I’ve been trying to make heads or tails out of Apple’s press conference, which occurred almost a week ago, and I’m still not sure how to call it. Heads? Tails? Who wins?
Since then, quite a few more developments occurred. Apple reported a record-setting quarter based on revenue and “Antennagate,” as expected, doesn’t appear to be hurting its bottom line, even if supplying free bumpers ends up costing the company some $175 million and change. Of course, it’s hard to tell at this stage because the company doesn’t have enough supply to meet demand for either iPhone 4 or the iPad, and how that happened after years of experience in delivering product is anyone’s guess.
Apple sold 8.4 million iPhones in its latest quarter, including more than 1.7 million iPhone 4s in five countries. AT&T today says it activated 3.2 million iPhones in its second quarter, a company record. It also reported its best-ever subscriber churn levels and 27.2 percent growth in wireless data revenues. So based on past quarter activations, the iPhone looks like a win-win for Apple and AT&T, at least for as long as AT&T has the exclusive rights to it. Of course, based on consumer perception of its network, it’s not a win for AT&T, a situation that could haunt the carrier for years to come regardless of how many network upgrades and improvements it makes.
Apple points out its year-over-year smartphone growth rate is 61 percent, quite a bit higher than IDC’s estimate of 38 percent growth for the entire global smartphone market in the June quarter. While Apple executives aren’t publicly expressing worry about Android phones catching up anytime soon, surely they must have one eye looking over their shoulder.
But they probably aren’t too worried about Nokia, whose profit plunged in the second quarter. Nokia President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, who may or may not be on his way out, tried to put a positive spin on the company’s situation in its second-quarter conference call, ticking off reasons for optimism, like the upcoming N8 and Symbian 3. But if anyone thinks Microsoft is coming too little, too late with the release of Windows Phone 7 later this year, Nokia appears to be in even worse shape.
The first question in Nokia’s call with analysts today revolved around the importance of the U.S. market. This is a sore point. I recall speaking with Nokia’s North American management two or three years ago about the priority the company was putting on North America. A lot of work in the works, including direct with carriers, but still nothing.
Kallasvuo talked today about painful lessons learned and how testing with U.S. operators is different than anywhere else, and earlier generations of Symbian were not fast enough in making it through the operators’ testing to, apparently, get to market in an expedient fashion.
Kallasvuo characterized Nokia’s move to Symbian 3 as the largest software upgrade or development in the company’s history; it’s not merely a revision but an entire rewriting of code. Nokia also is counting on MeeGo to help its situation in the U.S. market. Symbian 3 will start showing up late in the third quarter, but it won’t hit key geographic regions until the fourth quarter, and Nokia executives didn’t explicitly say North America is included in those key regions.
The thing is, whatever Nokia ends up introducing to compete against the iPhone has to be either as good – if it’s as good, it’s got to come with a lower price or something to make it appealing – or better in UI, design and function than what Apple has created. It also has to, or ought to, do so without getting caught up in yet another round of patent infringement accusations. Then it will need a gigantic amount of marketing buzz and/or carrier support attached to it to get the American public to buy into it.
Jobs may have come off as disingenuous in trying to drag down the entire smartphone industry in the antenna performance department, but in the big picture at the moment, Apple wins no matter how you flip the coin.