Conversations LIVE: Ask me anything with Stephen Elop (Recap)
Since the announcement last September that Microsoft would be purchasing Nokia’s mobile phone division, there have been many questions swirling around as to what this will mean for the future of both companies. Earlier today, Nokia Conversations hosted a Q&A session with Nokia’s former CEO, Stephen Elop, in an attempt to answer these questions from Nokia’s devoted fans. This comes just days after purchase was finalized, transforming it into Microsoft Mobile Oy. For those of you who missed it, here are some highlights.
Rebranding Nokia Oyj
One of the newest developments that surfaced just days before was that Microsoft would phase out Nokia’s brand name and instead be referred to as Microsoft Mobile Oy. While it was clear that current Nokia devices would remain under the current brand name, there were questions as to whether or not Microsoft would continue to use it going forward with new devices. According to Elop, “Nokia as a brand will not be used for long going forward for smartphones.” He states that they are working on selecting the new brand name, as “Microsoft Mobile Oy is a legal construct that was created to facilitate the merger.” He couldn’t share precise details, but assures us that they are working on a brand that rolls off the tongue much better than the “Nokia Lumia 1020 with Windows Phone on the AT&T LTE Network”. But really, who even says that?
Pace of Innovation
One of the benefits that comes with Microsoft absorbing Nokia’s talent is that it will allow Windows Phone to grow even faster. “By combining with MSFT,” says Elop, “we will each be able to innovate together in ways that we could not as separate companies.” This will alleviate any inconsistencies in both hardware and software that became apparent with the previous partnership between the companies. Microsoft would push an update to try and keep up with Nokia’s pace, adding support for higher resolution screens and cameras, and Nokia would follow shortly after with their own update (i.e. Amber, Black, Cyan), providing users with even more useful software goodies to improve the overall experience. Now Microsoft has access to all of that, giving them the ability to push advance software to all Windows Phone devices going forward. Elop addressed this when questioned about the Lumia 1020’s lack of a dedicated camera processing unit (such as that found in the 808 PureView). “We could have gone further if the engineering teams between MSFT and Nokia were not in separate companies. As we come together, innovation will be able to move faster.” This includes Nokia’s imaging prowess.
“This is a great opportunity to connect new customers…”
A couple months ago, the Nokia X family was unveiled at Mobile World Congress, the first Nokia devices to run (a form of) Android OS. It was a bold, yet somewhat confusing move for a company that was in the midst of being sucked into Microsoft, a direct competitor to Google’s operating system. As Elop explains, the Nokia X family will continue to be supported by Microsoft “to help connect the next billion people to Microsoft’s services.” This is due to Nokia’s own forked version of Android allowing them to get away with leaving Google out of the picture and filling the OS with Nokia and Microsoft services such as Outlook.com, Skype, OneDrive, and others. Elop assures that Nokia’s decision to adopt Android was a good one, allowing them to attack a specific market “in a way that accrues benefit to Microsoft and to Lumia.”
Apps & Services
So what does this mean for Nokia’s apps such as MixRadio, Nokia TV, Nokia Camera, etc? Elop acknowledges that apps like these are critical for differentiation, stating that “you will see these themes continue.” Whatever that means. He also goes on to talk about his own favorite apps in the Windows Phone store, such as Track My Life, ATIS (essential for pilots), and Uber.
While Nokia has been all about color and sticking out amongst the crowd, Microsoft is known for it’s more conservative approach to its devices (take a look at the XBoxOne). According to Elop, we will continue to see this colorful personality in Microsoft moving forward, pointing out the new Microsoft ad that was released today (after the break).
After Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft saw the gravitation of WP marketshare move to over 90% in their favor, people began questioning whether or not this was discouraging other OEMs to take Windows Phone seriously. That question remains today, but Elop is certain that with this new acquisition along with other measures that have been put in place by Microsoft to drive adoption, OEMs are heavily encouraged to build Windows Phone devices. “Our intent is for the Microsoft Devices Group to “make the market” so that others can participate, so we will be doing things to facilitate other OEMs as much as possible.” Sounds very Nexus of them.
“I have only ever worked on behalf of and for the benefit of Nokia shareholders while at Nokia.”
Shortly after Elop was appointed CEO of Nokia from Microsoft, he announced the partnership between the two companies that spurred much speculated that he was planted there simply as a benefit to Microsoft and that it was part of a plan to buy Nokia. Fast-forward 2 years later and those fears have definitely come true, but both companies are in slightly different places than they were back then. Nokia grew much more of a presence in the US becoming at one point the 4th largest OEM, and Windows Phone has pretty much surpassed Blackberry as a 3rd viable OS, even besting iOS in many markets around the world.
As for killing Symbian and MeeGo, Elop explained that the former was not a viable candidate against iOS (very true) and that the latter was suffering from delays “and did not have the promise of a broad enough portfolio soon enough [to compete].” I remember how long it took for Nokia to actually unveil the N9 after a year or two of leaks, and even after it received praise from fans, it was just one device. And let’s face it, Nokia isn’t Apple, and wouldn’t be able to make it off of this one flagship device alone. Many may not have liked it, but as Elop puts it, “we had to make a forceful decision to give Nokia the chance to compete again.” This was highlighted in his famous “Burning Platform” letter to Nokia employees, which Elop also addressed. “We brought urgency into the organization and within 6 months we produced our first two Windows Phone devices. This was faster than we had ever gone before and marked the beginning of our cultural change.“
But despite all the backlash he received from Nokia fans, he does not regret his time as CEO. “The last few years had been both the most challenging and rewarding of my career.” says Elop, also pointing out the growth of Nokia in NSN, HERE and Advanced Technologies. “Like virtually everyone at Nokia, we worked harder and committed more of ourselves to this mission than anything before.”
Check out the full Q&A over at Nokia conversations