Nokia Hires American Execs, but Will That Be Enough to Raise Smartphone Sales?

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In efforts to build its worldwide smartphone market share, Finnish cell phone maker Nokia has added two North Americans to its top management ranks, including Stephen Elop, who started his new job as Nokia’s new CEO this week. Will these moves succeed, or will they amount to too little too late?

Elop, a Canadian who previously headed Microsoft’s Business Division, has replaced sacked Nokia chief Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. Meanwhile, Peter Skillman, Palm’s former VP of design, recently took charge of “user experience” design for Nokia’s new Linux-based MeeGo OS.

Nokia E7By Americanizing Nokia’s image and giving a new edge to Nokia’s products, the new hires could help Nokia nail down badly needed smartphone deals with wireless carriers on this side of the Atlantic.

Despite the long-time presence of many Nokia lower-end feature phones in the U.S., the Finnish company has yet to make even a dent in the rapidly growing smartphone segment of this market, which is led instead by Apple’s iPod, RIM BlackBerrys, and rising numbers of Android OS phones.

Relationships and Savvy
Nokia’s two new hires also bring some potentially helpful industry relationships, along with some proven savvy in responding to what customers and/or partners are looking for in new technology products.

On the other hand, Nokia might have gained better positioning in the U.S. by luring new hires from Apple’s iPhone division, Droid maker Motorola, or some other entity with a more substantial track record in the segment.

Still, Skillman is highly regarded among legions of Linux developers, and this certainly won’t hurt at a time when developers are focusing their interest on creating apps for the Android OS and Apple’s iOS rather than Nokia’s Symbian OS or the newer MeeGo.

In a recent podcast, Skillman outlined how he helped restore wireless carriers’ confidence in Palm by preparing presentations showing the design strategy for the Palm Pre.

Skillman said he hopes Nokia will now focus on the high end of the smartphone market and cut back on the numbers of phones it produces.

Skillman also attacked the approaches to the “user experience” taken by Apple, Motorola, and some other manufacturers. According to him, the iPhone’s design is flawed because it forces users to go back to the home screen before starting a new application. At the same time, Motorola, HTC, and Sony Ericsson and putting too much user interface (UI) software on top of platforms, Skillman contended.

By many accounts, Nokia’s new CEO, Elop, still holds a strong relationship with his ex-boss at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer. Elop also worked for years in management posts at Macromedia, the software firm that originally developed Flash prior to its acquisition by Adobe.

Coincidentally, Google’s Android OS, a rising star among mobile operating systems, has just added support for Flash in version 2.2 “Froyo.” Apple’s iOS doesn’t even include that same functionality for multimedia playback on PCs, smartphones, and other devices.

Nokia N8 with Symbian^3Although Elop’s style is much more laid-back than Ballmer’s, this trait could work in the direction of longevity at Nokia, a place where the CEO is expected to turn up regularly for lunch in the company cafeteria.

In a very notable achievement at Microsoft, Elop helped guide the company in the direction of online editions of its software products, accessible from mobile as well as desktop platform. As part of this program, Elop negotiated a deal with Nokia last year.

More Bold Steps Are Needed
Reorganization is a strategy that’s been used in the mobile industry before, for better or worse. Following years of floundering attempts to find a successor to the RAZR, Motorola succeeded adeptly with its Droid line-up after shaking up its cell phone organization.

Few would disagree that Nokia is in drastic straits in the American market, and bold steps are required. Nokia Chairman Jorma Ollila and Anssi Vanjoki, its smartphone chief, are reportedly also about to resign, leaving the way open for other new hires.

Meanwhile, Nokia might be better off to either adopt the Android OS or deliver a marketing campaign convincing Americans of any compelling benefits of the MeeGo and Symbian OS over Android.

Merging with another player might be another way to go. Some have mentioned Microsoft as a potential suitor. After all, Microsoft and its partners are set to release phones based on the revamped Phone 7 platform later this year. Nokia still lingers on as the number one global seller of cell phones in general, with very large-scale manufacturing facilities.




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