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Nokia India: Exemplary understanding of a unique market.

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop spent a week here at the beginning of September, during which he described India as being at the forefront of transition within the company. For all those in the West who have been writing them off for the last couple of years it is worth remembering that Nokia has an installed base of devices in India, that is roughly equivalent to the entire mobile subscriber base of the USA. The base of S40 feature phones alone is in excess of 200 million. Given that the Ovi store here is now doing 8 million downloads every week and climbing, you can see why Elop made this statement, and why I met a very buoyant developer relations team for a conversation to explore this further.

Mobile Industry Review is held in high regard by Nokia so they were kind enough to bring the key members of the Forum Nokia India team together in their Delhi office to talk to me. I met with…

Sunil Rao, Head: Forum Nokia India.

Priyam Bose, Developer Relations Manager

Simran Singh Sethi, Communications Specialist.

I was rather expecting quite a formal Q & A session and had prepped a few questions. As it turned out, these chaps were very relaxed, displaying the natural warmth and friendliness I am getting used to here.

I began by asking them, what the transition has meant to them in real terms. Forum Nokia has 200,000 registered Symbian developers here. Over the recent months this team has delivered conferences and training all over India in developing for Windows Phone 7. Along with the skills necessary for writing and testing apps, they brought in top flight Silverlight UI design specialists to really get the devs here up to speed on delivering a really well executed user experience. I expect we’ll see a flurry of new WP7 apps arriving in Microsoft’s market place in the early part of next year. The message from Nokia here is. Our development platforms and runtimes have consolidated to S40, Qt, and WP7. This gives developers a clear view of what they need to do to service Nokia’s huge base here.

In recent months, Nokia have released their first four dual SIM capable devices. They are very popular here as they allow family groups and friends to share a device between them, and users to switch between providers on the fly to get the best deal for their current location, time of day etc. Anyone who has a examined the legacy dual SIM devices, which range from imported iPhone clones to the very successful Micromax range of devices, will see that the reality of using them can be troublesome. Software in these is traditionally some Java variant prone to freezing and crashing when changing network, and woe betide you if you expect it to remember an APN setting for the mobile web.

Nokia have done their homework here. The devices can store all the details of up to 5 SIM cards, and best of all, hot swap these SIMs with no need to restart the phone. Add to this a feature set including, Nokia Maps, FM Radio, and a new browser which works in a similar way to Opera mobile compressing data to work at a decent speed over GPRS. They have a dedicated music phone in the X1-01 with the loudest clearest speakers to date and up to to 32GB of micro SD storage. The C2 range has two touch enabled models which will go a long way to delivering Nokia’s stated aim of connecting the next billion users of the internet.

Independently other mobile experts I have been talking to have told me these devices are now so far ahead of the competition, there is a huge resurgence in sales, building on the high trust factor Nokia have established over the years in India. Price wise they come in at between £30 to £80 making them competitive with the myriad of Chinese and Indian devices available. When you add the pre-installed Nokia Life Tools and a new range of games and entertainment apps they ship with, it’s a very compelling offer.

Nokia as a company have strong environmental credentials. I saw an inspiring presentation and an installation from them at this years MLove festival in Germany a couple of months ago. I asked for some examples of how they are delivering these aims in India. Having encouraged development for several localised apps and games on the theme of environmental awareness, these are now getting a lot of traction in the Ovi Store. WWF Eco Guru, G Aura, Green Plaza, Climate Mission, and Battery Extender are great examples.

The Nokia Take Back programme is a nation wide recycling initiative in India. So far they have recycled over 1.5 million old mobile phones and chargers via the collection points. A very worthy addition to this programme is that they are now promising to plant a tree in exchange for every item brought in to them. This may turn out to be quite an investment with the rate the mobile industry is expanding here. Nokia are also committed to green manufacturing processes. At their plant in Chennai which produces 300,000 devices every day, they have made significant progress over the last few years in reducing their carbon usage. Wide ranging measures including sourcing a wide range of recycled material and reducing packaging have made a big overall impact.

Our obsession with high end smarphones in the west allows very little attention to how companies like Nokia work in the developing world. The level of corporate responsibility they display is exemplary, I challenge anyone to show me a US or Chinese based company that can get close to them in this respect.

By Dominic

Dominic Travers is the founder of the mobstrategy consultancy in New Delhi. He has been working in the mobile communications industry for over 8 years and in the digital media space for longer than he cares to admit. Recently he was project lead for Future Platform's award winning app for the 2011 Glastonbury Festival. His interests include all things web, mobile, network performance, curating events, information and communication. He curated and produced the Future of Mobile conference in 2008 and curated and delivered the Droidcon UK conference in 2010.

21 replies on “Nokia India: Exemplary understanding of a unique market.”

