Nokia next in line for an about-turn?

Two years ago Nokia had a global smartphone market share of around 29%. That number has fallen to around 3% today, despite the smartphone market more than doubling over the same period. Nokia’s CEO, Stephen Elop, bet the family silver on a Windows-based strategy and gave it two years to pay off. Well, two years have passed and sales of 4.4 million Lumia’s have disappointed analysts and markets, and likely him.

But it’s not all bad news. In the same period Nokia sold almost 80 million ‘dumb phones’, down on the previous year but clearly a market where they remain strong. What are the chances Nokia will drop it’s Windows strategy and put everything into lower-end devices for emerging markets? The Asha is doing pretty well there, and may be it’s saviour. Telecom TV have a great analysis of Nokia’s options – “Is Asha the future for Nokia?” – which you can read here.

Big tech companies have made embarrasing U-turns before. In 2011 Hewlett Packard announced it was going to sell its PC and tablet manufacturing units only to change it’s mind later. And last summer Apple decided its withdrawal from the EPEAT environmental ratings scheme was probably not all that clever and decided it wasn’t going to leave after all.

Nokia look like two businesses at the moment. At the high end of the mobile market they’re clearly struggling with little to cheer about. At the low to medium end they’re in a totally different position. Overall, Nokia are struggling, and it’s sad to see. If they’re to survive they may need to be brave. Perhaps a U-turn is what they need. And if they decide they need one, they won’t have been alone.

Differentiation and the non-changing face of innovation

Last week at the Rutberg Summit in London – an event dominated by senior mobile industry executives – one of the more interesting topics for me was differentiation. How will the new Microsoft/Nokia relationship impact the mobile OS ecosystem? What does the proliferation of Android mean to the many handset manufacturers bundling it with their phones? In a world being increasingly dominated by just a small number of mobile operating systems, how does one smartphone manufacturer differentiate themselves from the next?

Of course, the operating system on a phone is just one part of it. Not only is our choice of OS becoming increasingly limited, so is our choice of “look”.

Take this image – a small cross-section of the handsets on the market today. We’re almost at the stage where you can have any smartphone you like, as long as it looks like one of these. Spot the difference? Not much.

This week, Apple took out another law suit – this time against Samsung – accusing it of stealing/borrowing/using its iPhone design for it’s latest range of phones. (Apple also claim the Galaxy is a little too close to looking like an iPad). The Register has a good article on all of this.

If being a consumer really is all about choice, then there’s certainly less of that today than there used to be. It will be interesting to see where all this goes – court battles included – and where the growing tension between innovation and differentiation ultimately takes us.

The microscopic world of mobile chip art

I’d heard about “chip art” before, but not really paid much attention to it. Then, over Christmas I saw a programme on Finnish TV which sparked my interest. I wondered – was there any ‘mobile’ chip art out there?

What is chip art?

For the uninitiated, “chip art” is created when silicon chip designers use redundant space on circuit boards to add a piece of personal artwork. It’s graffiti, but on a microscopic scale, and one which often goes completely undetected. Although chip art originally served a purpose – to help ‘catch out’ board cloners – since 1984 when copyright law changed there has been little reason to incorporate it. Except for fun, of course.

Mobile chip art?

There are hundreds of examples of chip art on computer-destined circuit boards, but far fewer in mobiles. Or are there?


Although not strictly mobile-related, this touch-tone telephone chip art was discovered on an Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) integrated circuit board. Cute, nevertheless, and retro is all the rage, right?


After digging a little deeper, I did manage to find a couple of pieces of chip art actually hidden within mobile phones. This one, above, was concealed inside a Nokia N80 mobile phone, and resembles a rat or mouse (of sorts). According to my (Finnish) wife the words translate as “Eat chicken”. It’s a safe bet that nobody except the person who put it there knows what that means.


This one, fondly known as “The Magical Mystery Pig”, was found on the RF component of another Nokia phone. Again, the significance of this is a complete mystery. The beauty of some of this chip art is not only in the wonderful detail – considering its size – but more fundamentally in why it was put there in the first place.

I wonder how much more mobile chip art is hiding out there?

NEWS: Video interview with Nokia Conversations website

Late last month Ken Banks was invited to meet up with the team behind Nokia Conversations, the handset giant’s official blog. During a short six minute video interview, Ken gave his thoughts on mobile innovation in Africa, plans for FrontlineSMS (following the recent announcement of funding from the Hewlett Foundation), and the challenges of financial sustainability faced by many social mobile projects. The interview is available here