nokia was ruling the world with a market share of 40%. Android, on the other hand, was lagging back at 20%, with a wide number of OEMs using the OS. That’s one company versus a dozen others, so really, that’s how strong the company and its portfolio of Symbian devices were.

Specifically talking about India, most of the people here have used a Nokia at least once in their lifetime, and you could hazard a guess that a large number of those have had Nokia as their first phone. Nokia had immense trust built around its brand, and people had no qualms recommending a Nokia device to others. Great build quality, battery life, plenty features and good prices made sure Nokia stayed on the top of the market, and in the hearts of the people.

Fast-forward to 2013, and while people still love Nokia, a large number of people associate Nokia with laggy smartphones. Symbian, S60 and the variants, to be more clear. Smartphones, in general. When Android happened, and HTC and Samsung bombed spammed the markets with dozens of devices, people looked around, and started giving up their Symbian and S60 smartphones for the new Android phones. Nokia was caught unaware, so they kept peddling the same old smartphones for a while. It was a bit late before they realized they needed to ditch Symbian/S60 and hop on to the next generation of smartphones.

They did so in 2011. February 11th, to be exact. They stunned the world with their decision to go Windows Phone. Android seemed like a better decision for the company, and a better fit, coming from Symbian and S60. However, because of certain circumstances, they opted for Windows Phone. That lost them the favour with a lot of Symbian fans who jumped the ship to Android, in part because of Nokia’s decision to go Windows Phone, and in part because Android seemed like a better choice. It still seems like it.

Nokia N9

Months later, in the same year, Nokia unveiled the much-loved, much-wanted Nokia N9. It ran MeeGo-Harmattan, and it was one of the most innovative smartphones I’ve ever seen, or tried. I loved it, and wish Nokia hadn’t gone the WP/Microsoft way. Although it was launched, the company tried to kill it. The device would have otherwise posed a serious threat to Nokia’s upcoming Lumia series of Windows Phones.

The Lumia brand of Nokia smartphones was launched. Running Windows Phone 7, it lacked a lot of features that people had come to know about from Nokia’s Symbian devices. Many trashed it, while a few bought the Lumia 800. They were still selling Symbian devices, though, and people were still buying them. I was using an S60 device for a good part of 2012, so yeah. Windows Phone 7 didn’t gain a lot of ground. Not in India, at least. The Nokia Lumia 900 is a stunning example of that.

Nokia Lumia WP8 portfolio

Image credits: wp7app.de

Come Windows Phone 8, Nokia has launched a very good range of smartphones till date, and they seem to be doing better now than WP7. There’s the Lumia 920 in the high-end, the Lumia 820 in the lower high-end, the Lumia 720 in the upper mid-range, the Lumia 620 in the lower mid-range and the Lumia 520 in the entry-level. There are the Ashas (which are doing exceptionally well) in the feature phone category, and all these devices come with pretty good features for the asking price.

You would say Nokia should be doing plenty good. It seems true in the feature phone category, but it’s their smartphones where they still suffer quite a bit. They run on Windows Phone.

Why? I’ve been to several (dozens) of retail shops in my city. By retail shops, I mean retail chains. Reliance, Croma, Big C and the likes.

There’s a problem with these retailers. There’s a perception issue with respect to Windows Phone (most people, the common folk, still call it Windows, or Windows mobile, with mobile being a reference to the phone, so yeah, Microsoft, you’ve got it wrong here as well.). They associate it with slow/buggy/laggy, while it’s not the case at all, most of the times, with Windows Phone. That is because of the desktop OS, Windows. Although it’s become pretty good over time, and Windows 8 is good, people remember the numerous issues they’ve had with Microsoft’s OS.

Microsoft itself, for starters, is associated with “issues”. I asked a few common folk who use an Android device. Know that they’re not blind fanboys of Android, just that they find it much more easier to use Android for a variety

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of reasons, and not specifically because of the UI.

So coming back to the retail problem.

They’re not pushing the Nokia Lumia devices, at all. They discourage you, in fact. I’ve had several people tell me that when they went to shops asking for a Nokia Lumia, they were encouraged to drop the idea of buying a Windows Phone, and were rather told about the “shiny new Samsung Galaxy”. Or the super cheap Micromax device. Or one of those Karbonn devices. Or one of those cheap Chinese devices running Android.

The salesmen have said all of this stuff to me as well, plus something along the lines of “but it runs Windows, and is slow and buggy, has no apps.”

I’ll list the most important, oft-repeated keywords:

  1. Android
  2. Samsung
  3. Galaxy
  4. Cheap phones
  5. Android
  6. Free apps and games

People still love Nokia here, and they will still ditch the cheap Micromax, Karbonn, Samsung devices, or even HTC and Sony, if Nokia adopted Android. I don’t say this based on my own feelings. I’ve asked a bunch of people – on Twitter, Facebook, in real life. They’re all ex-Nokia, now-Android users, and they all wish Nokia had Android devices. It’s, in my opinion, what they market wants. They don’t want Microsoft, and they don’t want anything that has “Windows” in its name, on a mobile.

Nokia faces a lot of issues here. Although the Nokia Lumia 520, (and even the Lumia 720) is performing very good, they won’t be able to cut across until they solve these issues. Unfortunately, for them to do so, they need the control of the OS. Microsoft controls it, and as it stands today, Nokia doesn’t have a lot of say in pivoting it.

So, in essence, what I’m trying to say (for the TL;DR types)

  1. Nokia was the boss.
  2. Nokia was caught unawares.
  3. Android came from behind and became the leading OS, leaving Nokia, Microsoft and others to play the catch-up game.
  4. Nokia ditches Symbian, adopts Windows Phone, in the hope of being adopted by Microsoft.
  5. A fabulous, potent platform in the form of MeeGo-Harmattan and the upcoming Meltemi platform are killed.
  6. Microsoft is still the old, lazy company when it comes to a smartphone OS. Updates are rolled out slowly, feature-parity is still a distant dream. All this while the competitors are running away with profits, market-share and mindshare.
  7. Nokia is now
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    in a limbo. Although the Lumia hardware is excellent, it’s being held back by a troika of issues, namely –
    Microsoft
    Samsung
    Android

  8. Microsoft continues to pander, now thinking that a “One Microsoft” approach is better. Rumours about the company starting afresh for Windows Phone 9, as late as in 2015, are doing the rounds.
  9. Nokia is bound to use Windows Phone, and no other competing smartphone OS for a 5 year period, which started in 2011. I’ve heard about this, but I’m not sure. Take this with a pinch of salt, if you will.
  10. Windows Phone and Microsoft needed Nokia more than Nokia needed them. Now, Nokia needs Microsoft to catch speed, which, it seems, is in no mood to. Now, Nokia needs Android more than ever.
  11. People want a Nokia device running Android, even after the ongoing wave of cheap Android phones from an entire bunch of companies. And of course, the premium and as well as the affordable stuff that Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony are dishing out. People still want a Nokia device running Android. Marvellous, innit?

I think I’m going to shut up now. I’d not like a smartphone market much without a Nokia, really. I’m a fan of their phones, but whether they like it or not, Android could have saved them. They now either live or die by Windows Phone, unless of course they pivot themselves in a direction they’ve been much against, which is Android.