Today’s announcement by Nokia that it would acquire all of Symbian represents an important move in the upcoming battle for next generation mobile devices (to call them phone seems unfair as they tend to do more than just make calls). In this entry, I’ll take a quick look at how the different players are currently approaching the market and what it might say about their potential moving forward.
Let’s take a look at the players in the “smart phones” market: Apple, Nokia, Microsoft, RIM (blackberry),Â Linux Mobile, and Palm. Sun used to have a Java Mobile but it seems to have dropped off the market, in terms of device market share. And then, there’s the new pretender to the crown in the form of Google, with its Android OS offering.
How do they stack up in terms of Hardware? Operating System? Service Offering? Well, here goes:
A first glance at this table seems to reflect some of the player’s pre-existing biases. Microsoft is known for its software business so that’s where it put the most weight; Google is all about free software to power their services; RIM and Palm do a hardware software combo; Apple throws its weight behind a fully Apple controlled experience.
However, there are a few caveats: For example, while Microsoft is in the space primarily as a software provider, it also owns Danger Inc., makers of the Hiptop. And while Palm has its own software, many of its devices are powered by Windows Mobile.
But apart from those exception areas, it appears that strategies are organized across four business models:
So looking at this, it becomes apparent that while many are pointing to Nokia going after Google, it may not be the target. Since Nokia does service and hardware already, getting more control over its own OS is probably an important move.
I can already hear some readers snickering: Symbian’s been open-sourced so Nokia does not have control. Let me make something very clear: the gold rule (“he who’s got the gold makes the rule”) applies to Open Source as it does in other areas. While it won’t get exclusivity, Nokia, having paid $400+ million to open source Symbian will be considered “more equal than others” by the Symbian foundation, I’m sure.
But why open source? If we look at the players mentioned above, their position on open source and their market share, the picture becomes clearer:
|Open Source||Handset Market Share (in percent)|
Looking at the market share date, Nokia’s move doesn’t seem to make sense: They currently control 65 percent of the market, why would they bother? But here’s the thing: There’s this newcomer called Apple and they didn’t exist 18 months ago: they now have 7 percent of the market and are growing.
If I’m a Nokia executive and I’m looking at this data, I start worrying. So what do I do? I look at competitive advantage: initially, I try to compete with cooler devices (the Nseries) and while it stops some of the bleeding, it doesn’t appear to fully halt the competition. So I start looking at services as a way to stabilize revenue (Maps, Music, Games) but that doesn’t stick. Then I realize that my problem is the operating system: I’m stuck with that alliance of partners I have but they’re slowing me down. So I have to take over. But I can’t do that by just kicking all of them out. So I acquire and open source.
The open source move fills three strategic objectives:
Of course, while it works out great for Nokia, there is a little bit of collateral damage:
So that’s unfortunate but what does it do to the rest of the market. Well, in fact, it looks like today’s events wont’ have much impact: Palm, Linux and Sun represent about 5 percent of the market. With Apple at 7%, RIM at 11%, Microsoft at 12% and Nokia at 65%, it looks like the market will stay pretty consistent. The remaining 5% will be carved out by the existing players and by Google’s entry into the market. Nokia will remain at the top for now.
Potential events that could have a more disruptive effect: a Microsoft/RIM partnership (or outright acquisition) which, when integrated would give Windows Mobile a 23% market share. But short of such a move, it looks like the situation will mostly stay at status quo for the time being.
© Tristan Louis 1994-present Some rights reserved.