Nokia: The Power of the Brand

The New York Times recently had an interesting article, “Nokia’s Brand Best Feature to Beat Rivals”, about how Nokia’s leadership position in the handset market might be more a function of branding than of feature leadership. Are they on to something here?

I think that Nokia makes great handsets. Are there other handset makers who are superior? I don’t know if I can answer that question, but suffice it to say that there are handul of handset manufactures who are really pushing the agenda for next-generation handsets.

Just two quick comments on this article:

What about Samsung? – What I found most galling about this article was the complete and utter disregard for the one handset company that has been making very aggressive progress in the global handset market — Samsung. Sure, this article was written by a European office that is probably not as interested in the goings-on in the CDMA world, but I find it surprising to talk about the (supposed) decline in Nokia’s feature leadership position without talking about one of the companies that is really pushing the envelope in terms of features. If you want proof, check out this Samsung phone with integrated TV tuner capabilities (no, there is no mobile TiVo option).

In the United States, consumers are at the mercy of carriers when it comes to handset selection. I buy a lot of telephones (roughly 3 per year between work and personal accounts) and I am always shocked by the paucity of options that the U.S. phone consumer has when choosing a handset. If you are a U.S. GSM subscriber, there are very few interesting handsets available. Some of the world’s coolest handsets, such as the Sony Ericsson P800 and some of the next-gen Nokia models are not available for purchase at your local handset dealer. Even worse, there is very little market for “unlocked” GSM handsets in the United States, making it difficult for technophiles to stay on the cutting edge.

So, as long as AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and T-Mobile continue to support a fairly narrow set of handsets, I don’t see anyone putting Nokia out of business in the U.S. GSM market anytime soon.