Is Nokia Backing Away from Symbian?

Nokia, the globe's largest maker of handsets, seems to be struggling for direction. The company paid $8 billion for Navteq to boost LBS and Nokia Maps. Maybe there's long-term strategic value in that asset but so far the purchase hasn't paid dividends commensurate with the price. Nokia has also not been (so far) able to transcend its hardware OEM identity, which it was presumably trying to do

The much hyped Nokia N97 -- the company's best "answer" to the iPhone -- went on sale in the US without a carrier subsidy at a price of more than $700. In other words, it's DOA. Despite this strategic blunder, the Finnish company says it's trying to find its way back into the US market, where it lags rivals badly.

(The company also recently announced a long-term strategic alliance with Intel for devices. We'll have to see what that relationship yields; certainly there is considerable potential.)

In terms of software, compared to other smartphone platforms, Nokia's Symbian is off (per Gartner's FY08 numbers):

Picture 11

There have been rumors that Nokia is now developing an Android tablet. And the Guardian (via GigaOm) says that Nokia will develop a smartphone based on Android as well:

Nokia is understood to be developing a mobile phone that runs on Google's Android software platform in a strategic U-turn for the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer.

The new touchscreen device will be unveiled at the Nokia World conference in September, say industry insiders, as the Finnish handset giant tries to revive its fortunes in the smartphone market . . .

Analysts at HSBC reckon Nokia had 47% of the global smartphone market in 2007; that was down to 35% last summer and 31% at the end of the year.

It's too early to say that Nokia is backing away from Symbian but it will be interesting to see if it does actually produce a phone using Android, rather than simply another non-phone hardware device (like the prior N810 Internet Tablet). Given that Symbian is losing momentum it's probably smart to experiment with Android, especially in the US market. 

The company could produce an inexpensive Android-based handset (say $99) and use that as a wedge to get back in. In my view that's Nokia's best way to effectively "return" to the US market.

____

Update: Nokia denies the Guardian's report about developing an Android phone:

"Absolutely no truth to this whatsoever," said a Nokia spokesman . . . "Everyone knows that Symbian is our preferred platform for advanced mobile devices."

Gizmodo writes a very critical review of the N97: 

If this really is the best Nokia can do, the giant is doomed to die a slow death, propped up for a while by the cheap handsets that it sells by the tens of millions.