Nokia made headlines last week with news that it will produce smartphones featuring Microsoft’s Office for Mobile. But trying to tap the enterprise market with Microsoft’s clunky wireless software won’t do anything to reverse the Finnish company’s slide.
It’s been fascinating to watch Nokia’s smartphone business suck wind even as the space grows some serious legs. Its market share continues to erode, according to new figures from Gartner, and the rest of the field is closing fast. Nokia still claims the lion’s share of the market, but the company is showing no sign of keeping the field at bay.
The Microsoft pact won’t help. The alliance is aimed squarely at the enterprise market RIM dominates, but even the BlackBerry — which not long ago was considered a business-only device — has expanded into low-end business users and even casual consumers. As Apple has proven — and as Kevin C. Tofel recently pointed out — smartphone manufacturers and the software developers who support them must target consumers in the era of the superphone.
Why? Relatively few users need to edit spreadsheets or create Word documents on the go. RIM’s dominance in the enterprise is built on its impressive mobile e-mail service — not its ability to “mobilize” Microsoft-type apps — and plenty of attractive offerings exist for users who do use their phones for basic business computing. Also, users are increasingly choosing which devices they carry, and IT-driven deployments are becoming less common. That’s why we’re seeing the iPhone expand into the business arena — a trend that has actually driven productivity, according to new data from Strategy Analytics.
The thing is, there are so many other areas Nokia should be focusing on instead. It should accelerate work on Symbian^4, a much-needed overhaul that inexplicably isn’t due until the second half of 2010. It should strengthen its relationships with carriers — particularly in the U.S. — so that it doesn’t come to market with an unsubsidized $600 handset, and so it can offer carrier billing for its Ovi Store. And it must continue to improve the Ovi Store by streamlining the user experience, bulking up its library and wooing more developers.
Nokia already has the tools to compete with Apple and RIM; partnering with Microsoft is nothing more than a distraction. It just needs to shuffle its priorities, placing the user experience at the top of the list. Then it needs to execute.