October 17, 2008 3:05 pm

Niche vs Mass-Market: What Nokia is up against.

ESPOO, Finland – I was at a great seminar the other day by one of our executives who has long been in the phone business. He had a great story in response to the usual questions of ‘when is Nokia coming out with <insert latest tech craze here>?’.

The core of his response was the balance the company does between adopting new technologies versus building a solid platform to produce millions of devices a day. And he referenced a funny Skoda ad, which I embedded below, that best exemplifies the struggle we have with pulling a huge cross-company platform and staying agile.

Read more for the specifics.

Not always first to capture the spirit

Ok. So we are not always first to capture the glory for a certain new technology. Or, we might have one product that  explores the use of something new. But what is clear is that every so often, something takes hold of the industry, every one starts hitting on Nokia for not adopting it, and then, Nokia suddenly deploys the new tech across its portfolio, across the market, and in numbers that pale our competitors.

It’s happened to us with fold phones, thin phones, GPRS, Java, XHTML browsers, GPS*, Bluetooth, and more recently, touch UIs. But, it seems to hit us only once, and then we hit back in scales other companies can only dream of. And we never hear of it again.

Big platform vs small niche

That’s the catch, isn’t it? A niche player can focus all their effort on one product and knock out variations of that one product, and sales of 10 million are more than enough to satisfy the product managers.

We’re a big company and need to make things at a big scale. Ten million devices is a drop in the bucket for us (about 10 days worth of sales). When we take on something new, we want to get it to the broadest market, across our portfolio, and to millions of users across different price and user segments. That means we need to make sure suppliers are on board, that the software is re-uasble, that we are consistent in how it’s used, and that implementations are compatible across all our devices that have it.

So, in summary, next time you wonder when Nokia is going to respond to the latest tech must-have that has captured the mind of the customer, remind yourself that Nokia is likely doing it and that it’ll be spread across the portfolio, and that it’ll be used in numbers that dwarf the small, nimble, niche product companies that set the bar in the first place.

So, enjoy a vision of that with this funny video below.

*BTW, I heard that Nokia recently became the largest seller of personal navigation devices (GPS navigation devices). Wow.

Image from abogada samoana