Nokia plans U.S.-centric phones

Editor’s Note: This story is excerpted from Computerworld. For more Mac coverage, visit Computerworld’s Macintosh Knowledge Center.

Nokia wants to “re-enter” the U.S. market and is developing smartphones for U.S. consumers, but the phone maker won’t be building more CDMA-based phones, which run on half the nation’s wireless networks, Nokia’s global head of sales said Tuesday.

No details for any U.S.-specific smartphones were announced at the Nokia World trade show in London. Nokia confirmed that none of the four new Nokia smartphones announced Tuesday that run the new Symbian 3 operating system can be bought on a U.S. carrier plan—a development that calls Nokia’s U.S. effort into question.

“We’re not happy with our current situation in the U.S., and we’re looking for ways to enhance our position in the U.S. market,” said Colin Giles, global head of sales for Nokia in a conference call with U.S. reporters.

Giles said Nokia’s research and development teams are working on U.S.-specific smartphones, but the company doesn’t have plans for more smartphones that work on the networks of CDMA carriers, such as Verizon Wireless or Sprint Nextel. It will continue producing GSM phones, which can be used on AT&T and T-Mobile networks.

He said that instead of offering more CDMA phones, Nokia plans to focus on next-generation LTE phones for the U.S. Those devices will be deployed soonest by Verizon and AT&T. Nokia has limited CDMA offerings; the most recent was its Twist phone, which was available through Verizon.

Nokia’s commitment to the U.S. sounds sincere, but one analyst said that with only a 3 percent share of the U.S. smartphone market, the cell phone maker has a long way to go, especially if it won’t be providing more CDMA phones.

“Nokia in North America has the equivalent of Mount Everest to climb to get any significant smartphone share, and they are doing it with their own imposed handicaps,” said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J.Gold Associates.

“CDMA is more than half of the U.S. market, so how serious [is Nokia] if they immediately eliminate half of the potential market?” Gold asked.

Giles said a key to success in the U.S. will be better collaboration with U.S.-based carriers. “We’re in listening mode now,” he said, noting that U.S. carriers have unusual requirements for branding phones and customizing user interfaces, and also pointing out that phones must be adapted to U.S. carrier radio frequencies.

“The industry has changed over the years,” Giles said. “Our stumbling block previously had been a lack of understanding of the U.S. market. We were trying to run a global program and it was not tailored enough for the U.S. The U.S. is consumer-driven, and we need products that are directed at the consumer.”

In order to reach all segments of the market, Giles said Nokia plans to continue making phones based on three operating systems: S40, Symbian and Meego. That’s not too many for developers to build applications for, he said. “We believe the global market is able to accommodate all three, and all three are needed for cost efficiency and also sophistication at the high end,” Giles said.

Some developers have worried about the need to build apps for several operating systems, including iOS for the iPhone and Google’s Android. Giles said Nokia is aware of that concern and has therefore simplified the platform for Symbian 3’s newest group of four smartphones, the N8, E7, C7 and C6.

Giles emphasized that the N8, which has had the largest number of pre-orders of any phone in Nokia’s history, will operate in the U.S. on GSM networks. However, U.S. customers would have to buy it unlocked and then separately buy a SIM card.

No shipping date has been announced for the N8, although some have speculated that it will be available around Sept. 21. Giles added that U.S. carriers, while not specifically offering contracts for the N8, have given Nokia “some very positive feedback” about it.

Regarding Nokia’s position on not building more CDMA phones and preparing for LTE instead, Giles said: “If we are to re-enter the U.S. market as a challenger, we have to take this step by step. It’s not the right approach for us to try to do everything at once.”

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