Nokia’s risk factor: Windows Phone could “significantly impair our ability to compete effectively in the smartphone market”

Daniel Bader

March 9, 2012 10:07am


Nokia has filed its 2011 Annual Report to the SEC as a publicly-traded company, and the hits keep on coming. In addition to an operating loss of $1.4 billion, the company shipped 25% fewer smartphones than the year before with 77.3 million devices. Sales were down slightly to $50 billion. But things aren’t all bad: the company still has $46 billion assets, including $14 billion in cash, and the operating loss was significantly less than last year’s $2.4 billion.

More importantly, though, the Annual Report reads like a tech blogger’s cautionary tale. Outlined on Page 13 of the report are Nokia’s risk factors, and they are many. The company acknowledges that Windows Phone may be a precarious investment, and though it is earning $250 million every quarter from Microsoft in exchange for Nokia’s smartphone commitment, the company is weary at best of the plan.

It reads,

Our plans to introduce and bring to market quantities of attractive, competitively priced Nokia products with Windows Phone that receive broad market acceptance and are positively differentiated from competitors’ products, both outside and within the Windows Phone ecosystem are subject to certain risks and uncertainties, which could, either individually or together, significantly impair our ability to compete effectively in the smartphone market. If we are not successful in the smartphone market, our business would become more dependent on sales in the feature phone market, which is, especially at lower price points, an increasingly commoditized and intensely competitive market, with substantially lower growth potential, prices and profitability compared to the smartphone market. Recently, smartphones of other manufactures, particularly Android-based smartphones, are reaching lower price points, which is increasingly reducing the addressable market and lowering the price points for feature phones and may adversely affect our feature phone business.

The report goes on to say, in no uncertain terms, that unless Nokia can pull a rabbit out of a hat and make Windows Phone an attractive ecosystem for developers, the chance of the company regretting its decision to get into bed with Microsoft is pretty high. The report details the inequity of the retail sales model, whereby associates are given incentives to sell a certain product, often the iPhone or an equivalent flagship Android device. It reads, “We may face issues in selecting, engaging or securing support from leading operators and retailers for the initial launches and sales ramp-up of our Nokia products with Windows Phone due to, for instance, inadequate sales incentives, training of sales personnel, marketing support and experience in generating interest for a new and relatively unfamiliar Windows Phone platform in an otherwise highly competitive market.”

It also makes clear that Windows Phone Tango was likely Nokia’s doing, as it needs lower-cost Windows Phone devices in order to compete with Android, Bada and other pseudo-smartphone operating systems in developing markets where price is the ultimate factor.

Finally, perhaps the saddest and most emotional paragraph ever written in an annual report:

In choosing to adopt Windows Phone as our primary smartphone platform, we may forgo more competitive alternatives achieving greater and faster acceptance in the smartphone market. If the benefits of the Microsoft partnership do not materialize as expected, more competitive alternatives may not be available to us in a timely manner, or at all.

If you’re interested in a candid look into Nokia’a current headspace, this SEC filing a great read.

Source: Nokia (PDF)
Via: Pocketnow

  • Mark

    Does this agreement with microsoft mean that Nokia can only produce Windows OS based phones? Might as well throw in some Android handsets into the mix too.

    • DarkisFever

      Yes it does. Nokia signed a full on agreement with MS to only produce Windows Phone. They would not be able to create Android handsets due to this agreement. It’s a shame but at the same time they were the ones boasting that Android was an inferior platform and they would never go with it.

    • Tom

      In a way, that’s what the $250 million bribe is for: not to produce Android phones.

      It’s a shame – I would have loved to see some Nokia Android phones.

    • freestaterocker

      They are still producing new Meego devices in the same markets the Tango devices are targeting, but that’s not the issue. The Android OS has more OEMs, and hundreds of devices across the various price points. With WP, they are the big fish in the pond; with Android, it’s take a number and get in line. The would still get sales, but they wouldn’t stand out.

