Last year, when attending my tenth Congress in a row, I wrote that MWC 2013 would be more global and more disruptive than ever before. I believe the same will be true this year, with 2014 bringing a very important milestone in the shift to mobile: an install base of more than 2 billion smartphones globally. Mobile is transforming every industry by offering global reach and the ability to offer contextual services. That’s why we'll see many more marketers, agencies, business executives, and strategists attend the traditional telecom show.
Gone are the days when MWC was about operators' supremacy. As my colleague Dan Bieler summed it up in this blog post, telcos are increasingly being backed into a corner. I still remember this quote from Arun Sarin, the former CEO of Vodafone, in the Financial Times in November 2007: “Just the simple fact we have the customer and billing relationship is a hugely powerful thing that nobody can take away from us.” Really? Well, in the meantime, Apple and Google have created two powerful mobile platforms that have disrupted entire industries and enabled new entrants to connect directly to customers.
From a marketing and strategy perspective, I'd categorize the likely announcements in three main areas:
1) The Asian Device Spec Fashion Week: Getting Lost In Device Translation
Mobile handset manufacturer Jolla, whose first phone ships on November 27, also announced that it has licensed HERE’s positioning services and map technology for its Sailfish OS. We expect more handset manufacturers to build devices for Tizen and Sailfish over the next 12 to 18 months, as both are open source and can run Android apps.
In my opinion, two key factors make Nokia HERE maps a tough competitor for Google and Apple:
I attended this year’s Nokia World in Abu Dhabi on October 22 and 23 — perhaps the last one that Nokia will host to showcase its devices (Microsoft wants to acquire Nokia’s device and services business). And it seems that Nokia saved its best for last. The company announced its entry into the loosely-defined phablet category (smart devices with diagonal screen size of more than 5 inches but less than 7 inches) with two devices: a top-of-the-line flagship device, the Lumia 1520, and a more affordable version, the Lumia 1320. It also announced its first tablet, the Lumia 2520. It also launched three new Asha devices: Asha 500, Asha 502, and Asha 503. However, Nokia has neither announced the release date for its new devices nor identified which operators will carry them.
The event tag line was “Innovation Reinvented,” and Nokia did demonstrate many innovations, especially around imaging software. It launched new apps like the Nokia Camera, which combines Smart Camera and Pro Camera apps; Refocus, which adds Lytro-like variable depth of field; Storyteller, which integrates photos and videos onto HERE maps; and Beamer, which shares Lumia’s screen in real time over Wi-Fi or cellular networks.
As it did for the iPhone 5S and 5C, Apple has tweaked its product portfolio with two new products to maintain premium positioning in an increasingly competitive tablet market. Both the iPad mini 2 (starting at $399) with Retina display and the iPad Air (starting at $499), which is thinner (43% thinner than the iPad 4), lighter, and faster (with a super-fast A7 chip) are great additions to the iPad product portfolio and come with new colors and covers. As always with Apple, expectations on systematic breakthrough hardware innovations are irrational. Apple is good at inventing new products (e.g., iPod, iPhone, or iPad) and at maximizing profitability of its product range over time through software innovations and clever marketing. Yes, at some point, the company will need to disrupt a new market once again, but today’s announcement is really about making sure it maintains the premium brand experience for the holiday season when competition is heating up — not just for tablets but also for the amazing new line of Mac products.
As many market observers had expected for sometime, Nokia closed the chapter on what can only be described as a dramatic climb-down for what once was the world’s leading mobile player. Nokia agreed to sell its Devices & Services business to Microsoft for 5.4 billion euros. What does this mean for Nokia Solutions and Services (NSN), formerly Nokia Siemens Networks? I have several observations:
I expect that more change for both Nokia and NSN lies ahead. Nobody can accuse Nokia of shying away from fundamental transformations: from pulp producer, to electronic component supplier, to mobile phone company, to now what resembles a holding company looking after a network infrastructure business (NSN), a cloud-based mapping service (HERE), and a patents and a licensing operation (Advanced Technologies). I see no synergies between these operations. Hence, a breakup of Nokia followed by an initial public offering of NSN could be one possibility. At the Mobile World Congress 2013, NSN presented itself in a manner what - to me - looked like dressing up for an IPO: a lean and mean provider of mobile broadband network solutions.
