Nokia's Strange Services Strategy - Lessons from Apple iPhone and RIM
Over the last 10 years, Nokia has sustained a keen interest in applications and services as a complement to its dominant position in hardware and operating systems. Equally clearly, it's hard to say that they've made any progress in making a business of it. The profuse proliferation of poorly integrated projects suggests either - if we're being charitable - a deliberate policy of experimenting with many different ideas, or else - if we're not - the absence of a coherent strategy.
Clearly Nokia is aware of the secular tendency in all information technology fields that value migrates towards software and specifically towards applications. Equally clearly, they have the money, scale, and competence to deliver major projects in this field. However, so far they have failed to make services into a meaningful line of business, and even the well developed software ecosystem hasn't seen a major hit like the iPhone and its associated app store. Why is this?
Nokia Services: Project Proliferator
So far, the Services division in its various incarnations has brought forward Club Nokia, the Nokia Game, Forum Nokia, Symbian Developer Network, WidSets, Nokia Download!, MOSH, Nokia Comes With Music, Nokia Music Store, N-Gage, Ovi, Mail on Ovi, Contacts on Ovi, Ovi Store...it's a lot of brands for one company, and that's not even an exhaustive list. They've further acquired Intellisync, Sega.com, Loudeye, Twango, Enpocket, Oz Communications, Gate5, Starfish Software, Navteq and Avvenu since 2005 - that makes an average of just over two services acquisitions a year. Further, despite the decision to integrate all (or most) services into Ovi, there are still five different functional silos inside the Services division.
The great bulk of applications or services available or proposed for mobile devices fall into two categories - social or media. Under social we're grouping anything that is primarily about communications; under media we're grouping video, music, games, and content in general. Obviously there is a significant overlap. This is driven by fundamentals; no-one is likely to want to do computationally intensive graphics editing, CAD, or heavy data analysis on a mobile, run a database server on one, or play high-grade full-3D games. Batteries, CPU limitations, and most of all, form factor limitations see to that. And on the other side, communication is a fundamental human need, so there is demand pull as well as constraint push. As we pointed out back in the autumn of 2007, communication, not content, is king.
In trying to get user adoption of its applications and services, Nokia is pursuing two aims - one is to create products that will help to ship more Nokia devices, and to ship higher-value N- or E- series devices rather than featurephones, and the other is a longer-range hope to create a new business in its own right, which will probably be monetised through subscriptions, advertising,or transactions. This latter aim is much further off that the first, and is affected by the operators' suspicion of any activity that seems to rival their treasured billing relationship. For example, although quick signup and data import are crucial to deploying a social application, Nokia probably wouldn't get away with automatically enrolling all users in its services - the operators likely wouldn't wear it.
The rest of this Analyst Note is available to subscribers of the Telco 2.0 Executive Briefing service here. It covers the problems of using social applications to sell hardware, Nokia's fraught relations with operators, and the lessons of bundled connectivity and the iPhone.