While Motorola dominates the US handset market with a 35% share, Nokia has long been the global leader when it comes to getting cell phones into customer's hands. Nokia's US share currently hovers just below 10%, and that's not because they make lousy phones. Nokia's strategy of focusing on GSM candybar-style handsets serves then well in Europe, where customers are used to buying unlocked devices and favor the candybar form factor, but here in the US it's a different game. Most US customers get their phones as part of signing up for long-term service with a specific provider, and the carriers have a huge say in what features, software, and designs make it into their handset lineups. Beyond that, two of the big four carriers in the US use CDMA technology, and Americans seem to have this thing for flip phones. And so Nokia's been left out in the cold when it comes to the US market.
That all may be changing according to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Nokia's been making moves to play nicer with US carriers for a few years now, and they've also opened up flagship stores in major US cities where customers can purchase high-end, unlocked phones like the flagship N95. With the demise of Motorola's mobile phone division apparently upon us, now seems to be the time for Nokia to move into the States in full force, and they are. Nokia's set up teams to work with each of the major US carriers, and even gone so far as to land office space right next to each carrier's corporate HQ ? all the better for working closely with them, right?
The strategy is very behind the scenes and subtle, save for a few targeted ad campaigns lauding the openness of Nokia's higher-end gear to geeks willing to spend $500 on a new phone. According to the WSJ article, we may not see the fruits of Nokia's US labors for another year or two, but they will be coming in the form of new phones designed hand-in-hand with the likes of AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and/or Verizon Wireless:
"It might be another year or so to see an impact, because it can take 18 months or more to design and produce new phones. 'These aren't the sort of things where you wave a wand and things are better,' he says."
The "he" quoted there is Mark Louison, head of Nokia's North American division. 18 months is an eternity in the fast-moving cell phone market, but it's not like Nokia's going anywhere given their dominance across the rest of the world. I'd love to see what Nokia and Sprint or T-Mobile could come up with for American consumers, and frankly I think it could be well worth the year or two it takes.