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
    +2

    Comment number 51.

    I've had 3 x PS1's, 2 x PS2's and I'm on my second PS3. I didn't want the second PS3 but my wife got it for me . I was loyal to Sony because of their upward compatibility with games. When Sony did the equivalent of breaking into my car and stealing the radio (removal of a large number of features) I went right off the company. My first (fat) PS3 died immediately after uploading a security update.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 50.

    Between work and home I have two laptops, a netbook, two desktops, an iPhone, an android tablet and a bog standard mobile phone. I am all technologied out.

    Please don't try to sell me anything else until you can add more hours to the day to use it.

  • rate this
    +40

    Comment number 49.

    @37 Tony Hannibal:
    "I used to work at Comet. The amount of people that came in saying Windows 8 was rubbish, and I managed to sell-up to Apple and they were very pleased customers indeed."

    Windows 8 came out on 30th October. Comet went into admin 2 days later and closed down completely within the next week. If you're going to tell fanboyish porkies it's best to check the dates first...

  • rate this
    +12

    Comment number 48.

    "I just had lunch with 2 mega-rich corporations, and here's what they told me to say .... "

    BBC technology editor

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 47.

    People love Apple bashing on HYS don't they?

    I don't get the tribalism. I have an iPhone and an iPad, they're simple to use, and more secure than Android devices.

    It's not a criticism of Android, which looks prettier and is much, much more customisable and flexible.

    Haven't used MS but I assume it has it's pros and cons too.

    Choose the one that suits you best and stop bitching, please!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    Sony and their memory stick, Elcassette- and Betamax. Ah yes-really new technology except it lost out. Wait to find out which way the wind is blowing first.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 45.

    Unlike Apple, Sony invent new technology.

  • rate this
    +14

    Comment number 44.

    #41
    Exactly!
    Once people would have thought it crazy that a company even try and challange Ford "the inventor of the mass produced car" It wasn't very long ago people said Samsung were wasting their time challenging Apple! Now people like #32 and RCJ seem to think companies who aren't Apple/Samsung should simply give up or are failures.

    IMO the market will diversify more and more.

  • rate this
    +20

    Comment number 43.

    Tribalism is the cause of much of the world's problems.

    Brand tribalism is just as bad, with consumers often being brainwashed into treating them almost like religions.

    Apple/Mac snobbery seems ridiculous to me, but I don't have any loyalty to Microsoft/Windows either.

    If a better value system came along with equal hardware capability & software availability, I would happily switch tomorrow!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 42.

    @ 17 Shoogly Peg

    What's this 'sunshine'? We certainly don't have that here in Oldham.

  • rate this
    +11

    Comment number 41.

    Look at a mature market... no-one brands VW a failure for "only" having 10% of the car market! Plenty room for all sorts.

    As for Nokia, well the market for people who want a smartphone as an extension to their office PC must be pretty big, perhaps a lot more than 10%. Others who centre their lives around their phone and want lots of "apps" may not be so keen on Windows, but so what?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 40.

    Cue all the Apple fanboys....

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 39.

    @37 - I know several people who returned to Windows after Mac. I use both - at work and at home. I also have Android and WebOS. It's a job hazard, being a web developer, but all operating systems have their pros and cons. I would not say that any one of them is perfect and which one I use depends on what I need to use it for.

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 38.

    @37 Gave my Macbook Pro away at Xmas. Couldn't wait to get rid of it.

  • rate this
    -34

    Comment number 37.

    There's an old saying when it comes to computers:

    Once you've had Mac, you don't go back. It's also true with their mobiles and tablets too. Apple's Operating Systems are by far the easiest to use.

    I used to work at Comet. The amount of people that came in saying Windows 8 was rubbish, and I managed to sell-up to Apple and they were very pleased customers indeed. This is why Nokia & Sony failed.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 36.

    Most gamers didn't see the PS4 launch as 'bizarre', in fact the tone amongst the hardcore early adopters is cautiously curious atm. Analysts view?

    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-02-22-five-analysts-one-consensus-playstation-4-impressed

    The squealing mostly came from the US, which has an ingrained bias in favour of MS and Apple. Oh, and from the BBC as well. What's your excuse?

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 35.

    As with most technologies, it's more about marketing & tribal consumer behaviour than which is actually best.

    Apple have done a great job cornering the smartphone market & were initially way ahead of the game.

    On the PC side though, it's more about intellectual snobbery & advertising placement in Films/TV, with advocates making weak excuses for the higher prices & lower software availability.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 34.

    #32
    Really? Everyone who uses the new OS seems to think it's great, many tech journos say it's better than Apples OS.

    I recently got a Win 8 PC, and think Metro is fantastic. And would seriously consider getting the OS on my next phone.

    Of course I think MS and everyone else should just give up because you think they are wasting their time!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 33.

    I purchased a Lumia 920 a few weeks back to replace a Nokia N8 with a two year old battery. After 10 days the 920 was returned as the longest the battery lasted was six hours. That after following Nokia advise to switch off NFC, WiFi, Bluetooth and every other bit of software.
    I purchased a smart phone, I got a brick!
    I'm back to my N8 now and it is still working.

  • rate this
    -4

    Comment number 32.

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

    So it has the (somewhat dubious) potential to make it an also ran. Great. The Metro interface is just bizzare. No one wants it but MS has their head in the sand

 

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