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Nokia Announces to World: “We’re Back!” (Nokia World 2010)

This morning at the Nokia World 2010 event in London, Niklas Savander, executive VP of markets for Nokia shouted to a crowd of international media, developers and mobile enthusiasts at the company’s annual summit: “NOKIA IS BACK!” But had it ever really gone away? After all, the company’s Symbian mobile operating system is still number one in terms of market share worldwide, even though it’s largely ignored by Silicon Valley tech journalists.

But today’s Nokia can no longer operate as the silent giant, it seems. Market share alone is not enough. Nokia is after mindshare. The company is keenly aware the competition that’s snipping at its heels, specifically Google Android, the mobile operating system that is predicted to pass Symbian in market share by 2014, according to some analyst forecasts.

Is it too late for Nokia to rally?

When Savander was on stage, there was a tone of excitement, but also one of slight exasperation when it came to public perception of the Nokia brand. He made jabs at competitors throughout the keynote while announcing the company’s new device offerings, which included Nokia’s best cameraphone ever, the N8, plus the sleek and thinner C6 and C8 models.

When touting the many features of the new N8, for example, he trotted out the line Motorola has been using for some time in their marketing materials, telling the audience that the phones work “no matter how you hold them,” a swipe at Apple’s widely publicized iPhone 4 antenna issues.

Later, he took a shot at Google Android’s built-in maps offering, saying Nokia’s Ovi Maps is “more optimized for mobile use” that its competitors. That statement is actually true, because Nokia uses vector graphics, which are more compressed and less data intensive than Google’s bitmap-based mapping application – but the fact that a Nokia exec mentions it during a keynote is telling. Google is the competition, Nokia now knows. And it’s fighting back.

Savander, in a rather transparent and honest speech, told the audience that Nokia would no longer apologize for not being Apple or Android. Instead, it seems he will just taunt the competition with raw statistics instead. For example, Savander made mention of the fact that Nokia devices are in the hands of more people on the planet than iPhone and Android combined. Plus:

  • There are 1.3 billion Nokia users worldwide.
  • 40% of the smartphone market runs Symbian.
  • On average, 260,000 people buy new Nokia smartphones every day.
  • There are 300 million Symbian devices worldwide.
  • Nokia plans to ship more than 50 million smartphones running its new Symbian operating system, Symbian^3.

Oh, and if that’s not enough, then how about the fact that there are 2 million-plus Nokia developers and 100 operators in dozens of countries that will offer the N8 for sale at launch?

It sounds like Nokia is standing up and demanding to be noticed for once: It’s big. It’s very, very big. And it would like you to stop ignoring it.

Finally, Savander addressed the location-based networking trend among smartphone owners, one that Nokia believes is the future of mobile. By 2013, over 800 million people will be using GPS-enabled devices, he said. Right now, in 2010, 66% of devices with on-board navigation are Nokia phones. Soon your phone will analyze your location, your friends’ location and your needs in order to deliver personalized services, explained Savander, and location is “a space we intend to own.”

Along with everything else it seems.

Yet Nokia must be uncomfortably aware of the ground Android has been making over the past months. Research analysts at Gartner say that Android, which is now being introduced into both feature phones and smartphones, will be the number two platform worldwide by year-end and the number one platform by 2014, if the current growth trends continue.

Nokia may have proclaimed “it’s back” this morning, but really the company means it’s fighting back , aiming to change just how people perceive the company. Is this the new, aggressive Nokia? Will it be able to rally and stop Android from claiming more and more of its market share?

Nothing’s definite of course, not even Garner’s numbers, and as anyone watching technology knows, a lot can change in a few years’ time.

Disclosure: Nokia paid for this reporter’s travel and accommodations to Nokia World 2010.

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