Nokia's Bad Call on Smartphones..

By: marticles

Frank Nuovo, the former chief designer at Nokia Corp., NOK1V.HE -5.09% gave presentations more than a decade ago to wireless carriers and investors that divined the future of the mobile Internet.

More than seven years before Apple Inc. AAPL -3.26% rolled out the iPhone, the Nokia team showed a phone with a color touch screen set above a single button. The device was shown locating a restaurant, playing a racing game and ordering lipstick. In the late 1990s, Nokia secretly developed another alluring product: a tablet computer with a wireless connection and touch screen—all features today of the hot-selling Apple iPad.

"Oh my God," Mr. Nuovo says as he clicks through his old slides. "We had it completely nailed."

Consumers never saw either device. The gadgets were casualties of a corporate culture that lavished funds on research but squandered opportunities to bring the innovations it produced to market.

Nokia led the wireless revolution in the 1990s and set its sights on ushering the world into the era of smartphones. Now that the smartphone era has arrived, the company is racing to roll out competitive products as its stock price collapses and thousands of employees lose their jobs.

This year, Nokia ended a 14-year-run as the world's largest maker of mobile phones, as rival Samsung Electronics Co. 005930.SE -0.15% took the top spot and makers of cheaper phones ate into Nokia's sales volumes. Nokia's share of mobile phone sales fell to 21% in the first quarter from 27% a year earlier, according to market data from IDC. Its share peaked at 40.4% at the end of 2007.

The impact was evident in Nokia's financial report for the first three months of the year. It swung to a loss of €929 million, or $1.1 billion, from a profit of €344 million a year earlier. It had revenue of €7.4 billion, down 29%, and it sold 82.7 million phones, down 24%. Nokia reports its second-quarter results Thursday and has already said losses in its mobile phone business will be worse than expected. Its shares currently trade at €1.37 a share, down 64% so far this year.

Nokia is losing ground despite spending $40 billion on research and development over the past decade—nearly four times what Apple spent in the same period. And Nokia clearly saw where the industry it dominated was heading. But its research effort was fragmented by internal rivalries and disconnected from the operations that actually brought phones to market.

Instead of producing hit devices or software, the binge of spending has left the company with at least two abandoned operating systems and a pile of patents that analysts now say are worth around $6 billion, the bulk of the value of the entire company. Chief Executive Stephen Elop plans to start selling more of that family silver to keep the company going until it can turn around its fortunes.

"If only they had been landed in products," Mr. Elop said of the company's inventions in a recent interview, "I think Nokia would have been in a different place."

Nokia isn't the only company to lose its way in the treacherous cellphone market. Research In Motion Ltd. RIMM -0.88% had a dominant position thanks to its BlackBerry email device, but it hasn't been able to come up with a solution to the iPhone either.

As a result, the company has lost about 90% of its market value in the past five years, and its CEO is trying to convince investors the company isn't in a "death spiral."

Whereas RIM lacked the right product, Nokia actually developed the sorts of devices that consumers are gobbling up today. It just didn't bring them to market. In a strategic blunder, it shifted its focus from smartphones back to basic phones right as the iPhone upended the market.

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