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Cell Phone Sales: Powerhouse Nokia Threatened by Stalkers

Nokia smartphones

Gartner released its worldwide mobile sales numbers for both hardware and smartphone OS, and they're not much of a surprise: Nokia's first in hardware sales. It's OS, Symbian, has 46.9% of the marketshare. RIM, makers of BlackBerry, trail way behind with 19.9%; iPhone OS manages 14.4%; and even the much-buzzed-about Android only snags 3.9%.

So why should Nokia be scared as hell? Because Symbian's (currently in its S60 version and ubiquitous in Europe) death grip may be loosening.

New mobile OSes, such as Google's Android, Palm's WebOS, and Apple's iPhone OS, are snapping up first-time smartphone buyers with easy-to-understand, finger-friendly interfaces. Apple, it's worth noting, nearly doubled its OS marketshare in 2009 (from 8.2% in '08 to 14.4% in '09), bumping Microsoft out of the No. 3 spot. More importantly, though it and other Nokia competitors showed the kind of true innovation that leads to all-important mindshare. Mindshare doesn't necessarily translate directly into sales numbers, but it's a good indicator—and Gartner's sales numbers show movement in that direction.

RIM's BlackBerry OS is as dated as Symbian, yet it's shown remarkable staying power with business types—and it's even making a nice little push into the mid- to low-end consumer market with well-made, inexpensive phones like the Storm and Curve. That leaves the two non-RIM pioneers of the pre-iPhone smartphone, Microsoft and Nokia, with legacy products that can't help but look dated. And that's not opinion: the Gartner numbers back it up.

Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Nokia's Symbian are the only two mobile OSes to lose marketshare in the past year, with its users flocking to iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, and (at least one or two, right?) WebOS. And in the coming year, that pattern is going to continue: Android is picking up steam and spreading across the globe, Apple will release a new iPhone, BlackBerry will continue to be adored by the briefcase set, and WebOS will continue to be liked by all 50 people who own Palm phones. Microsoft understands the problems this pattern indicates, which is why it opted for a complete, radical, drastic reboot of Windows Mobile in favor of the awkwardly named but fabulous-looking Windows Phone 7 Series.

And what does Nokia have? Its last flagship phone, the N97, was universally panned (Gizmodo said it well in its review: If this is the best Nokia can do, they're doomed), and Nokia's executive VP even admitted the phone was a "tremendous disappointment." Symbian S60 is a whopping eight years old, and showing it—several lifetimes old in the mobile world. Nokia does have a new OS, called Maemo, bundled into the new N900 Internet tablet/phone, but reviews have called it "half-baked" and "an experiment." Its Meego venture with Intel is absurdly ambitious, but Nokia has given precious little information on what the Linux-based OS will actually look like—not the most encouraging sign for software that's supposed to take the world by storm this year.

Nokia needs to do something to shake up their business now, while they're still on top, because the tide is moving in the wrong direction. Pretty soon, iPhone, Android, and maybe even Microsoft won't be upstarts—they'll be challengers.