Handset competition used to be all about releasing hundreds of models, many just slight variations on one another.
Now, at the high end at least, it is all about cutting R&D and production costs by focusing on a smaller number of (hopefully) high impact smartphones.
If Apple can get a 3% global share with, effectively, just one phone, the big five are looking to similar efficiencies. Motorola has already slashed the number of phones it plans to develop in 2009-2010, partly by focusing almost entirely on Android at the top end; now Nokia says it will halve its smartphone portfolio next year to reduce "unnecessary differentiation" and maximize the effort behind a few key models.
The market leader already surprised some observers by saying it would add only one phone based on its Maemo Linux OS in 2010, to join the new N900. This is very typical of the new approach - the N900 is a genuine groundbreaker, and Nokia promises the 2010 launch will not be just another smartphone, but will help redefine the mobile internet device category. If it succeeds, it believes it will achieve more bang for less buck, compared to unleashing a host of Maemo products that are not clearly differentiated.
The same goes for its main smartphone platform, Symbian/Series 60. Nokia has increased the number of high end and midrange models it has launched in 2009 - to about 20 - after a damagingly fallow period in 2008, when it lost much of the huge momentum it had originally generated with the N95, which arguably defined the new smartphone segment when it appeared in 2006. Having got some of its mojo back with the N97 and the 'Tube' family, and belatedly embraced touchscreens, Nokia will now cut back again in terms of model numbers.
At its Capital Markets Day this week, Nokia also promised that 2010 would see a major overhaul of its Series 60 user experience, which - coupled with the release of the new open source upgrade of Symbian - could rejuvenate a software platform that is starting to look rather tired, and is under pressure from the more modern Android.
Copyright © 2009, Wireless Watch
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