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I think Stephen Elop is onto something.
The recently appointed Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) CEO summed up this morning's fourth-quarter report thusly: "Nokia faces some significant challenges in our competitiveness and our execution. In short, the industry changed, and now it's time for Nokia to change faster."
That's the cold, hard truth, and it's Elop's job to make it happen. Sales increased 6% to $17.4 billion, or remained flat if you back out the effects of currency fluctuations. However, unit shipments dropped by 3%. The Finnish handset giant saw its global market share dwindle to 32%, down from 34% a year ago.
On the bright side, Nokia is selling more smartphones than ever, which means the volume losses happened in the lower-margin feature phone segment. That trend had a positive effect on average selling prices, which in turn bumped up earnings to levels that would satisfy your average analyst. As nice as that sounds, Nokia's share of the smartphone market actually tumbled precipitously as rivals Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) , a gaggle of Android partners, and even Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) collectively outgrew the Finns -- again.
The trendsetting North American market continues to be Nokia's weakest geographic area by far, and you almost have to assume that Elop will fall back on his lifetime of experience in Canada and America to turn that sad story around. The first order of business should be to establish carrier subsidy deals with leading networks AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) , primarily for high-end Nokia smartphones. Unfortunately, with AT&T dropping plans to carry Nokia's X7 phone, there doesn't seem to be much traction in the North American market.
Until that happens, Nokia's market share will continue to melt away under the concerted onslaught of mostly American smartphones. One look at a long-term stock chart will tell you that Nokia's fortunes turned sour soon after Apple introduced the first-generation iPhone in 2007.
Yep, the industry changed. How fast can Nokia adjust to the new reality?
Add Nokia to your watchlist, and feel free to suggest solutions to Elop's dilemma in the comments below. I'm sure someone at Nokia will read it.