How Android can save RIM and Nokia

by: Simon HillAugust 16, 2012

Is it too late for Nokia or RIM? Before you answer, consider this quote from The Economist back in 1995.

Apple could hang on for years, gamely trying to slow the decline, but few expect it to make such a mistake. Instead it seems to have two options. The first is to break itself up, selling the hardware side. The second is to sell the company outright.

If you think that was an isolated point of view then check out this roundup of doom predictions for Apple on the New York Times blog. We all know how that turned out.

Now, I’m not predicting Apple style success for RIM or Nokia, but let’s just remember that it’s never over until it’s really over. With the right moves, any company can make a comeback and the fast-paced world of tech is a great place to do it.

Before we get into strategies for success let’s take a look at how bad things have gotten.

RIM is struggling

RIM is seriously in a hole. The high point for their share price was 2008 when it hit $149.90. As I write this, the share price is $7.52. Take a look on Google Finance and hit the 5 year tab on that chart and you’ll see the steady decline. The BlackBerry once dominated the smartphone market. How was it allowed to fall so far?

The news this week, from Reuters, is that RIM is looking to sell assets to stay afloat, including its cloud services provider NewBay. Selling recent acquisitions is never a good sign, although in this case it’s probably because RIM is gearing up for one final throw of the dice with BB10 and it needs cash to push out the new line-up of devices.

Nokia hits bottom

The high point for Nokia was way back in 2000 when its share price hit $58.50. Today as I write this it is $2.64. Take a look on Google Finance and hit the “All” tab and you’ll see a sharp decline building towards a pretty respectable 2007. The reason it nosedives after that is Android, which was first released in 2008 and has been greedily eating Nokia’s share of the market ever since.

This week the Washington Post is reporting that Nokia is making a big loss and has been downgraded further into “junk status” by rating agency Standard and Poor’s. This follows the news in June that Nokia would be cutting 10,000 jobs and closing down some research and development facilities.

Why, why, why?

How did things go wrong for RIM and Nokia? Well you can argue about mismanagement in both cases. Lazaridis and Balsillie as co-chairmen and chief executives at RIM were widely criticized before they resigned. Nokia’s chief executive Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was fired in 2010 and replaced by Stephen Elop. He came to Nokia from Microsoft and the fact that a Nokia and Microsoft partnership followed soon after has raised suspicions about his motives. Was it really a good idea to ditch MeeGo and go with Windows Phone?

We could also attribute the disastrous performance of both companies to the rise of the Android platform. Android has clearly established a leading position in the smartphone market but it didn’t do that by beating Apple. The rise of Android correlates quite closely with the decline of BlackBerry and Symbian.

Why didn’t they adopt Android?

Current RIM CEO Thorsten Heins already admitted that RIM considered adopting Android, but in the end they didn’t fancy their chances of competing with Android manufacturers like Samsung. There are so many devices being released that support the Android platform that he was concerned about how to differentiate BlackBerrys.

The gamble on BB10 has now been taken, and RIM can’t easily go back on it. The fact that Android apps could easily be ported to BB10 could bring the BlackBerry brand the key advantage that adopting the Android platform would have done. However, RIM still needs to persuade developers that it’s worth the trouble and it needs to persuade existing customers to buy a new BB10 device because it won’t be rolled out to existing BlackBerrys. The idea that other manufacturers might license BB10 sounds like wishful thinking.

We don’t know if Nokia considered adopting Android. They had already put a lot of work into MeeGo, and the Nokia N9 got favorable reviews, so it was a surprise when Elop unveiled the Windows Phone plan. Microsoft definitely enticed Nokia to adopt Windows Phone with platform support payments and probably a lower than normal licensing fee. However, the release of Windows Phone 8, and the news that old Windows Phone devices can’t be upgraded to run it, is a real kick in the teeth for Nokia.

You would imagine even if Nokia decides to ditch Windows Phone that a return to MeeGo and Meltemi would be the most likely move.

What could have been

Nokia N9 AndroidA better title for this article might be “How Android could have saved RIM and Nokia”. If Nokia had adopted Android instead of Windows Phone and RIM had adopted Android instead of working on BB10, then both companies could be in much better shape right now. The Android platform has improved so much since its first release. It has a thriving app store.

