Kamikaze Elop wages war on smartphone market

From “burning platforms” to establishing “beachheads” former Microsoft man Swingin’ Stephen Elop is not afraid of dramatising hisheroic task of turning Nokia’s fortunes around.

As the Lumia 900 launch attempts to force Nokia back into the US market following a tumultuous year since he jumped ship to the Finnish former rubber boot maker, Elop could be on more of a kamikaze mission considering the difficulty of the job at hand.  A “war of ecosystems” is ensuing, Elop says, and he hopes his assault will be more Dunkirk than le Somme.

Since embarking on a will-they-won’t-they courtship with Microsoft in early 2011, it has become increasingly clear the mammoth task both firms face in becoming relevant in a fast changing smartphone market.

The Lumia series of handsets, the first to feature the partnership between the troubled pair, have generally been well received, and the new US-only 4G handset is no different.  With a 4.3 inch AMOLED screen the hardware seems that it will hold its own against some of the big name phones out there.

But being armed with a paltry 40,000 apps available through Windows shows just how far away both are from squaring up to rivals, with Elop himself admitting in late 2011 that they are “years” behind competitors at this stage.  Apple, for example, has around 500,000 apps available, while Google claims Android Market has in the region of 400,000, a figure that is still growing extremely fast.

Another one of the more debilitating problems facing both firms is that they are deemed out of touch by consumers.  Microsoft has largely been left behind in the move to mobile computing, while Nokia was last seen as desirable around the same time the 3210 and Reebok Classics were de rigeur in classrooms over a decade ago.

At least BlackBerry has some appeal among Molotov cocktail wielding youth in the UK, even if business users have largely given up.

Convincing phone sellers to give Nokia/Windows phones a big push to customers when more enticing brands such as Apple and Samsung are available is going to be no mean feat.  Upon entering most phone shops the words “Android”, “Apple”, “4S” and “S2” are the ones tumbling out of eager sales staff when you say you are looking to get a new smartphone, with neither Nokia or Microsoft getting a look in.

Of course, a large marketing budget from the two money bags firms – it should not be forgotten that Nokia still does rather well with in emerging markets – should go some way to redressing this.

It seems that Microsoft has been fitting into the cut-throat smartphone patent fun and games, getting one up on Android by claiming royalties on handsets of some of its manufacturing partners.

Furthermore, the prospect of Windows 8 popping up on the horizon offers hope of establishing Microsoft’s presence as a powerhouse.  If Windows 8 can deliver the goods then there is a chance the two could become a force to be reckoned with.

With the imminent release of the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 it is possible that in terms of hardware Nokia could be left in the dust once again.

Microsoft’s own side of the partnership is also difficult. With its presence at CES seemingly only to talk up the browser version of Cut The Rope game and a tie-in with Sesame Street, there is still some way off the release of mobile computing attempt Windows 8 and not a lot to put the fear of Ballmer into its enemies.

By the time the Nokia/Windows war machine is fully up and running it could be too late.