Four years ago, Stephen Elop, Nokia’s then-CEO, described the company as a man at the edge of a burning platform. While its rivals had set the phone market on fire, Nokia had poured gasoline on its own platform by failing to acknowledge that newcomers Apple and Google had changed the game.
In hindsight, the “burning platform” memo can be seen as the prelude to the 2013 disposal of its once dominant mobile handset business to Microsoft in what many Finns considered a fire sale. The operation that made the candy-bar phone as ubiquitous as the smooth black slate of the iPhone is today was no more.
So it is surprising that Nokia is quietly plotting a return to the consumer mobile market.
As early as next year, the company aims to rejoin the phone market, two sources briefed on Nokia’s plans told Re/code. In addition, the company has a number of other ambitious technology projects, including some in the virtual reality arena, these sources said.
The move is driven by Nokia Technologies — the smallest of the three businesses that remained after the Microsoft deal, alongside its mapping and network equipment businesses. Nokia Technologies is best known for being the arm that licenses the company’s massive portfolio of more than 10,000 patents.
Unlike other patent houses that do little more than license intellectual property, Nokia Technologies has designed new products and licensed them to other companies. So far, these ambitions have been small in scale. The division has released just two products: An Android program called Zlauncher and the N1, an Android tablet design it licensed to another manufacturer that is selling it under the Nokia name in China. Its return to the market is likely to employ a similar tactic.
But insiders said those two products are just the beginning.
“They have a lot of great stuff in development,” said Richard Kerris, a former Nokia executive who also consulted for the company until last year as part of his last startup. “It gave me complete confidence that Nokia is a company that is not going away.”
While Kerris said he couldn’t go into specifics, he said people will be blown away if some of the stuff he saw comes to market.
In conversations with those close to Nokia and insiders, a very different image emerges from the prevailing view of Nokia as technology roadkill.
Nokia has remained silent about its work as it waits out its contract with Microsoft that prevents it from selling any phones under the Nokia brand through the end of this year or licensing the brand for use in phones until at least the third quarter of next year. That has not stopped it from staging a comeback scheduled after its contract ends. And indeed the company has been staffing up and hard at work on products for next year and beyond.