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

    Comment number 31.

    I think one thing that is often missed is this:

    Samsung - No1 - Not a phone only company
    Apple - No2 - Same
    Microsoft OS - As above
    Google (own Android) - Not a phone only company

    Looks like the days of domination by the Phone only companies (Nokia, RIM) are long gone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Stephen Elop's been saying that Windows Phones are going to save nokia for at least a couple of years now.

    He hasn't been right yet, and the market share of both nokia and windows phone has been on the decline ever since.

    Maybe if they ditch the Microsoft stuff they could be cool again, but not until then, and they'll have to give Elop the boot - it's been obvious he was an MS plant since day 1.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    The world turns, Samsung & Apple are the current bench marks previously it was RIM and Nokia but Samsung and Apple are not innovating in the same manner that heralded the iPhone etc. My Son has the Samsung SIII and hates it, he also has the iPhone 5 (the third one as they keep going wrong) and he thinks that has issues so if someone get redical Samsung & Apple are history.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Their must be something wrong with my phone. I've applied for hundreds of jobs and it has not rang once.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    #22 I thought this was a technology blog. Still... I guess I could always claim to be left handed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I've been using PC's since I was 9, programming since 12. And working in IT since leaving schoo. I have used All windows since 3.11 (bar ME) multiple MacOS, several Linux distro's and a few others.

    My operating system of choice is always windows on my home PC. As it is for just about every other IT pro I know who doesn't own a mac. I could install Linux, but why would I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    How many "freebies" do you get Rory?

  • Comment number 24.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "I feel most consumers would not choose MS for their PC's let alone a mobile"

    It doesn't matter what you think, though. People DO choose MS, for all sorts of reasons.

    I hope Nokia continue to provide excellent hardware, regardless of the OS. The camera on my N8 is still outstanding, years after release.

  • Comment number 22.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    The market's stagnated. The smartphones are all pretty much the same, it's more down to personal preference over OS and brand loyalty.

    What is needed now is some serious innovation to encourage the buyers back. Sony and Nokia need to recapture the magic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I'm a big Nokia fan and I think it's really good Nokia seem to be coming out of the darkness - their hardware is second to none and Windows Phone, despite the naysayers is actually excellent to use; everyone who has used it really likes it. For me personally it is a little restrictive but this hasn't stopped iPhone customers before so maybe, just maybe MS+Nokia can pull this off.Good luck to them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    We develop mobile apps. We develop for iOS and we develop for Android.

    We don't develop for Windows Phone.


    We used to develop for Windows Mobile. Microsoft pulled the rug from under us.

    We then developed for Windows Phone 7. Microsoft pulled the rug from under us.

    Twice bitten, three times shy.

    And none of our customers want Phone 8 after they, too, were shafted over Mobile and Phone 7

  • Comment number 18.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Hello? Helloooooo? Is there anybody there? No? Okay, I'm off out to enjoy the sunshine and shoot the breeze with real life people - turn the lights off to save power. Thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    1. Andrew
    "Until Microsoft port their mobile development tools to Mac OS (the OS of choice for most mobile developers now)"

    Why on Earth would Microsoft do that??? They (like Apple) have they own development ecosystem and they're not going to shift... ever.

    I also can't imagine that certain diehard types would switch from Android (or Windows) in any case...

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    I traded in a Galaxy S3 for a Lumia 920. OK, so I don't have access to (enter random number here) apps...but then I only had about 50 odd on my S3 anyway. I'm having lots of fun on my Lumia, it's refreshingly different, and the Nokia apps are a real regrets..

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    The killer app - as far as I am concerned - is battery life and accessibility to charging. I always preferred Sony-Ericsson for battery life. Nokia, too, was most accommodating for all it's handsets using the same charger. I always had one handy in case a visitor forgot theirs.

    With USB charging and Sony Ericsson parting, suppose that edge was lost. I've since moved to HTC with Android.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    RE Nokia's choice to adopt Microsoft as the OS: given the choice, I feel most consumers would not choose MS for their PC's let alone a mobile. It's just that in the PC market the choice is not that clear as it's practically impossible for consumers - who are not prepared to pay more for Apple or tech-savvy enough to build for Linux - to get anything that doesn't have MS pre-installed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    @1 Are you sure all developers only ever use mac to develop their apps. As far as I am aware the majority of android developers run windows & eclipse IDE


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