- Two former titans of the mobile market are making a comeback this year
- Anticipation builds as they release new devices in growing yet challenging market
NOT too long ago, Nokia and BlackBerry were at the top of their game, as the former defined the modern mobile phone in the early 2000s while the other pioneered push email and popularised the Qwerty keyboard on mobile devices.
However, both companies were lagging behind the competition posed by iOS and Android smartphones. The one thing the two shared in common was that they had successful platforms that they just did not want to give up.
For Nokia, its unwillingness to give up on its ageing Symbian platform and recognise that consumers were shifting to more powerful smartphones, cost the company dearly.
It did not help that Nokia entered into an ill-fated partnership with Microsoft, sold off its handset business to the software giant in order to push the software giant’s Windows Phone operating system.
Despite its efforts, Microsoft was too far behind the smartphone race and by 2016, the nail was already in the coffin as Gartner’s smartphone sales report showed that Windows Phone was dead with just 0.7% of market share overall.
In May 2016, Microsoft sold its various Nokia-related assets to FIH Mobile, a subsidiary of Foxconn Technology and newly formed HMD Global, a Finnish company founded by veteran Nokia executives.
BlackBerry (back then known as Research In Motion or RIM) faced similar problems as it struggled to keep up with the rapid innovations in consumer technology by its competitors. Though BlackBerry dominated the corporate market, it failed to recognize the fact that it would be consumers who would drive the smartphone revolution.
They also failed to consider the burgeoning ‘app economy’ that drove massive adoption of iOS and Android devices. BlackBerry realised too late that there was no space for a third wheel in the app wars as BlackBerry’s on BB10 platform was left in the dust.
In September 2016, BlackBerry announced that it will stop internal development of smartphones to refocus their efforts to their other key strengths in the enterprise space, specifically as a secure and comprehensive platform to connect people.
In the end, Nokia and BlackBerry failed to recognise that the time to switch away from its legacy systems and try something new ultimately cost them their market position and future.
The process of rebirth
Just because they are down, doesn’t necessarily mean that they are out of the game. Both Nokia and BlackBerry still exist as businesses today though they are focusing their attention on different areas.
To BlackBerry, the end goal isn’t just to be in smartphones but in cars, medical devices, wearables, appliances, machinery and ultimately the entire enterprise.
Indeed, BlackBerry has been putting its weight behind what it calls the Enterprise of Things (EoT) through its BlackBerry Secure, integrated security solution, helping companies manage and secure mobile devices and other connected things.
In the hardware space, BlackBerry has turned towards a licensing strategy by working with third parties to develop hardware and distribute them to the market under the BlackBerry brand.
Over the past several months BlackBerry has announced licensing agreements with TCL Communication from China, PT BB Merah Putih in Indonesia and Optiemus in India.
During a recent phone interview with DNA BlackBerry’s senior vice president general manager of mobility solutions, Alex Thurber said BlackBerry was deliberate in selecting these three manufacturers as they represent key markets for BlackBerry.
Indonesia represents a big market for BlackBerry with million of users using its operating system so it is a natural fit to strengthen its presence in the country. Likewise, India is the fastest growing smartphone market in the world so it makes sense to establish itself there.
BlackBerry also has aspirations to once again market its phones to other parts of the world from Asia to developed markets like the US and Europe through TCL Communications.
As for the case of Nokia, it is a little more complicated than BlackBerry. Yes, there will be a return of Nokia phones but not under the original Nokia company by HMD Global.
The Nokia that we have known from before has completely exited the handset business to be a network equipment maker. Now Nokia has trained its sights on the telco equipment market with the acquisition of Alcatel-Lucent to help it better compete against the likes of Ericsson and Huawei.
HMD and Foxconn together, will jointly develop, manufacture and sell Nokia-branded feature phones in developing countries and will add Android-based smartphones and tablets to the line up in 2017.
Though directly invested in HMD, Nokia will still participate in the development and receive royalties covering both brand and IP rights from HMD for sales of every Nokia-branded product.
There is a revival of sorts happening for both Nokia and BlackBerry at least for their smartphones. It is in a way a second lease on life for these two former titans of industry.
Both companies have are in the headlines again with interest picking up about the new products that they introduce at the upcoming Mobile World Congress 2017. If anything it is a positive sign that there are perhaps some diehard fans of the two phone brands out there that are clamouring for some good old Nokia and BlackBerry devices.
BlackBerry’s new Qwerty keyboard phone codenamed the DTEK70 ‘Mercury’ was teased during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2017 where a prototype of the device was shown to members of the press.
Though there is not much known about the product, it looks like BlackBerry’s Mercury will be switching over to run Android instead of its proprietary operating system from before and it will feature BlackBerry’s signature full Qwerty keyboard too.
There is a chance that this version of Android may include security enhancements by BlackBerry to help enhance its value towards enterprise customers.
This year’s MWC may also see the introduction of Nokia products like the rumoured flagship P1 Android phone accompanied by the international release of the Nokia 6 handset, which was only revealed in Jan 2017 but was sold exclusively in China.
There is also a rumoured remake of the iconic Nokia 3310 that reportedly would have updated specs and slimmed down to meet modern sensitivities.
The smartphone market is very different now from the time Nokia and BlackBerry competed in it. The rise of Chinese smartphone brands like Oppo, Huawei and Honor will make things more challenging for the two returning combatants.
It certainly will be interesting to check out any new devices Nokia and BlackBerry will be showcasing at this year’s MWC. For the first time in a long time, it’s going to be exciting to anticipate what is happening with these two fallen giants
(Chong Jinn Xiung will be reporting from Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week.)
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