By Scott Moritz
With touchscreen phones all the rage, and U.S. telcos following AT&T’s (T) lead of cutting the price of Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone, it would seem Nokia (NOK) will be left out of the smartphone party this year.
The Finnish phone giant won’t have its closely-watched 5800 phone – Nokia’s music-loaded take on the iPhone – available here until sometime in the first half of next year, according to people familiar with the phone. Nokia wasn’t immediately available for comment.
And even when it arrives, Nokia has lacked a big U.S. phone partner that would provide the subsidy necessary to put it under the $200 range. At full price, it will have a hard time making a big splash.
“You could look at it as having a 100% upside,” says Nielson IAG analyst Roger Entner, referring to Nokia’s measly share of the U.S. market. Make that a potential upside of 95.5% since Nokia’s slice of the U.S. market has now fallen a percentage point from year-ago levels to 4.5%.
These numbers were part of Nokia’s overall solid third-quarter performance reported Thursday. Nokia posted an adjusted profit of 44 cents a share, down from the 55 cents it netted last year, but in line with analysts estimates. Sales fell 5% to $16.4 billion from $17.3 billion in the year-ago quarter and below the $17.2 billion street estimate.
After hitting a new four-year low, Nokia shares rebounded a bit Thursday up 4% as investors took some confidence from the fact that it met estimates.
As Nokia predicted, its worldwide market share fell to 38% in the third quarter from 40% in the prior period. The decline, according to Nokia, reflects the company’s unwillingness to cut phone prices amid a heated price war in some regions.
Nokia has managed to grab and hold onto the No.1 phone supplier position by honing its skills at making low- and medium-priced phones for a global audience. This focus on the mainstream has caused Nokia to be consistently late to fashion trends like flip phones, ultrathin designs and now touchscreens.
After a strong start in the smartphone wars with over half the global market in 2007, Nokia has dropped to a 35% slice in the third quarter from 48% of the market in the second quarter, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Jim Dawson. The alarming sequential drop is a reflection of how strong rivals like Apple and Research in Motion (RIMM) have grown. The smartphone market will get a new challenger later this month with the arrival of Google’s (GOOG) Android-powered G1 phone at T-Mobile.
But while 2008 is not going to be a big year here for Nokia, the trends – aside from the slumping global economy – are promising overall.
Each player comes from with a different specialty to the smartphone market, says Entner. Apple and Google aim for a strong Internet experience and RIM’s BlackBerry Storm hopes to capitalizes on its successful e-mail background with a touchscreen design. “Nokia comes from a mobile phone approach,” says Entner.
“Nokia sees the phone as an integrated device.” says Entner. In the past three years, Nokia has acquired mobile e-mail shop Intellisync, GPS mapper Navteq and digital media delivery system Loudeye in an effort to control the delivery of services like e-mail, navigation, photography, music, videos, games and the Internet.
Of course, all this will matter more in the U.S. when Nokia can deliver the device.