Sunday night with Nokia

These days Mobile World Congress is underway long before Monday morning and my first stop this year was Nokia’s press conference on Sunday Night. With Friday’s announcement so fresh in the mind, there wasn’t a great deal that Elop and Co. could add—despite fragile hopes from some quarters that a first product might be unveiled. Instead it was a chance for him to take questions from a wider group than he’d been able to last week.

The man is a frank speaker, preferring to deal head on with questions that might have had his Finnish predecessors making characteristically taciturn, if polite refusals to comment. Fielding a question about his shareholdings in the two companies, Elop went into detail about the divestment of his Microsoft shares, his newly acquired holdings in Nokia and the various regulations that restrict his trading in either. He stopped short of giving numbers, but he said both holdings were substantial.

He was keen to talk up the talent he’s promoted up the ladder since joining in September, including Jo Harlow, senior vice president of smartphones, who joined Elop on stage. It was notable that none of the names he checked were Finnish.

Expanding on his theme from Friday, Elop proclaimed that Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft was driven by a desire to bring balance to the smartphone sector, which would have become a duopoly had Nokia made Android its platform of choice. I don’t know if he was trying to suggest that Nokia had somehow acted with the greater good of the industry in mind, but that’s what it sounded like. Either way, he said joining Android would have given too much power to Google, which had “suitored” Nokia in recent months.

Elop has a good measure of the industry’s reaction to his announcement, as you’d expect. Keen to talk up the collateral Nokia brings to the relationship, he claimed that the value transfer from Nokia into the partnership is measured in the billions of dollars, rather than the millions. Clearly seeking to counter the perception that Nokia has become effectively a manufacturing unit for Microsoft, he argued that Microsoft now has “a dependency” on Nokia, and has “placed a very significant bet” on Nokia’s location portfolio.

The issue of licence payments was batted away with the response that paying Microsoft is a lot cheaper than developing a platform in-house. But what everyone really wanted to know was when the new partnership can be expected to bear fruit and, on this point, Elop was vague and non-committal. Jo Harlow told us that Elop would like to see a product this year, before turning to him in and gushing: “Stephen, I aim to please”. It was a slightly awkward moment.

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