But Somehow Nokia’s new leadership fails to see the potential India offers in the high end device market. People are technology fanatics here. If Nokia can forget the US and focus here. India has the potential to singlehandedly bring them back to number 1 position in high end market.

What are operators making on average per user? Is Nokia’s strategy to make $1 per month off India’s enormous population? Apple’s is to make $300 off everyone in Western Europe, America, and Asia (that includes China). Which is better/easier to roll out? These are the kinds of questions I ask myself when I hear about Nokia’s strategy in emerging markets. There’s a reason Sony Ericsson and Motorola don’t make feature phones anymore, and why HTC never even bothered to make a feature phone in the first place.

You’re spot on there. Nokia have a great team in place to deliver in India, their sponsorship of Champions League cricket can only help. More importantly they have the operator relationships in place to make sure that their Indian customers can actually get their device online and use it’s full potential. A facet of this market that the other global players just don’t seem to get at all.

Voice rates are incredibly low, so Nokia have focused on services that suit Indian pockets and network capabilities. If they make $1 per S40 user per year, that’s a substantial chunk of change. The smartphone market in India is growing rapidly, but it will still take years before it challenges the Nokia feature phone base here.

OK, a few points:

1.) Worth noting that globally a bit over a billion people use Nokia S30 and S40 devices every day (and of course then there’s also the 300 million Symbian users too, which compares to a bit over 100 million each for iPhone and Android, not bad for a “dead” platform! Incidentally a bit over 100 million are Qt enabled (thus claims of Symbian being hard to develop for are invalid for these phones). For those wondering, S30 is lowest end with no 3rd party Java apps able to be installed and no web browser, so voice and SMS only. S40 has both these, and a bunch of other stuff.

2.) > “Over the recent months this team has delivered conferences and training all over India in developing for Windows Phone 7.”
This seems very strange. Why would India focus on WinPho? The market sells almost all S40 phones, for which the development platform/language is Java Mobile. Furthermore S40 is about to become a smartphone platform with Qt support at the core amongst other things so will satisfy Indian’s need for more “smart” devices. Qt is not on Windows Phone (thanks to Microsoft idiocy). So training Indian developers on WinPho simply makes no sense at all. Surely they should be focussed on Java Mobile (first and foremost) and secondly Qt. Even if some WinPho devices will be sold in India, they will be vastly outnumbered by S40 sales. You yourself support this Dominic in your other reply on this page to Stefan where you write “The smartphone market in India is growing rapidly, but it will still take years before it challenges the Nokia feature phone base here.”

3.) > “Our development platforms and runtimes have consolidated to S40, Qt, and WP7”. There is no S40 development platform or API in the same sense as the others. On S40 it’s Java Mobile (which apps have to be in) or completely separately Web Run Time (web enabled widgets). Most Western developers think Java Mobile died years ago. Well, perhaps it did for them, but development in it, and app downloads for it, are growing hugely on Ovi Store, and S40 generally formed 35% of all Ovi Store downloads back in June. Java Mobile actually has huge growth potential.

4.) I think the most exciting thing in Nokia’s plans is making S40 a smartphone platform with Qt, touch, Ghz processors and other stuff. This is majorly disruptive and a lot of Western commentators haven’t picked up on this yet. If you can write this now:

> “Independently other mobile experts I have been talking to have told me these devices are now so far ahead of the competition, there is a huge resurgence in sales, building on the high trust factor Nokia have established over the years in India.”

you ain’t seen nothing yet when S40 becomes a smartphone platform! I do hope they keep Java though, it would be crazy to swap it out when they add in Qt.

Sure, one option is to have all the business concentrating on the 10% of the World population that can afford expensive stuff, assuming that the rest will find its way with cheap (in the full sense of the word) products. But Series 40 products are as affordable as respectable products. Even Series 30 (!) has devices with amazing functionality and functional design for few bucks. I think Nokia is big enough to continue finding excellence for low & mid income citizens while wrestling as well in the high end battle that (as someone said here) has this rich minority obsessed.

Color me skeptical. This blog post has too many typos to convince me it is not a puff piece for Nokia first of all, and second of all – WP7 in India? Really? That sounds like a great way to kill your millions of Ovi downloads nearly overnight. What a dumb idea. The Windows license cost alone is going to eat Nokia profit.

I would have thought the reason Nokia was evangelising WP7 in India is because they’d like the legions of developers there to be ready for the coming wave of demand from the West.

Hi Alex.

Nokia have always been technically challenging to develop for, it’s difficult writing software for ever shifting platforms, MS have made it a lot richer and better at publishing, by quite some margin.

Yes there is a massive market potential to be realised for a good while yet on the £50 feature phone. The trust they have in India is enormous, as it is in most developing markets, plus they localise to a huge number of languages. 

Miah has a good point, there’s one to many wides in the penultimate paragraph, missed that editing the sentence. Any others?

