An Android phone is the last thing Nokia would do, says Peter Judge. It would be more exciting than more Symbian devices, but would be too big a U-turn
Today’s rumour that Nokia is planning an Android phone, and Nokia’s very swift denial show just how over-heated the smartphone market is.
Android is exciting. There’s no doubt about that – the final emergence of a real Linux-based phone contender, is on devices that users actually like (like the HTC Magic) – but as yet only a very few devices are available. Similarly, Palm’s Pre is also exciting, but that’s only on one phone, and is a proprietary operating system. The interest there is whether a great phone can reverse the decline of a great maker of portable devices.
But why Nokia and Android, when the real axis of interest is between Nokia and the iPhone? And when all Nokia’s recent announcements seem to have been aimed in a completely different direction?
Nokia still has a big lead in smartphones, but that lead is being rapidly whittled away. Until 2007, it dominated. In early 2007, it had 56 percent of the market, with small nibbles into the sector from RIM, Windows Mobile and various Linux efforts. Since then, the share has fallen, while the sector as a whole has expanded. Gartner suggests that in the first quarter of this year, it has gone down to around 41 percent.
More crucially, iPhone users are very much more active. They make up 49 percent of mobile advertising traffic, according to stats provider AdMob, with Nokia users trailing at 32 percent. That prompts wrong headlines like iPhone overtakes Nokia in smartphone market share, but is an important trend.
Nokia failed to sell Symbian smartphones in America, and it failed to sell them to ordinary consumers. Current products like the N97 can’t do anything to change that. So everyone is watching for a big change from the company.
Otherwise, the company can just watch the leading market segment wither away – making Symbian the Novell Netware of smartphones.
But Android would be too big a step. The company – we can hope – is working on a big improvement to the usability of Symbian, in the process of turning it to open source, so it must intend to get some mindshare back from the iPhone.
Meanwhile, Nokia does have a deal with Intel, which observers expect – naturally enough – to produce devices, possibly even phones, running on Intel chips. But Android has no port yet to an Intel procesor, while Symbian has an unproductised x86 port, and has been demonstrated on an Intel Atom. If that’s not right for Nokia, then both Intel and Nokia have their own mobile Linux versions.
The Nokia rumour may have emerged from persistent rumours that Nokia will do an Android netbook, but we certainly don’t expect an Android phone from the company.