Too little, too late for Nokia?

Nokia vows to improve its smartphone selection and partner relationships in the U.S., but Senior Editor Bonnie Cha wonders if the company is past the point of no return.

Nokia's ready to fight. (Pictured here: Nokia's outgoing general manager of mobile solutions Anssi Vanjoki at Nokia World.) Stephen Shankland/CNET

When it comes to Nokia, I think my CNET colleague Stephen Shankland said it best in his article here : "It is hard to ignore the paradox at Nokia's global partner and developer conference: the company sells more smartphones than anyone else in the industry but is fighting for its life."

If you take a look at the situation in the U.S., where the Finnish cell phone manufacturer only claims 3 percent of the cell phone market, one could argue that Nokia is already dead in these parts of the world.

Yet, the Finnish cell phone manufacturer isn't giving up. In addition to taking on iOS and Android, Nokia vowed to improve the situation in the U.S., and I really want to believe that it can, but a huge part of me fears it's too little, too late.

"We're in listening mode now"
During a teleconference with members of the North American media on Tuesday, Nokia's senior vice president and head of global sales, Colin Giles, admitted that Nokia isn't happy with the current situation in the U.S.

He noted that in the past, the company lacked an understanding of the U.S. market. "We were trying to run a business globally and not tailoring enough for the U.S.," Giles said. Part of the problem was not creating products with the right U.S. specifications and operator requirements, but Giles insists all that's changed and that "we're in listening mode now" and looking for ways to improve relationships with U.S. partners and developers, starting with the mobile operators.

As I sat listening to Giles talk, I found myself nodding in agreement. It finally sounded like Nokia was getting the picture but this should have happened years ago. Then, Nokia might not be facing such an uphill battle against Android and iOS here in the States.

Even as Nokia works to build relationships with the service providers, it's still limiting itself to only building GSM phones, which excludes any type of Nokia love for CDMA carriers, Sprint and Verizon. According to Giles, Nokia understands the importance of CDMA phones and is looking to the development of LTE to bring such devices to market, but for now, the company is taking things step-by-step and going with what it does well first, which is GSM phones.

Fine. Something is better than nothing but for all the talk about your commitment to the U.S. market, how do we take you seriously when the new phones announced at Nokia World won't be available with a U.S. carrier?

Software and services
Nokia has other hurdles, too. Its Ovi Store doesn't even come close to iTunes or the Android Market, both in title selection and navigation. There are certainly a number of great apps to be found, but unless you know what you're looking for, be prepared to wade through some junk. Oh, and music services? Yeah, still waiting for that Ovi Music Store to launch in the U.S.. At least Ovi Maps is good.

Then, there's the matter of software. Nokia said it's committed to three platforms: S40, Symbian, and MeeGo. I'm not necessarily knocking that decision. I've always been an advocate of giving consumers a choice and not having one OS to rule them all. Plus, I've spent some time with the revamped Symbian 3 platform on the Nokia N8 and think it's a huge improvement. I also think MeeGo looks very promising, but none of that matters if you can't get the devices into U.S. consumers' hands at an affordable price. (Yes, buying these phones unlocked gives you the freedom of carriers, but it also comes at a high price and for most consumers, it's a deal breaker.)

Seeing is believing
Like I said earlier, I want to believe Nokia. I want the company to do well in the U.S. I have fond memories of the Nokia 5110, one of my first cell phones, and I even remember a time when Nokia led the charge on smartphones. I'd love to see that again. The company's comments during Nokia World and during the conference call have been heartening but talk is cheap. Seeing is believing.

About the author

Bonnie Cha was a former chief correspondent for CNET Crave, covering every kind of tech toy imaginable (with a special obsession for robots and Star Wars-related stuff). When she's not scoping out stories, you can find her checking out live music or surfing in the chilly waters of Northern California.

 

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