Why Nokia shouldn't switch to Android

Tech commentators are calling for Nokia to change direction and dump the operating systems Symbian and MeeGo, and jump on-board the Android bandwagon. Here's why this is a terrible idea.

Joseph Hanlon Special to CNET News
Joe capitalises on a life-long love of blinking lights and upbeat MIDI soundtracks covering the latest developments in smartphones and tablet computers. When not ruining his eyesight staring at small screens, Joe ruins his eyesight playing video games and watching movies.
Joseph Hanlon
2 min read

My daily trawl for the latest smartphone news is being plagued with a recurring theme, an annoying headline that rattles around my RSS feeds like the tiresome reappearance of a spectre in a nightmare: "Why Nokia should switch to Android". Not only do I think this would do more harm than good for the beleaguered global smartphone leader, but it would also have a negative impact for end users as well.

A quick scan of these articles reveals a not-surprising commonality; the suggestion that the sharp rise in popularity for the Android OS and the slow decline of Nokia's global market share should compel the phone company to reconsider its current reinvention and jump on-board the Android bandwagon. Either direction is a gamble for Nokia, but conventional wisdom suggests that the struggling company should follow the recent success enjoyed by Motorola and HTC. Nokia's recently resigned exec Anssi Vanjoki likened this approach to Finnish boys who pee in their pants for warmth in winter: a drastic act for a short-term gain, no doubt followed by discomfort and a bad smell. I couldn't agree more.

US smartphone share for the first half of 2010. (Credit: Nielsen)

The sharp rise in Android's popularity has been documented by a Nielsen study in the US of new smartphone acquisitions between January and August of 2010, showing acquisitions of the platform climbing from 14 per cent to 34 per cent in North America. However, a comparison of global smartphone sales suggest Android only holds 17 per cent of the market, which is closely in line with Apple's 14 per cent and BlackBerry's 18 per cent — well short of Nokia's Symbian, which still maintains 41 percent of global smartphone sales at the end of Q2 2010.

This comparison fails to account for the difference in profitability represented by success in the US versus Nokia's dominance in emerging markets (a key contributor to the 41 per cent global figure), but it does point towards user demand and brand loyalty. Nokia is still a company that enjoys a fantastic public perception throughout Europe and Asia, where most people will speak positively about the Nokia they used as their first mobile phone, and the three or four that succeeded it before they recently switched to an iPhone or Android.

That Nokia has failed to innovate fast enough to remain competitive is plain to see, but if Android's rise is proof of anything, it's that the smartphone users are fickle and hungry for ground-breaking change. If Nokia delivers this change with MeeGo we should see a shift in its fortunes, while we, the users, benefit from having more choice for the next time we go smartphone shopping. Nokia needs a killer new product, not to join the ranks of the Android army and scrap for mindshare against those who are already invested in the Android OS.