    • Sada

      :How Samsung/LG/… produce both WP and Android and their own OS phones, Nokia shd also offer choices to customers. The fact is that Microsoft bribed it’s ex-employee Stephen Elop to go only with WP. Is WP great to go only with it? No, it is also just one of OS. So, had Nokia produced Symbian, Android and WP phones, then customers would select what he wants. Everybody was waiting for Nokia + Android, and now because of MS-bribed partenership, nobdy looks back to Nokia anymore. It is very clear that Microsoft is trying to push WP at Nokia’s cost, and Nokia investors and just seeing and not firing Elop.

  • Sean

    Damn, well they put all their eggs in with MS and i hope it doesn’t screw them. They make some beautiful hardware, i might switch from a GNex to a 900 because it is just that awesome. Also doesn’t MS give free devices to devs?

  • cybik

    So basically they’re keeping Android on their handsets as a skunkworks/backup choice?

    Sw33t!

  • Androcanuck

    All Nokia had to do was create an great line of Android phones last year and they would have been fine. Worst business move they made.

    As more people get smartphones, the users get smarter and they want more than the simplistic interface Windows Phone provides. There are many people average people looking for their 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. smartphone. Why would they want to lose features and switch to a new OS?

    • jellmoo

      Nokia simply could not have been competitive with Android, the competition is just too entrenched. Samsung and HTC are well established as the top dogs, and the Google buyout of Motorola adds another level of complexity to the mix. With companies like Sony and Huawei stepping up their games lately and Asus coming on strong in the tablet space, it would have been incredibly diffcult to differentiate themselves in this space.

      Gambling on the incredibly deep pockets of Microsoft, and positioning themselves as the number one manufacturer of Windows Phone handsets was absolutely the right decision to make.

      (my one bit of sadness was the abandonment of Meego, as the N9 is amazing)

  • hinds

    Nokia is screwed and they know it! MS has dropped market share along with rim. Talk about an all or nothing move!

  • guest

    You tech bloggers are ridiculous sometimes. The Verge, Mobile Syrup… the list goes on and on. Have you ever read another SEC filing? Each must present the most sober, adverse scenarios when discussing business risks so investors have a chance of understanding what they are getting themselves into.

    Oh yeah, by the way, no risks, no reward.

    Chill out already!

    • Keith

      @Me Ted,

      You’re quoting an article that doesn’t even know the difference between Windows Mobile and Windows Phone. Windows Phone market is of course small but it is rising. NetMarketShare reported a 40% rise in Windows Phone web traffic last month and that is from Nokia just getting started–wait until they really get going.

    • guest

      Me Ted! Thank you. Keep watching the stats. Windows Phone market share in the US will continue to drop and there is not a whole lot Nokia can do about it at the moment… except chill out!

      Fact: Nokia Lumia 710 was only released in the US for 2 months and sold exclusively at t-Mobile, one of the smaller carriers in the US.

      Fact: Nokia Lumia 800 will only be sold unlocked with no carrier subsidies at Microsoft Stores. (Read Microsoft Stores, not Walmart, not Best Buy.)

      Fact: Nokia Lumia 900, probably Nokia/Microsoft’s best bet to gain some WP market share in 2012, is not even out yet!

      Until Nokia gets around to releasing compelling devices across all price points, educating/paying smartphone sales reps, and branding/marketing Windows Phone properly, there won’t be a big shift in the market. Do you think Nokia are busy excuting on those three things I just mentioned? Or do you think the company is still crying about MeeGo and lamenting that Elop didn’t pick Android?

      Nothing will change overnight. But if Microsoft and Nokia can execute quickly and continue to deliver quality and innovation. The market share stats could turn around.

    • blackprince

      Yeah I found that funny too, its like they saw it was a Microsoft story, flipped straight to the part that tells any bad news and off to the internet to publish just one more negative attack post. If we were to read any companies filing they all would have a list of possible risks to their products because that is what diligent businesses do.

      And Nokia Android phone would have sucked too.

