The Americanization of Nokia

An article in today's NY Times discusses three how three Americans are now in key positions at Nokia: Mary T. McDowell, Jo Harlow and Richard Green. In particular the piece focuses on McDowell, Nokia's "chief development officer." The idea is that these and perhaps other Americans to come will help revive Nokia's high-end smartphone business especially in the US.

Nokia is still by far the dominant OEM globally but has a declining share in the US market. Along those lines, here's a statement in the piece, attributed to McDowell, that's not entirely accurate in my opinion:

She added that Nokia‚Äôs problems in the United States stemmed from its failure to work closely with U.S. mobile operators to tailor devices to their needs, rather than from any shortcomings in the phones themselves. 

Nokia's failure to work with carriers is perhaps one of the critical explanatory variables behind its current US predicament. However the user experience is definitely part of the challenge Nokia faces in the US.

Unless the company makes super-affordable, "good enough" smartphones and/or dramatically improves its user experience overall Nokia won't see any gains in the US. Around the world, especially in developing countries, it's a very different story; Nokia dominates.

Yet Android poses a serious threat to Nokia in those developing markets over time. Nokia has been almost exclusively focused on finding an "answer to the iPhone." But as I've argued before it's really Android that Nokia should worry about globally. 

I would argue that the US market is an important market to Nokia not because of revenues but because it's now the smartphone leader and much of the "coverage" is driven by what's happening here. There's more symbolic value here for Nokia in succeeding or failing.

Nokia's failures in the US may also reveal "cultural" issues within the company that need to be addressed. It may be something of a useful mirror that Nokia should use to diagnose those internal questions and problems. I'm not sure that simply having Americans in key positions is the answer. 

After all, Microsoft, which faces its own significant hurdles in the mobile market, is an American company.