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BW Businessworld

The Leader Fights Back

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Think of the hot-test smart phone models that have been recently launched. Chances are that the models that will spring to mind are Apple's new generation iPhone, the latest BlackBerry Bold or the Palm Pre, which is getting rave reviews abroad but is yet to make its debut in India. The Nokia N97 has launched to lukewarm reviews. Experts agree that it is a formidable machine. It has amazing features. It boasts both touch as well as qwerty interfaces. And it is a good phone in all respects. But for some reason, it has failed to generate the buzz that its rivals have.

Now consider mid-end phones, a traditional Nokia stronghold. Go to any multi-brand dealer and ask to check out competing models. You will find two things. One, Nokia has more models in each category than competitors such as Samsung, LG or Sony Ericsson. Two, in almost every price range, there is at least one competitive phone with far more buzz than the Nokia models. A not-too-expensive touch phone? Check out Samsung or LG. An affordable music phone or a camera phone? How about Sony Ericsson?

Suddenly, in almost every segment, Nokia is increasingly looking like the follower in the innovation stakes, not the leader.  Not so long back, Nokia used to be the one to introduce new features — whether it was the first to have a tune, a WAP feature or a mobile game.

None of this takes away the fact that Nokia is still the market leader. It has 36.5 per cent of the world market for handsets and 53.94 per cent of the Indian market, according to Gartner. It has more models than any one of its rivals — and in fact, more models than several of its rivals put together. But increasingly, people are buying Nokia for its dependability, its easy availability, its reliability and its value for money perception — not for any cutting edge features.

Nokia is fighting back with a slew of new models, a range of new services, and a host of fresh applications. It is looking beyond the ageing Symbian OS that many say is the prime cause for Nokia lagging in the smart phone stakes. Will it succeed in getting back the mantle of not just the market leader but also the innovation leader? Deputy Editor Rajeev Dubey and Correspondent Sunny Sen analyse the challenges it faces.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-09-2009)

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