One could argue that Nokia (NOK) is well past its prime, replaced by new juggernauts in the smartphone industry running Android or iOS operating systems. You could also argue that partnering with Microsoft (MSFT) is the perfect representation of this. Two technology companies that many believe are quickly becoming irrelevant. I, for one, would disagree with this. There is no doubt that Nokia is down but I would not count it out just yet. By partnering with Microsoft to make the Windows Phone, Nokia has another chance. This is likely its last.
While spotting a Windows Phone anywhere is much easier said than done, consumers of the phone do exist. In fact, in China, reports claim that the Windows Phone actually has a slight edge on the iPhone in market share, with Windows Phone market share coming in at 7% and the iPhone coming in at 6%. Much of the success of the Windows Phone in China is attributed to it being new and new phone lines typically sell very well at first.
As a veteran, Nokia understands this as well as any company and is planning on releasing very cheap phones that access the internet as well as Facebook (FB) and Twitter in an attempt to expand in emerging markets. Emerging markets have long been a source of revenue for Nokia and it will not easily give up this market to competitors like Samsung. The big problem for Nokia is getting consumers of cheap Android smartphones to switch over to its phone. It is betting that by competing on prices it can gain market share. With a $50 phone, this might work.
The gem that Nokia is banking on is the aforementioned Windows Phone, or the Lumia 900. With a distinct operating system and stylish looks, Nokia is likely targeting high-end Android phones and customers. With the launch of Windows 8, this phone will finally get the attention it deserves. Although it has been around for a little while, there are few developers for the phone, as many are developing for the new Windows 8 platform and have consequently overlooked the phone.
Currently offered at a low price of $99, the Lumia would likely be a stronger competitor if developers were still making apps for Windows 7. There have been numerous reports of the Lumia as a strong seller but much of this can be attributed to marketing, as many reports are hazy with the numbers.
For Nokia to position itself well, it should stand behind its claim of releasing a Windows tablet by the end of 2012. If the company follows through of this claim, it will be in a very strong position, as no other tablet has a license for Microsoft Office. Thus, if the Windows tablet appears, you can expect it to be short listed for enterprise use immediately, especially since the Windows 8 operating system is said to standardize functions across mobile, tablet, and desktop computers. Businesses that currently rely heavily on Office will have to do little except purchase one of these tablets. I think this itself could be fuel for a modest turnaround at Nokia.
In fact, a recent report said that Nokia has four new phones in the pipeline, all of which appear to support Windows 8. The article speculates that the phones represent low-, middle- and high-tier phones. If this is the case, Nokia is planning to come out strong with Windows 8, making sure its phones are available to everyone.
However, the smartphone market is notoriously competitive and low-margin so Nokia might not even hold the key to its own fate.
Recently, Samsung replaced Nokia as the largest producer of mobile phones. Nokia held this pillar for a long time, but without a truly competitive smartphone it is not surprising to see Nokia being replaced. Due to the proliferation of Android phones, Samsung was likely to take over. Samsung's proliferation has helped companies like Verizon (VZ), as consumers have used Verizon's platforms to get their hands on Samsung-made phones. Verizon's recent Samsung phone has already garnered good reviews, and expectations are that it will sell well.
Alarmingly, some speculate that Samsung is pushing Nokia into bankruptcy territory. I have reservations about this prospect. As the main carrier of Windows operating system, Microsoft cannot let Nokia go under. Microsoft desperately needs to become a player in the smartphone market and without Nokia it has nobody to manufacture its phones.
To some extent, Nokia's fate is similar to that of Motorola, which was recently acquired by Google (GOOG). Motorola was a huge player in the phone market but stumbled and was replaced in much the same way as Nokia. Becoming a part of Google is the best scenario for Motorola as it now can focus on innovation at the top, allowing it to compete with the iPhone.
But more importantly, Nokia's fate is held in the hands of Google, which runs and distributes updates to the Android operating system. Since Android is open source, anyone can use it, which is why there are so many different companies running the Android operating system. This has created a lot of problems since all of the companies running Android are competing with each other, leaving a less desirable Android experience. Without a heavier hand in controlling the Android experience, Google leaves the door open for a Windows Phone competitor to convert many of its customers. Rest assured, Nokia understands this is the opportunity it needs to convert.
In general, Nokia needs Microsoft to come through on its Windows 8 operating system sooner rather than later. Every moment it waits gives Google a better chance to improve the overall Android experience, causing the door to inch closer to closing. Thus, expect the first phones Nokia debuts to be impressive. It can hardly afford anything less. If everything comes together as planned with Microsoft and Nokia, there is a good chance that Nokia could turn a corner. If the project gets bogged down, its fate is likely sealed. I would watch this stock with cautious optimism.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.