95% of Indian developers want to develop for the western markets, but don’t underestimate WP7 there.
There are hundreds of millions of Windows users there most of whom will never buy a mac OS device, iOS maybe. I hope to talk to MS India’s mobile guys in due course next time. Affordability in the burgeoning smartphone market will be a given, as the saying goes, India is actually a very rich country, just ask the Swiss…

Really? What evidence do you have that WIndows Phone can increase it’s current 1.9 percent share in the US? Who on earth is going to buy one of those phones when they’re released without useful apps, no 4G, and already suffer bit rot? Me, I’m short Microsft and Nokia. My Apple stock just hit an all time high.

That’s just mean, implying Nokia employees can’t spell.. Really!

[also +1 on vouching for Dom’s independence. I know the guy and on some days, I’ve never met a fiercer detractor]

Hardly saying he can’t spell. I’m saying that he likely didn’t run a spell checker or proof read. If a blogger or analyst can’t be bothered to be accurate when they write how can we expect them to be accurate about complicated market analysis? 

Anyone can say anything, that’s great. But to be listened to you have to be trustworthy. Sloppiness and hyperbole don’t lend themselves to trustworthy, reliable judgements. That’s not being mean, that’s just honest.

Hmmm, your reply doesn’t really answer any of my points (fair enough if so as long we’re aware).

> Nokia have always been technically challenging to develop for
OK, I think that’s arguable but if we accept that for the moment, then that’s still not the point as I’m talking about the now and the future – which is Qt, which has had vast numbers of rave reviews, developers saying it’s better and easier than iPhone or Android to develop for, not long ago had half a million developers to it’s name and so on.

>  it’s difficult writing software for ever shifting platforms
I don’t think this point stands. It’s been Symbian and Java for years. They have changed no more significantly than iPhone or Android adding new API’s, deprecating old ones etc. As a comparative argument with rival platforms your statement doesn’t stand.

And if you’re implying a move to WP, then my argument against that in India also still stands as does your comment to Stefan: “The smartphone market in India is growing rapidly, but it will still take years before it challenges the Nokia feature phone base here.”

> Yes there is a massive market potential to be realised for a good while yet on the £50 feature phone.
Sure…but that kind of market is as stated going to become S40 smartphones at it’s high end which will increasingly work it’s way down the stack (I don’t know new S40 release plans, so maybe they’ll start off with lower price points too, in which case my point is even more pertinent). So again…no need for WP, no need for low end Android phones from cheapo Chinese manufacturers or whoever (as you wrote: “Independently other mobile experts I have been talking to have told me these devices [pre-S40-smartphone what’s more] are now so far ahead of the competition, there is a huge resurgence in sales”)

> MS have made it a lot richer and better at publishing, by quite some margin.
Not sure what you’re saying here. Do you mean they have a better SDK/dev platform and tools. Hmmm, definitely arguable, Qt is easily up there with the best of them. And what about the proof being in the pudding? Ovi Store has experienced incredible growth in number of apps, and in downloads so development for Nokia platforms (Java, Qt-on-Symbian, AND Symbian) has to be good enough and easy enough for that.

There’s world outside US as well and Nokia has been successful in that world for years. Even if US market share stays at 1.9% Nokia can still take back its place at the #1 spot.

The numbers of apps on the platform is growing everyday, this will only escalate when Nokia’s mass market game comes into play.

4G? What 4G? No country except Japan has 4G. Do you mean LTE?

I work with Qt developers and publishing to Ovi constantly in my job at Future Platforms, we’re making some of the best looking Nokia apps there have ever been. Yet still, I thoroughly dispute the points you make above. All mobile platforms need to improve elements of their tool set, some much more than others.
Professional courtesy prohibits me from arguing this by specific example.
I am going to be at Planet of the Apps and Over the Air in the next couple of weeks, look me out for a chat if you are at either. 

Of course there’s a world outside the US Hardeep, and Nokia has most of its one billion customers there. But that world tends not to be interested in paying for Microsoft IP in my experience which turns out to be a problem when it comes to making money.

More apps will not come with a switch to WP7. On the contrary, there is a smaller WP7 ecosystem than Symbian and Windows 8 will diminish that ecosystem further as people switch to a new runtime (WinRT) and Metro. Legacy Window apps are dead on arrival for WP8 or whatever they end up calling it.

Umm, we have 4G here in Sweden. Brought to us by Ericsson, who invented the term LTE. LTE stands for “Long Term Evolution” and here’s a couple wikipedia quotes for you; “LTE is the brand name for emerging and developed technologies that comprise the existing 3G and 4G networks.” “The world’s first publicly available LTE-service was opened by TeliaSonera in the Scandinavian capitals Stockholm and Oslo on 14 December 2009.”

There’s a world outside India too!

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