Apple's iPhone may be the best-selling smartphone on the market, but Nokia CEO Stephen Elop intends for his company to take an approach more like that of Google's Android-to offer a broad portfolio of mobile phones that hit multiple price points.
In an interview with a host of the Finnish television show A-Plus, Elop-whose company is struggling to regain its footing as the world's top mobile handset vendor in the face of rising competition-said Android, not Apple is right now its biggest threat. While Apple's iPhone is priced for the higher end of the market, there are Android devices being released at every price point, and this broad portfolio approach-more than a single great phone-is Nokia's goal as well.
"So you're not looking for an iPhone killer? the host pressed.
"I'm looking for the device that delivers the best combination of results for our customers and for the company," Elop answered, with studied patience. "It's not about a device. It's about a whole portfolio approach. A much broader approach than a single device."
Nokia's mobile phone efforts were among a number of issues Elop touched on in the wide-ranging interview. He also talked about Nokia's place in the burgeoning tablet space and shed light on the company's decision to shift the responsibility of overseeing Symbian development to Accenture.
Elop in February announced that Microsoft's Windows Phone, not Symbian, would be Nokia's primary focus going forward. He described how Nokia and Microsoft are working aggressively to bring to market a portfolio of Windows Phone devices, in a process that includes opening Windows Phone development sites in Finland. For now, the pair plans to release devices sometime in 2012, but there's a possibility, Elop said, of it happening even sooner. (How to avoid the unhappy situation of delays, the host asked? By not announcing a date too early, Elop answered.)
On the topic of a Nokia tablet, however, Elop surprisingly implied that the process was still in its very early stages, with the Nokia team still assessing whether the tablet should run Windows, MeeGo or Symbian-the platform options that Nokia has fingers in.
"There are now over 200 different tablets on the marketplace, and only one of them is doing really well. My challenge to the team is that I don't want to be the 201st tablet on the market that you can't tell from all of the others," Elop said. "We have to take a uniquely Nokia perspective, and so the teams are working hard on something that would be differentiating, relative to everything else that's going on in the market. ...We are in a hurry, but it's a hurry to do the right thing."
On April 27, Nokia announced that it would be letting go of 4,000 employees and shifting 3,000 others to Accenture, which it has hired to oversee its Symbian activities. With Nokia's commitment to Symbian expected to cut off after 2014, the prospects for those 3,000, whom Nokia said in a statement would be retrained and redeployed, seemed a bit shaky. However, the contrary is true, said Elop.
"We spent a great deal of time to plan the right number of people to go to Accenture so that we would have reasonable confidence that they would have a longer-term employment path there," he said. "We did not want to take the approach of moving people to Accenture who would then face immediate layoffs. That was not our plan at all."
Those moving to Accenture "will first help with Symbian, and then will go through an extensive retraining program so that they can support Windows Phone, as well as other mobile activities all around the world for Accenture."
Addressing still another challenge that Nokia faces, in addition to the Apple iPhone and Android-running handsets, Elop acknowledged the "onslaught" of Chinese phone manufacturers, which he's confident the company can beat. While they offer cheap hardware, Nokia is investing in software, the highest-quality hardware, and a complete ecosystem, which means not only applications but also a variety of services.
"There are loads of manufacturers in China," Elop said, "but there's only one Nokia."