Weekly Mobile Notes: Nokia, RIM And Apple

NOK: Nokia logo

The past week was an exciting one for the mobile sector. Nokia (NYSE:NOK) started the week off by announcing new Asha models with smartphone-like social features for the emerging markets to counter the threat from the growing number of cheap Android smartphones proliferating the market. With its Lumia line of Windows Phones seeing strong initial demand in many developed markets, Nokia scored another win this week by winning a patent dispute with Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) and is now seeking either a BlackBerry sales ban or fat royalties from RIM for the abuse of its patents.  Towards the end of the week, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) received regulatory approvals to launch the iPhone 5 in China, and could do so before the end of the year.

Nokia unveils new Asha phones

The Lumia may be key to Nokia’s (NYSE:NOK) resurgent smartphone hopes, but the handset maker cannot afford to lose focus on its feature phone business. While Nokia’s smartphone business has been slipping fast amid a slow and painful transition to Windows Phone, its feature phone sales have held up relatively well and continue to be profitable despite Android’s rising popularity. It is therefore a good sign that while Nokia has been marketing the Lumia well in developed markets, it continues to roll out new S40 feature phone models aimed at its traditional strongholds in emerging markets.

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The Finnish mobile phone manufacturer recently unveiled two new additions to its growing portfolio of Asha phones, the Asha 205 and the Asha 206, with smartphone-like social networking features. The Asha 205 has a dedicated Facebook button while the 206 has access to Facebook and Twitter from the home screen. Nokia has also incorporated a feature called Slam, which allows users to share content almost instantly with nearby friends using Bluetooth technology. With these features, Nokia hopes to appeal to first-time users and compete better with cheap Android smartphones that have been exerting a downward pressure on prices in emerging markets for quite some time. (see Nokia Takes On Android In Emerging Markets With More Asha Phones)

Nokia-RIM patent clash

After Apple and Samsung took each other on, it is Nokia’s turn to engage in patent wars. Emboldened by the initial strong demand for the Lumia WP8, a resurgent Nokia is seeking to delay RIM’s comeback by banning BlackBerry sales in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. This came after a Swedish arbitration tribunal judged that RIM’s phones are in breach of some of Nokia’s WLAN patents and the company can therefore not sell any more BlackBerry devices without first licensing the patents in question. The ruling comes at a crucial juncture for both the companies as they try to negotiate tricky platform transitions at a time when Apple and Samsung are running away with the smartphone market.

With RIM’s hopes of surviving in this hotly contested market hinging on the new BB10 platform it will be launching on January 30, this development could prove to be highly damaging. The company will therefore look to resolve its dispute through a royalty agreement with Nokia and get back to focusing on a glitch-free BB10 launch as soon as possible. Nokia, on the other hand, will be pleased with the strong reception that the recently launched Lumia Windows Phone 8 smartphones have seen. However, what is not certain is if the high demand is a result of a supply crunch or how long the demand will last, and it won’t be until Nokia reveals actual sales figures. With a lot hanging on the long-term success of the Windows Phone platform, Nokia’s increasing focus on monetizing its strong patent portfolio could help mitigate the impact of what could be a long and painful Windows Phone transition process. (see Nokia Is Still Worth $4.50 After Socking It To RIM With Patent Win)

iPhone 5 launch in China

In line with Apple’s plans to make this year’s iPhone launch its fastest roll-out ever, the iPhone 5 has cleared the final regulatory hurdle and should be launched in China before the year ends. [1] While it is not yet clear which carrier will be the first to launch the iPhone 5, both China Telecom (NYSE:CHA) and China Unicom (NYSE:CHU) seem to have received their respective licenses from the regulatory body. A December launch of the iPhone 5 in China may not be confirmed news yet, but China Telecom Chairman Wang Xiaochu had earlier expressed confidence in an early December launch. [2] It also helps that Apple had taken three months to launch the 4S in China after the U.S. launch last year, and going by that time-frame, a December launch does seem very likely.

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  1. iPhone 5 Gets China Network Access License, WSJ, November 29th, 2012 []
  2. China Telecom Prepares for iPhone 5, Wall Street Journal, November 9th, 2012 []