Nokia and the sad decline of the European mobile phone industry

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nokia x6.jpg

I can’t help feeling a little sad about the news today of the tie up between Microsoft and Nokia. Plenty of others will have gone into the details noting how Microsoft does in many ways offer the Finnish company the last chance to have a real impact in the smartphone market.

My take, for what it’s worth is that the phones that Nokia has produced recently were not too bad – my wife is smitten with her X6 and I know others who feel the same way – but they just weren’t as sexy and didn’t have the ecosystem to really challenge the iPhone and Android. I remember spending ages trying to get a decent Twitter client for the X6and then giving up when I realised I would have to pay for one.

The saddest thing of all is that the announcement signals the final transfer of power in the mobile world from Europe to The United States.

Having written about mobile for over a decade now I remember a time when Europeans could afford to be a little smug about the mobiles they were using compared with those in the US. After all we had 3G, the Americans took time to catch up on that one, text messaging (which only really took off in the US five years ago) and most important of all the most cutting edge phones.

Nokia and Sony Ericsson (whose decline is even more sad given that they are headquartered in the UK) consistently produced the smartest most desirable smartphones. There was also an eco system around them that produced innovative mobile applications, content and more.

Sadly now the centre of the mobile world is now the other side of the Atlantic and even though we have the world’s most influential mobile conference, MWC which starts next week in Barcelona, much of the momentum has been kicked out of the European mobile industry.

Even the next generation of mobile Internet – 4G – is as much about the US as it is Europe. In fact we probably won’t get to see the LTE version of 4G in the UK for three more years. In the US Verizon already has a 4G LTE network.

The tragedy is that it all happened so quickly. Apple and Google saw the future of mobile developed devices and platforms to take people there and caught the Europeans out completely. The huge number of job cuts are also going to take their toll too.

I spoke to a friend who has worked in the industry a long time and he says that the kind of attitude that seems to have undone Nokia is endemic in the European mobile industry. We produce something excellent, make a success of it, but then become too arrogant and move too slowly to head off innovation from elsewhere. I can think of countless mobile companies that have gone this way.

If you read reports today it does feel as if Nokia is ending as a company, this is far from the case. It still has huge market share and is very strong in part of the world. I do hope the deal with Microsoft will lead to a renewal of the company that has done so much to develop the mobile – and improve the quality of people’s lives- over the last decade.

Ashley Norris