A line-up of high quality devices running Android from RIM or Nokia would have been a major hit with consumers. Both companies are known for their ability to deliver high quality handsets at reasonable prices. I think the brand recognition and lingering loyalty could have been enough to wrestle away some customers from Samsung, HTC and the gang. If people weren’t forced to choose between a dated platform and Android, with all of its momentum, then they might have stuck with Nokia and RIM.

Is it too late to adopt Android?

Randy Khoo, here at Android Authority, already argued not even Android can save Nokia now, but I disagree. Seriously, it’s never too late. It’s not too late for RIM to adopt Android either. Provided they have the cash to get a range of Android smartphones to market, then the points above still stand. Both brands do still have some love with consumers and they could differentiate themselves on the Android platform with quality handsets and branded apps and services. Imagine BlackBerry enterprise know-how focused on the Android platform or Nokia’s camera technology in an Android phone.

Sadly I don’t think either company will adopt Android. I think they’ve made their decisions and they’ll wait to see how things pan out. What do you think? Post a comment and tell us.

  • Erik Neu

    In theory it may not be too late, but in practice, it is. One, because even if they did eke out a tiny sliver of the Android market, it wouldn’t be enough to fund them as we know them. Second, I just think it is too late and too expensive to execute. The Android handset marketplace has little room for me-too phones. And I don’t think it is realistic to think that they could produce a gotta-have phone on their first iteration. Even if it had great specs, there are bound to be glitches. Look at the Samsung Galaxy S 1 (Vibrant, Fascinate, Captivate).

    Apple is an interesting counter-example, but to me, that is a textbook example of “the exception that proves the rule”.

  • If rim went android , and I don’t think they can or will at this point, they could’ve leveraged first-party RIM apps to cater android devices to the enterprise as a means to differentiate themselves from Samsung and HTC.
    That would have cemented the “RIM is for Work, iPhone is for games” perception that existed in the early days of Iphone.

  • Just imagine what it would have been if Nokia had adopted Android. Nokia would be the TOP Android seller. Nokia is known for producing high quality handsets with the best materials. Most people complain about Samsung devices because of the poor build quality. Everything is plastic. Nokia always puts the best materials in their devices. Just imagine a high quality device made with the best materials and Android in it. It would sell like crazy. That’s what was happening with HTC. They not only have a beautiful UI but also make beautiful handsets. Sadly, Apple’s patents and lawsuits are making HTC fall over a cliff. But if Nokia had adopted Android we would see them as the big monster they once were. Amazing how a company can be lead to bankruptcy for making the bad choices

    • WP is so boring. boring to use boring to look at.

    • carlmsd

      It’s much more than build quality. If that was the case, galaxy s3 would have never been so much more popular than the more premium looking one X. Samsung already has the momentum and reputation of being the top android manufacturer.

    • John

      I agree with you! Even though i love samsung, nokia will beat it if it adopted android! I just don’t see blackberry’s future anymore.

  • MikeCiggy

    I’m interested to watch them both roll out their new phones. I like the idea of choices in the market rite now if you want quality and useability it’s android or iOS and that’s many choices. I also think RIM could challenge iOS and Android to innovate and continue to grow.

    • It’s Nokia’s argument and here is why it makes no sense. Android is not just one OS, its open nature makes it more like a specification, a common base. Each Android manufacturer builds its own OS, ‘based’ in Android, they all have similarities, are compatible with the same apps, have some requirements to be certified by Google, but they all have different software that is much more than skins and drivers. It’s like the HTML standard: each browser is a different browser, but they are all compatible with the HTML specification; the difference here is that Android gives more than specification, it also gives a base implementation.
      That’s why this statement that WP is a needed third choice is poor, even Microsoft could make an Android based Windows if they wanted, with live tiles and so on! The beauty of Android is that it takes the advantages of having multiple platforms (more choice, differentiation, customization) without its disadvantages (multiple targets to develop, multiple sets of apps, incompatibility); and takes the advantages of having a single platform (one target to develop, one set of apps, unified app store, compatibility) without its disadvantages (lack of choice, no differentiation, OEM commoditization, etc).

  • i am someone

    nokia and blackberry should roll out windows phone and their blackberries with android phones just to see how much the difference is.

  • Wow

    This is how BB could survive: start making handsets running Android which have physical keyboards. Run a test to make sure, but imagine if BB was the phone maker with physical keyboards while samsung was the touchscreen.