  • Sam

    Getting to do MS phones with the new Windows mango or Windows * might be risky now. But who are we to say it might or not pay out in the long ron. Getting smarphones today is a matter of choice, you want to take great pictures get an iPhone want to take pics fast get a Galaxy Nexus. The Windows phone might offer as it has been said here a simplistic interface and for some users that might be appealing. I put a friend of mine who recently got a “new” smarphone running android on it. After a month of having it she has not yet figured out how to access the full range of functions and apps. On the other hand lets not forget that windows phone’s OS will play nicer on the integration side with the upcoming release of Windows 8 for PC and either we like it or not, many of regular households in the world run Windows. I’m not saying that windows phones are better just saying that it is too early to say if the investment will pay off or not.

    I do have a Galaxy Nexus and I have to admit that the idea of being able to fully interact with my PC from my phone without the use of third party apps is alluring to some degree. I guess only time will tell.

  • Netguru

    Don’t read too much into these quoted statements. These are CYA (as in cover-your-a*s) statements that the lawyers make a company put into their SEC filings, so if something adverse happens to the company down the road (however remote), they have a defense to a shareholder lawsuit, SEC investigation, etc.

    • Me Ted

      You’re right. They shouldn’t look into the fact that Windows Phone is dropping market share every month. Nice.

  • Me Ted

    They had MeeGo and signed with MS. WTF were they thinking?

    • Chance

      Windows Phone was a choice Nokia made to differentiate themselves from all those other handset makers. It will take time for the public to change their attitudes towards Nokia. Unlike what your previous posts say, Windows Phone is growing consistently, especially in places in Europe, where it is set to overtake RIM soon. Microsoft’s market share is decreasing because apparently people still use Windows Mobile and are finally dropping it.

  • Jeeverz

    Everybody needs to chill the frack out. Blogs will do anything to spin a little news for hits, period.

    That being said, Nokia didn’t have much of an option, it was smart that they picked WP7 as the OS of choice because the only other option would have been Android. And if they actually ran with Android, they would just be another one of those 324943989832 other android phones out there with no sense of direction or consistency. Do not get me wrong, I love android and I currently am using a Google Galaxy Nexus.

    But you have to look at it from a business perspective on their choice to be a long term player and not another fish in the giant ocean.

    IF you have not seen the Nokia Lumia 800 & 900, I beckon you to do so. They are amazing phones, built with excellent Nokia hardware that we have grown to love and very very fluid and intuitive OS that Windows Phone 7 brings to the market.

    It is only a matter of time before Developers buy into this OS as a great alternative. IF it can stand the test of time over the coming years it will be able to outside Android, and is a great alternative to iOS. Because remember, we all can see that the iOS interface is getting dated, but Apple usually knows when to pull the rabbit out of the hat.

    • bob

      Of course with their current hardware being an Android manufacturer wouldn’t give them a lot of success.
      If they made high end phones, however, I wouldn’t see why they couldn’t succeed with Android.

    • Sada

      How Samsung/LG/… produce both WP and Android and their own OS phones, Nokia shd also offer choices to customers. The fact is that Microsoft bribed it’s ex-employee Stephen Elop to go only with WP. Is WP great to go only with it? No, it is also just one of OS. So, had Nokia produced Symbian, Android and WP phones, then customers would select what he wants. Everybody was waiting for Nokia + Android, and now because of MS-bribed partenership, nobdy looks back to Nokia anymore. It is very clear that Microsoft is trying to push WP at Nokia’s cost, and Nokia investors and just seeing and not firing Elop.

  • bob

    They should stop crying. The problem is not that carriers are not willing to sell their devices.
    The problem is their devices. Old tech at premium price. If they slashed the price of the 800 by 50%, carriers might want to sell it just as much as iPhones and Androids.

