Nokia CEO takes aim at Android

Stephen Elop says there is growing excitement for its products, particularly from the carriers that have seen its full road map.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
3 min read
(From left) Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, HTC CEO Peter Chou, and Nokia CEO Stephen Elop speak with moderator Rutberg & Co. analyst Rajeev Chand about the prospects of Windows Phone at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Roger Cheng/CNET

BARCELONA, Spain--Nokia CEO Stephen Elop isn't shy about who he's going after with his Lumia Windows Phones. He has his sights set directly on Android.

"Our focus is on competing with Android," Elop said during a keynote address at the Mobile World Congress show here today. "We want to bring them to Lumia."

Elop struck a bullish tone when talking about the opportunities with and excitement about the Windows Phone platform. Nokia and Microsoft have each made their bets that their combined heft will be able to lift the two out of their respective mobile slumps and allow each to regain relevancy in the smartphone business.

The carriers, which have seen Nokia's fuller product road map, are have expressed confidence about the prospects for Windows Phone, Elop said.

With Android so fragmented, Nokia has a chance to take market share away from various segments of the operating system. It's interesting that he didn't mention taking some of Research In Motion's business, which has seen its own share fall amid competition from Android and Apple.

Nokia faces significant challenges. The world's largest handset manufacturer took a hit with its brand and the perception that it can still deliver a quality phone. It has designs on big markets such as the U.S., where it has traditionally struggled. It also faces entrenched competitors in Apple and a slew of Android vendors.

Nokia recently reported that it had sold 1 million Lumia smartphones since its launch, a number some worried represented a slow start for the company. But Elop warned against comparing its early performance with that of an established platform like Android.

"We're starting from a base with Windows Phone," Elop said. "We have to build from there."

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop making a keynote address at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain. Roger Cheng/CNET

He added that the company is seeing steady growth, and that in the U.S., the Lumia 710, which launched with T-Mobile USA earlier this year, had exceeded expectations.

Nokia is focused on a "consistent pattern of breathtaking innovation," Elop said, adding that the company is also accelerating the pace of innovation and development.

The company has a chance to kick-start the adoption of Windows Phone with its newly unveiled Lumia 610, a phone that will cost 189 euros ($254) without a subsidy. That means a carrier could give the phone away with a service contract. In the emerging markets, where Nokia has traditionally been strong, the Lumia 610 could see high interest.

Elop said the Lumia 610 is also an ideal phone for first-time smartphone buyers.

HTC CEO Peter Chou, who made his keynote address before Elop and participated in a question-and-answer session with Elop and Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, said that while they're competitors, HTC and Nokia also have a common interest in nurturing the Microsoft ecosystem.

"I believe [Windows Phone] will catch up," Chou said, although he hedged a bit when asked if it would be on par with Android or iOS.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm not a fortune teller."

Hands on with the Nokia Lumia 610 (photos)

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He added it was too early to tell how the market share would be distributed between the three ecosystems.

Elop and Chou traded well-meaning jabs at each other because each debuted products with a focus on the camera. HTC showed off its One X a day before Mobile World Congress officially kicked off, and spent a significant portion of its presentation on its Image Sense feature and enhanced camera capabilities of the One X.

A day later, Nokia unveiled the 808 PureView, a Symbian phone packing a 41-megapixel sensor.

It was a lighthearted rivalry that began at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, when Chou topped Elop's effort with its 16-megapixel camera phone.

"After I presented our phone, Stephen didn't say anything to me," Chou said, eliciting some chuckles from the audience. "After that, I knew he would come back."

Elop took some exception to the moderator's claim that most smartphones look alike, arguing that his Lumia 900 would stand out against the iPhone. Chou similarly said that industrial design had become an important way to stand out from the crowd.

"Design really does matter because of the sea of black and charcoal gray," Elop said. "Homogeneity is not good for consumers."