A stumbling smartphone business
What's especially unsettling about Nokia's smartphone stumbles is the attitude it's displayed as Apple and RIM steadily gained ground -- an attitude that's been equal parts dismissive and stubborn. When the iPhone was first announced, a Nokia exec infamously expressed skepticism about its potential as a mass-market device. It wasn't until December 2008 that the company released its first touchscreen N-series device, the N97. And it wasn't until last year that it realized that just maybe Symbian wasn't cutting it in the eyes of consumers as a rival to the iPhone, and announced its N900 phone based on the Maemo operating system, along with plans for a new version of Symbian to be released somewhere in 2010.
Yet even now, a slow-and-steady approach seems to be the order of the day for Nokia: The N900 is, by the company's own admission, not a mass-market device, and even the head of Nokia's mobile division said that the company won't fully catch up to Apple and RIM until 2011.
All the while, we can expect Apple and RIM to continue gobbling up market share, and create customer loyalty through their growing app bases. And with Google's Android also joining in on the action, and drawing the support of Symbian licensees such as Motorola
Turning to the courts
It's against this backdrop that Nokia's October 22nd patent lawsuit against Apple -- moves which Apple just returned in kind -- seems perfectly logical. Considering that Nokia has signed plenty of patent cross-licensing deals over the years with rival phone manufacturers, and that Apple apparently has no problem paying royalties to Qualcomm
Of course, if Nokia was truly serious about slowing down Apple, the company wouldn't turn to the courts, but to a serious overhaul of its business strategy. It would follow Google's lead and try to quickly bring to market a variety of new Maemo devices, and it might also make a play for Palm, whose WebOS operating system would arguably gives its hardware a better chance of standing out. But Nokia has historically preferred to take a gradual approach to major platform changes, and it's long been wary of North American companies hawking proprietary wireless platforms -- just take a look at the company's historical battles with Qualcomm and Microsoft to see what I mean.
Hence the lawsuits, and hence a smartphone strategy that looks like it's based more on hopes and dreams than on market realities.