  • crimsona

    They are getting paid 250 million per QUARTER from Microsoft that goes straight to the bottom line. No way producing Android handsets would have produced 1 BILLION in profit annually for anybody outside of Samsung

  • -DTECH

    If the low end feature phone game is becoming less profitable (and it will that is common sense) they then need to focus on Smartphones more, which entails getting their products out quickly to the EU and NA markets where it will be adopted quicker then it would be in the feature phone markets, they need this to happen sooner or later

    Take me for example, Id love to get a Lumia 900, I have cash in hand waiting…. (I currently own 2 Android devices and am looking for a change) but if something Android peaks my interest before they launch it I may end up just going with that, Im not gonna wait forever to get one, they need to be concerned about getting to market soon because with ICS soon to launch on more new devices (and older phones receiving updates) they will lose people since ICS is much better then what is currently out there on the majority of Android phones

  • pete

    b2g and linux smart cellphones will sell for $50 unsubsidized by the end of 2012. Windows phone is not catching up with the competition, rather the contrary.

    • blackprince

      IDK about you but a $50 smartphone is going to be a shitty device, and thats not a phone I want.

  • Braumin

    After seeing the Lumia 800, I would say that Nokia has made a smart bet. Sure, WP7 has some shortcomings, but Nokia made a stunning phone. I think with Nokia in the picture, Microsoft can only improve market share. They have a large worldwide presence, and they are the only manufacturer committed to Windows Phone. HTC and Samsung make phones, but obviously they are big Android players.

    I also agree that Tango was likely something that Nokia required before they agreed to the original terms. They know that market penetration doesn’t just come from the top (except with Apple, the obvious exception).

    I am excited to see what they can do with Windows Phone 8, especially since they will be working on it already. Remember Nokia had less than a year to roll out the Lumia 800 and 710. That was very very quick for a smartphone. The 900 is the obvious evolution of that, but with Nokia being the premier partner for Windows Phone, they will also likely be a premier partner for Windows 8 tablets.

    Microsoft is in this for the long haul. They have to be. Windows Phone 7.5 is already excellent, and Windows Phone 8 should answer any of the remaining critics of the platform. The fact that it will be actually running the Windows 8 kernel only bodes well for what will be able to be done with it.

  • DaDevil

    So Nokia has 46 billion in assets, including 14 billion cash, and is valued at 19 billion… how valuable is the business plan?

    • Braumin

      Wow you must work for Toronto Dominion as an investment analyst. You obviously understand the differences between a companies net worth and its market cap.

  • uranus

    There ain’t room for rim and wp. Well see how bb10 phones look. for Canadas sake, I hope its the former.

  • uranus

    Sure the lumias look good but specs and value and apps are everything.

  • Malek

    Nokia made the biggest mistake of all time by joining forces with MS. They’re already paying the price for it.

    How could a multi-billion dollar corporation make such horrendous mistake.

  • Cell Hell

    Nokia is in a time of transition. They might want to take on another partner and form an alliance with Blackberry. Then they’d have two horses in the race.

  • gun26

    I do understand how Nokia saw the Android market as a daunting one with established players, but things can change overnight in mobile. Samsung has surged to the lead in less than two years and, unlike Nokia, they don’t have a long history of great engineering and solid quality. I think Nokia could have done very well in the Android market, but we’ll never know now.

    By choosing Windows Phone, they get a chance to distinguish themselves with the platform, but let’s not forget that Samsung and htc make Windows Phones too – indeed, htc is a long-time Windows Mobile manufacturer. In other words, the same manufacturers who lead Android also make Windows Phones competing against Nokia.

    In Maemo/Meego, Nokia had their own great platform with which to distinguish themselves, but the leadership of the company never believed in it. Again, we’ll never know what they could have achieved with Maemo/Meego.

  • ex nokia believer

    And all Lumia phones are actually Compal Communications’ phones in Nokia’s covers. Nokia doesn’t design or manufacture Lumia phones.

  • Jimmy

    Nokia lumia 900 + ICS + retina ppi + razr maxx’s battery :0

  • Bilal

    I think Nokia would’ve modified Android heavily like Amazon did for the Fire, but there is still no guarantee that it would’ve flown for Nokia. At the end of the Nokia and MS are competing in a very tough market, it’s not like Apple coming in with something leagues ahead of N95/N97 in 2007-2008…or a bunch of OEMs openining up all non-Apple users to a viable alternative in Android. All MS/Nokia can offer in this market is a different but quality product.