Nokia and Sony - in the recovery room?

 

Nokia's Stephen Elop says the Lumia can boost the company into third place in the smartphone market

In Barcelona I've been meeting two men trying to turn around ailing technology superpowers. Nokia's Stephen Elop and Kazuo Hirai of Sony each took over their companies at moments when the markets and consumers had turned against them.

What they also have in common is a resolute cheerfulness in the face of annoying questions about how much longer a recovery is going to take.

Stephen Elop, fresh from unveiling new cheaper additions to Nokia's Lumia smartphone range, was not about to agree with my suggestion that this move downmarket was an admission that things weren't working at the top end.

He insisted that the Lumia 920 had been selling well, and that by broadening the range Nokia's excellent technology would reach a wider audience. What is still open to question, however, is whether the huge gamble Mr Elop took two years ago will pay off.

After his famous "burning platform" memo, he opted to abandon the Symbian operating system, and choose Windows Phone rather than Android as the lifeboat to take Nokia to calmer waters. So far, the attempt to build a third "ecosystem" - in the industry jargon - to rival Apple and Google's systems, has failed to make too much headway.

But in our interview Mr Elop made the valid point that Android was now dominated by Samsung, leaving scant pickings for the rest, whereas the Windows partnership offered Nokia a good route into business customers. He admitted there was still much hard pounding ahead - but seemed convinced that the recent mildly positive financial results were the first signs that the leap onto Microsoft's platform rather than Google's was working.

Sony boss talks about the future of the firm

Sony's Kazuo Hirai has yet to take quite such a big decision since taking the helm at Japan's ailing giant last year. But he has already sold off some assets, cut jobs - and laid out a plan to focus on three areas. Mobile, gaming, and digital imaging - TV and cameras to you and me - is where he sees Sony having to compete hardest.

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Standing out in a crowd where Samsung's shadow looms ever larger means spending a fortune on marketing, just as smartphone prices come down”

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We talked among other things about last week's bizarre PlayStation 4 "launch" where the lack of an actual console was a disappointment to many. He smiled and said the New York event had just been an early preview, not intended to reveal too much: "That keeps people guessing and that's a good thing."

I put it to him that given Sony's history and its research prowess it was surprising how little impact the company had made in the mobile phone world - he blamed that on a lack of direction in the now dissolved Sony Ericsson partnership. It seems there were all sorts of issues on which the two firms disagreed - including Android.

Things had changed now, he stressed, and mobile was "front and centre" of everything the company did: "If we're not in the smartphone business 100% we're not in the game."

Right now, with a well-reviewed phone in the Xperia Z leading the charge, the outlook is slightly brighter for Sony.

But Kazuo Hirai has a different ecosystem problem from that facing Stephen Elop. The one Sony has chosen, Android, is now very crowded with lots of players all offering something similar. Standing out in a crowd where Samsung's shadow looms ever larger means spending a fortune on marketing, just as smartphone prices come down.

Two corporate leaders, then, with a difficult year ahead of them. Kazuo Hirai has a bigger, more complex task because Sony's business is so multi-faceted - but Stephen Elop probably has less time to prove to his investors that Nokia's big Windows gamble is working.

 
Rory Cellan-Jones Article written by Rory Cellan-Jones Rory Cellan-Jones Technology correspondent

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  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 11.

    I have had the Nokia Lumia 920 for 3 months, previously I had two different androids and an Iphone. The Lumia is the best of the bunch, windows is a dream to use, and it has all the apps I need. iOS is dated and not moved on for years and android is just a total nightmare, completely fragmented and unrestricted. For people who want a phone that works seamlessy and looks great, WP is the new iPhone

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 10.

    Sony's PS4 presentation was a farce. They were trying to gent in front of MS and the next XBOX, where as all they really showed was that they currently have no product, just some nice vidoes.

    With the exception of Gaming every device they build seems to have a better Samsung equivalent. Seems to me if the PS4 isn't a blinding sucess they are going to be in big problems.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 9.

    People who don't follow tech closely might not be aware but I can't imagine there are any companies pouring as much into their products than Nokia right now. I'm own an L820 after having both Android and Apple and what they are delivering to the platform compared to rivals like HTC and Samsung is amazing. They produce their own apps (not bloatware) along with exclusive apps at a phenomenal rate.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 8.

    Stephen Elop didn't take over Nokia at a point people were turning against them, he took over and TURNED people against them - not for nothing do we have the term 'Elopocalypse'. The only burning platform Nokia had was the technically cutting edge Maemo that he torched in a desperate attempt to lend Nokia's remaining credibility to Windows.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 7.

    @5
    I was in agreement, I just hit the character limit and deleted some bits at the begining of the post.
    I have the Wildfire s, it's full of bloatware, but the memory is also partitioned off so that only 25mb or so is accessible for installing apps. It's been deliberately done by the mobile operator to limit the phones functionality. I don't understand why they do it.......

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 6.

    1. Andrew
    "It's all about apps"

    That's what technology "experts" will have you believe, but does it matter in reality?

    I've just got a WP8 and already have all the apps i used on android.

    Windows may only have 150,000 apps at the moment, but i'm sure there will be more by the time i've downloaded them all

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 5.

    @4 That's exactly my point, HTC has Sense, Samsung has Touchwiz, Motorola, Motoblur, etc. All it does is slow phones down and lead to silly update development time. I know they're trying to differentiate their handsets from the competition, but the way they're going about it is making their handsets worse.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 4.

    @3
    It's all the bloatware that's doing harm to manufacturers, take HTC's Wildfire for example, good compact smartphone, sold millions, plenty of internal memory, but full of unremoveable mobile operator bloatware. Some of the top complaints are of low memory and inability to install apps.
    My next phone will very likely be a SIM only Nexus 4.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 3.

    It would be rather easy for both Sony and Nokia to overtake Samsung. All the have to do is release a high spec phone with a reasonable design which have vanilla android on it and offers updates when the AOSP is released. All these android handset manufacturers are too busy putting their own bloatware on devices - nobody wants it, see how popular the nexus 4 is with barely any marketing.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 2.

    I keep seeing windows phone everywhere, and everyone that gets one is raving about it. And the Nokia 920 is only coming off an EE exclusive so numbers have been limited. It sells like hot cakes sim free.

    I think Sony has its strategy all wrong and could be a major collapse. The playstation 4 is weak and phones are not selling.

  • rate this
    -22

    Comment number 1.

    It's all about apps. Until Microsoft port their mobile development tools to Mac OS (the OS of choice for most mobile developers now), they will never regain mobile developer mind share.

 

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