Eventually, Microsoft announced its decision to acquire Nokia's devices and services unit for € 5,4 billion.
After all these years of speculation, now was the time to invest. Indeed, despite the collapse of the Nokia handset empire, Nokia still has numerous assets: a wide portfolio of patents, Nokia’s product engineering and global capabilities in manufacturing, marketing, and distributing mobile phones. Microsoft is thus not only acquiring the Lumia brand but also the Asha one – bearing in mind Nokia still sold close to 54 million devices in Q2 2013.
Nokia will now focus on its three core technologies: the network infrastructure with NSN, its maps and location-based service ecosystem with HERE, and Advanced Technologies. There were early signs of the new approach when, a year ago, Nokia started to build brand equity beyond mobile phones with HERE (see my take on this blog at that time) but also more recently when Nokia announced its decision to acquire Siemens’ take to fully own NSN. Microsoft will pay Nokia a four-year license of the HERE services, bringing some regular revenues to the now much smaller company.
To avoid parts of the company to be acquired by some Far East Asian manufacturers and due to the diminishing investments from other Windows Phone licensees, Microsoft had to adopt a vertically integrated strategy. They are indeed the best placed to generate synergies with Nokia following the more than two years agreement. And as All Things Digital puts it, Stephen Elop is now the Microsoft CEO candidate to beat.
Unlike Ovi a couple of years ago, this brand will speak for itself. This is all about interaction with places around you, about context. Thanks to a best-of-breed product experience, Nokia is well positioned to deliver the most differentiated location experience.
During “Mapplegate” at the launch of iOS 6, my colleague Ted Schadler explained why it was a strategic imperative for Apple to do its own maps. However, at that time, most consumers and observers were comparing only Apple and Google Maps. The harsh reality was that Nokia couldn’t leverage its strength in the location-based space without an umbrella brand like “here.”
Make no mistake: This is not “HERE by Nokia” or any other form of sub-brand. This is an independent brand. Why? Because the opportunity is bigger than just Nokia.
This is about addressing different types of connected devices — not just mobile phones but also tablets, connected cars, and wearables. As such, “HERE” could play a pivotal role in helping Nokia leverage tomorrow’s new mobile form factors.
Apple's new iPhone 5 is a case study in incremental improvement. Nearly every aspect of the product -- the CPU, display, cameras, radio modem, size, weight, etc. -- are all improved over the iPhone 4S and at the same $199 price point. No doubt, the iPhone 5 and iOS 6 will sell millions of units, preserve Apple's momentum, and hold off the competition, but significant threats are mounting that Apple cannot afford to ignore:
Nokia is delivering Apple-quality innovation. As Nokia demonstrated last week at its Lumia 920 event, Nokia's innovation engine is firing on all cylinders. When the Lumia 920 launches (rumored for November 2), it will outclass the iPhone 5 in key areas such as imaging (PureView imaging, Cinemagraph) and location (Maps, City Lens, Transit) as well as bring wireless charging and NFC into the mainstream. While the breadth of accessories will be nowhere near what the iPhone offers, Nokia gets strong marks for showing Apple how NFC can enhance the accessory experience.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
I continue to believe that most consumers using an NFC device in 2012 will more likely use it for device-pairing or data-sharing purposes than for payments. Pairing NFC accessories and reading NFC smart tags will open up new opportunities. NFC will be a key technology for interacting with the world around you — and it is time to test it, as highlighted in this recent piece of research written by my colleague Anthony Mullen. There is an ongoing debate about bar codes’ potential replacement by NFC; I think both technologies serve different objectives and have different advantages but will continue to co-exist. Radio and optical technologies are converging, as highlighted by French startup Mobilead, which does a fantastic job of delivering a great branded experience mixing QR codes and NFC tags.