By Ingrid Lunden
Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is slowly turning around its ailing mobile handset business and today that effort had a nice fillip, by way of some revised figures in which it "exceeded expectations" for Q4 sales. Within that, Nokia says that in Q4 it sold 4.4 million Lumia devices - exactly twice as many units as those of its once-mighty Symbian platform, which sold 2.2 million.
But in case you missed the writing on the wall, the decline was underscored once more in a conference call today discussing the revised figures. There, Nokia's CFO Timo Ihamuotila said that Q4 would be the "last meaningful quarter for Symbian" sales and handsets for the company, as its business increasingly becomes a mix of Windows Phone devices, smartphones based on Series 40, and more lower end devices.
The gradual disappearance of the platform, now running as an unmanned, licensing operation, is nearly complete - with its progression strangely also conveyed through its logo, which once looked a bit different to the disintegrating, current one illustrated above:
Nokia about a year ago was rumored to be preparing to shut down Symbian phone production altogether by cancelling contracts for upcoming devices. Nokia never publicly confirmed or denied the accuracy of those reports. But in reality it looks like it's letting the market do the shutting down for them.
That has been played out in global market shares as well as actual unit sales. Gartner's most recent figures for global handset shipments, covering Q3, indicate that Symbian lost nearly all of its worldwide market share in the last year. In Q3 the platform accounted for 16.9% of all handset shipments worldwide - still enough to put it in second place to Android. By Q3 2012, that share had dwindled down to 2.6%.
Since Nokia's Windows Phone-based Lumia devices sold 2.9 million units and Symbian sold 4.4 million units in Q3 2012, in effect, Q4 2012 was the quarter in which Windows Phone and Symbian swapped places.
There will be some sentimentalists and Symbian/Nokia fans who have long been lamenting the neglect and decline of the platform, for years the driving force of the company's smartphone business and smartphones worldwide.
But early mover is often a losing position in the world of technology. The pace of change, as dictated by the later entrants of Google's Android and Apple's iOS, was just too much for Nokia and Symbian to keep up.
Lest anyone get comfortable, however, things may yet change again for all we know.
Nokia is already predicting a "seasonally weak" slow Q1 - with operating margins back to flat-to-negative estimates, and ever more competition from Android and Apple weighing upon it. Combining that with the fact that Nokia will not categorically rule out Android in its future, we could yet see more carpet pulled out from under Nokia's users' feet.