    • I don’t know how you could use Android without touching the screen. Just feels wrong. I feel that touch screen is the future… But my opinion is that RIM is going down… sorry and goodbye BB internet service…

  • Troy

    When they talk about licensing BB10 to other manufacturers, they are talking about auto manufacturers and the like, not other smartphone manufacturers.

  • Troy

    RIM will continue to have the business market, or a large share of it. This BYOD trend will be reversed when BB10 phones come out and are equivalent to the iPhone and Android.
    Businesses don’t want to spend any more money on supporting these phones than they have to and supporting multiple OSes is more expensive than supporting just one.
    Guess who will win on that? The one with the most security.

  • Melvin

    I would love to see a Nokia Android. So I wrote to a senior VP at Nokia and the reply I got was that “Nokia is committed to developing a third environment around windows phone”. Only nokia can save nokia not android.

  • tanmay

    NOKIA shoul should adopt android os.There are lots people who entrust the company and will buy its sets if come with good phone with a proper os like android rather than wp.If they ever cum wit an android mobile I would be the first to buy it.I hope they did this.

  • shalin

    As to be optimistic one can say that if at this point of time Nokia adopts android there are n number of fans and Nokia lovers that It will propel a curiosity in such a mass resulting in increase in sale.. I mean its like finding a lost love for many people that after such a long period it can bounce back and I am personally not a fan of Nokia but I really pity that why engineers and decision makers don’t work out on the formula ” Of finding a Lost love ” I am sure Nokia can definitely bounce back with immense potential even if they decide now to switch on Android…Wish I could have been fortune maker of Nokia or Board of directors in Nokia It would be numero Uno Android phone maker now or still in days to come …….Regards

  • i once upgraded to the nokia n8 and found that the phone was amazing hardware wise, however software was complete garbage, it had the symbian3 and right from the get go i wasn’t sure what to be doing with it after upgrding from iphone 3g.
    i ended up trading the phone back in and got the samsung captivate and never looked back, android is amazing and am now loving my s3

  • a_rob

    There’s a very simple, obvious reason why Nokia decided not to go Android – location. They’re the #1 mapping country in the world and have been able to leverage that into the Windows environment. Google would. NEVER adopt Noise Maps/NavTec in lieu of Google Maps. Nokia would only become another hardware manufacturer under Android – they would have been forced to dump tech that’s helped define them, whereas Microsoft have adopted Nokia as a platform driver. I like Android, but seriously anyone with half a brain and reasonable understanding of Nokia’s portfolio can clearly see why Android would be a dead end whereas Windows Phone gives them real opportunity to play to their strengths…it’s just a shame Windows (Phone) 8 wasn’t ready sooner.

    • Ian King

      android is so customizable that nokia would have been able to implement its map service and its app store. you only need to look at devices such as kindle fire, and every other android manufacturer to see that each and every single one of them are able to input their own UI.

  • jsfernald

    I have always thought Nokia has made the best hardware out there. In the end however it is the software that drives the phone and though Nokia has the best hardware, they can’t deny the popularity of Android. I think it’s not to late for Nokia to make a flagship phone that runs Android and come back into the market. I know, personally I would buy one.

  • What about security? The Android OS is no way on the same level of security as RIM QNX platform. QNX Neutrino RTOS has the highest level of security certifications in the military. and RIM pass the FIPS-140-2 on two factors, the operating system and cryptography modules for data encryption. Sure a few Android devices like the Motorola Droid 2 gets the FIPS-140-2 but thats only for data encryption NOT including the Android operating system. iOS has been going through the FIPS process for over two years and still has not pass the FIPS validation and is still pending.

  • Anthony Gunby

    Rims days are numbered it went consumer mad. But Nokia could come back if they adopt Android, that’s a big if too. Windows was a bad move. I’ve had a windows mobile device of sorts in the past and it was awfull. I’d always liked Nokia but fell out of favour with Nokia when they made the move towards windows. Or should I say pushed towards it. I chose Apple at first. Great apps nice phone but did not like the fact I could not customise my phone as I liked. So I moved to android. Now I’m using an S3 and I must say android has come along way in such a short time. If nokia did ditch windows I would be in two minds as I’ve grown to like samsung.