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 131.

    #130 Conner De Public
    There are a thousand and one topics we are not allowed to comment on. This is the BBC, the BBC's not a democracy you know!
    Now I would like to talk about George Osborn’s disastrous incompetence. The governments policy of persecuting the mentally ill & other disabled people. & of course the need for a global asteroid defence program, one prob based on nuclear pulse tech.

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    British Gas profits boosted by colder weather.

    This is the most important topic to the UK BBC license payer.
    So why cann't we comment on it HYS?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I hope I can join them in the recovery room sooner than later because at the moment I am so 'sick' of all the nonsense and the price hikes!
    I feel that all 'Smart' phones should be sold as "Smart Phones for Dumb people"!

  • Comment number 128.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    124. Arma1
    "you get what you pay for."

    My point precisely.

    I didn't wish to imply that Macs never, ever go wrong. Of course they do, occasionally. But in my place, the tech guys spend all their time looking after the PC's, and they absolutely love us in the Mac dept, because we never have to call them out. In my experience, most problems are caused by dumb users anyway, not a hardware fault.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    Microsoft's take over of Nokia is failing with no prospect of recovery.The Microsoft CEO has no clue.He talks about squeezing the market and subsidizing Nokia until he can force the competition out of the market.

    Microsoft is in decline and will be broken up soon.Given its position it would be prudent to buy blackberry and leave Nokia to the much better google offerings.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    Wat a smartphone, the technology have finished with Nokia 920 Lumia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    I don't think I mentioned I'm a support tech who looks after PCs and Macs for a large company - I've seen as many problems with Macs as I have PC's. They all use the same hardware from the same manufacturers these days, a computer with good quality parts will last a long time no matter which OS is installed - you get what you pay for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    122. Arma1
    "it'll wipe the floor with the Mac."

    Maybe. But it'll also be dead within 3 years. My 12 yr old Apple G4 is still chuggin' along merrily, and my 3 yr old MacPro has never had a day's trouble. I buy Apple's because of their durability. Long term value is more important to me than short term. You're not saving anything if you're having to buy a new computer every 2/3/4 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 122.

    The biggest mistake people make comparing Mac to Windows is down to price.
    People compare a £1,249 Mac (iMac 21.5" with an i5 cpu & 8GB ram) with a £500 PC and think this proves Mac is better. If you want a true comparison, look for a £1,200 PC (i7 cpu, 16GB ram, top end graphics) - it'll wipe the floor with the Mac.
    Now Steve Jobs has left the building Apple are on a slow downward spiral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 121.

    Sony's fatal mistake is very simple - it chose to become both poacher and game keeper at the same time - an ethos that never works. Control of the hardware side is at conflict with owning interest in the software side and Sony and the other old brands have fallen between the two. Today their products are often preceived as crippled and non-standard and not as good as other 'lesser' brands.


  • rate this

    Comment number 120.

    They should listen too their customers and apply the thoughts and wishes of the customers.It makes sense,you know it does.Its not hard to understand Tech companies.

  • rate this

    Comment number 119.

    115. Steve84
    "... apple is a bit stagnant nowadays"

    I agree. 99.9% of my home/work tech is Apple, because it's best for my needs, which is the only reason anyone buys tech. Who buys what's wrong for them? That's why I fail to see the point in arguing about it.

    But Apple were at their peak when led by a visionary, and now they're run by accountants. I fear a return to the Gil Amelio days.

  • rate this

    Comment number 118.

    "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."

    No they don't - PCs come with MS loaded already, and many buyers are too indifferent/lack technical knowhow/any other excuse to use something else. I count myself in their number. Hardly "choice."

  • rate this

    Comment number 117.

    @Old Father Thames

    On the 'millions more pixels' bit, i never eally understood why we need more pixels than the human eye can distiguish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    The more technology impacts on our lives, the more I get tired about hearing or reading about it.

    Its all the same garbage really isn't, a new version of this, new functionality for that, millions more pixels here, more interactivity there etc etc

    Give me some sunshine, a picnic, and tartan blanket and a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel and the company of a good woman and I'm happy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    graphis"Who really cares about other peoples phones? Get a life"

    Who cares about people's opinions who care about other peoples phones, double get a life for you.

    In all seriousness apple is a bit stagnant nowadays if Sony and Nokia ever had a chance to get out some new better products, it would be now. And the phone/tech industry is massive, and there is interest in these subjects.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.


    The username i have chosen does not reflect on my opinions in the slightest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    111. Sarcasm

    "Lets face it, apple fanboys won't give up."

    LOL, your username's a bit of a giveaway:)

    Anyway, a simple count on any of these blogs will show that the Apple "fanboys" (if there are any actually here at all) are far, far outnumbered by those who insist that XXXX is better/faster/bigger/smarter/brighter blah blah blah.

    Who really cares about other peoples phones? Get a life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    If Sony have an 'ecosystem' problem of a different kind to that of Nokia's why are they dragging their feet about Windows Phone? Why have they not come up with Windows phones of their own? The same old Sony mentality as was the case with notebook computers! They were extremely late in entering that market.


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