Let's rewind to February 2011. At an analyst event, then-new CEO Stephen Elop announced that the company would abandon Symbian, its homegrown operating system. Nokia called it a "burning platform," something from which it needed to jump to escape the fire. At that point, the iPhone and Android smartphones had decimated Nokia's once-powerful lead in the smartphone market. Elop convinced analysts and investors that this step was necessary, that it would help the company differentiate in the face of Apple and Google, and win back what it had lost.
Nokia and its line of Windows Phone products are certainly differentiated. They have their own approach to hardware design that really sets them apart. They have software that's customized beyond what Microsoft envisioned for its smartphone platform. In short, they are decent devices. But they aren't selling in the numbers that Nokia needs. Further, they aren't competing well with the iPhone and Galaxy S devices sold by Apple and Samsung at the high end of the market.
[ Is pitching a mock fit the best way to pitch a new phone? Read Nokia CEO Throws iPhone, Talks Up New Lumias. ]
Earlier this week, Elop faced investors once again. They are not happy.
One shareholder, Hannu Virtanen, spoke plainly to Elop: "You're a nice guy and the leadership team is doing its best, but clearly, it's not enough. Are you aware that results are what matter? The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Please switch to another road." In other words, Virtanen believes that Nokia's choice to sell Windows Phones, rather than Android phones, was a bad one.
Nokia's Windows Phones are solid efforts, especially the top-tier ones, such as the 800, 900 and 920. All three show good design and innovative software. The 900 and 920 actually sold fairly well in the U.S. (compared to sales of Nokia's old Symbian handsets, anyway).
Later this month, Nokia will fully unveil the Lumia 928, its flagship smartphone for Verizon Wireless. This smartphone could be Elop's last shield with which to protect himself from antsy investors. The smartphone is shaping up to be a hero device in every sense of the word. Nokia has already teased images of it, as well as offered comparisons of its low-light camera powers. Pairing with Verizon Wireless, the country's biggest mobile network operator, could be what helps Nokia regain critical mass with American buyers.
If it doesn't, Stephen Elop may very well find himself out of a job. It doesn't help that Elop defended his decision to use Windows Phone, and admitted to investors (once more) that he has no Plan B.
"We make adjustments as we go. But it's very clear to us that in today's war of ecosystems, we've made a very clear decision to focus on Windows Phone with our Lumia product line," said Elop. "And it is with that that we will compete with competitors like Samsung and (Google's operating system) Android."
Investors have their doubts. If the Lumia 928 doesn't mark a significant change in direction for Nokia's smartphone sales, Elop could very well find himself out of a job in the months ahead.
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