In the mobile space, while most hardware OEMs are multi-million dollar corporations with tens of thousands of employees, only a select few are turning a profit and thriving. Even some of the most reputable brands in the industry – HTC, Motorola, LG, Huawei, etc. – are struggling to get a foothold in the smartphone realm.
With major re-branding and a fresh start in 2011 and the beginning of 2012, we didn’t exactly expect Nokia to recover from years of turbulence overnight. But we did hope it would impact the company … positively.
Now, over one year later, the company is still slipping and sliding at the starting line, trying anything and everything it can to gain some traction, along with the entire Windows Phone platform. The Finnish phone maker has re-branded, partnered with Microsoft and various carriers to launch devices, and spent millions in R&D to bring forward new, compelling features. Yet the target audience, while somewhat impressed, is not moved enough to jump ship with its current platform to go all-in on Windows Phone or Nokia.
Who could blame them? Who could blame us?
Stephen Elop has yet to convince us (investors and shareholders, no less) that Nokia will survive this rather significant slump. Nothing he has done has really changed the company’s position in the market, outside carrier relationships, which was one of Nokia’s larger issues in the U.S. market. (Unfortunately, that doesn’t begin to change how sales reps approach Windows Phone devices as a whole, as I explained in today’s Roundtable, but that’s another story for another time.)
There’s a bigger picture that Nokia either seems to be overlooking or no longer has the clout to pull off: a unified global launch of a single product.
This has been the formula for Samsung’s and Apple’s insurmountable success in the smartphone market. Samsung took the approach more cautiously, releasing more and more similar models over the course of three years, to eventually launch a truly global device, the same device on all carriers, in all countries, worldwide.
Okay, to be fair, the Galaxy S III came in two different models, and so does the Galaxy S 4. But the Note II did not. And, although differently internally and even with specific model numbers, the different variants are still referred to as the same device. As minuscule as that may be, it’s a sign of branding and marketing mastery.
Apple was the first to pull this off, launching the same exact iPhone worldwide. And the fact that Samsung and Apple have put forth the same marketing plan and were both were met with wild success cannot be overlooked.
Exhibit A: HTC and the One
Last year, HTC refreshed its branding and tried to take on a new mantra: “Less is more.” But the One X, One S, and One V fell victim to carrier exclusives, which doesn’t work as well in the market as it once did, such as with the original iPhone. These days, carrier exclusives severely limit the success of a product, and the One X, among many other devices, is a testament to that.
This year, HTC simplified its branding and product lineup even further, and launched the HTC One, globally, as the same product. And, unsurprisingly, the device has been met with what we can only imagine is great success so far.
While we would love to say Nokia has caught on to this somewhat recent trend, we cant. In fact, Nokia appears to be doing the exact opposite of what Samsung and HTC are doing. Instead of consolidating its product lineup, it is perpetually launching new smartphones, specific to each carrier with a separate model number, and sometimes even a unique build and design.
Enter the Lumia 925 and Lumia 928
Both the Lumia 925 and 928 are new Windows Phone 8 smartphones that have been announced in the past week. Both are specific strains of the Lumia 920, which launched internationally (on AT&T here in the States) in November.
It’s reminiscent of a time when the mobile landscape was very different from how it is today, the days of BlackBerry where each and ever model of BlackBerry had different features, specifications, and, likewise, model numbers. The BlackBerry Curve came in a confusing array of model numbers, such as: 8300, 8310, 8320, 8330, 8520, 8530, 8900, 8980, 9220, 9320, 9330, 9360, 9380, etc. BlackBerry (then Research In Motion) was smart to simply brand the different models as simply “Curve”, though.
Nokia, on the other hand is relying on these archaic model numbers as the staple identifier in different tiers of devices. For example, all Nokia Windows Phone devices are Lumia smartphones. The 900 series are the high-end flagships, 800 series are a step down from that, 700 another step down, and so on and so forth.
To be concise, it’s as if Nokia doesn’t understand the importance of simple branding, creating a name that sticks in consumers’ minds, something that is easily memorized. You can argue that it’s only a small piece of an enormous puzzle. But the amount of success Apple, Samsung and HTC are pulling from simple branding and marketing make a compelling counterargument.
In just a few months, the Lumia 925 and 928 will merely be a blip on the map of dozens of Lumia devices that never took off. And it’s not only about branding; it’s also largely about timing. The hype of the Lumia 920 died months ago, just weeks after its launch. Without anything truly new and awe-inspiring, there’s little reason for anyone – even the forgotten CDMA/LTE users – to get excited over.
With ever-shortening product cycles, the window for hype surrounding a specific device is tiny. But one for the same device in a different chassis eight months down the road is much smaller.
A lot of people would love nothing more than to see Nokia succeed, myself and most of (if not the entire) Pocketnow team included. But if Nokia fails to recognize one of the most important aspects of moving even an impressive smartphone from dusty shelf to consumer hands, the company will continue to lose money hand over fist and stagnate.