Nokia have embarked on the road to restoring the brand’s image in South Africa. Gerard Brandjes, Nokia General Manager for East and Southern Africa, discusses the challenges with ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Nokia has fallen far behind in the smartphone wars, but remains the biggest cellphone brand in South Africa. Clearly, it faces a massive image challenge. And it is about to take up the challenge.
Gerard Brandjes, Nokia General Manager for East and Southern Africa, discusses the challenges and strategies in a Question and Answer session with Arthur Goldstuck:
AG: Nokia has lost substantial market share in South Africa, yet remains the single biggest brand. Which segments represents its current core user base?
GB: It’s incorrect to think that we have lost market share in South Africa. We have, in fact, gained across a number of segments – and overall – when you look at independent sources like GfK. Looking at our core user base, the first important point is its incredibly diverse. This is due to the fact fundamentally Nokia makes products that cater to all, from the most income constrained consumer to the person requiring a high end smartphone.
AG: The one key area where Nokia has fallen behind is the smartphone market. What have been the main reasons for this?
GB: It’s important to point out that when looking at the smartphone market, you have to look broader than just device. More than ever, it is now about the ecosystem that is created around these products. Specifically optimized services, local applications and targeted, unique content are the things that are bringing true consumer value. Having said that, it has been well publicized that Nokia has had challenges in the smartphone market, across the globe. Primarily, our user experience was placed under growing pressure by new, fast moving, competitors really innovating in the space.
When it comes to South Africa, I think it is important to again point out that we have been managing very well despite these pressures. Devices like the Nokia N8, as well as affordable messaging smartphones like the Nokia E63, have been incredible successes for us and we expect – as the portfolio starts to become a lot more competitive – you will see us grow from strength to strength in this area.
AG: How does Nokia intend to regain smartphone market share in South Africa?
GB: The improvement in user experience will certainly help us here, but this will not just come for new products like the Nokia 700 based on Symbian Belle or theN9. These improvements will continue to find their way to the existing portfolio. We have already delivered a significant update to existing new Symbian devices with Symbian Anna, which is available now for all Nokia N8, E7 and C7 owners. This will continue with Symbian Belle, where initial reactions from global analysts and media have been incredibly positive.
Gerard Brandjes, Nokia General Manager for East and Southern Africa
AG: Why is WhatsApp such a focal point of current Nokia advertising?
GB: Low cost messaging is a key user dynamic for the South African industry and WhatsApp offers a great, cross platform, application that can send messages, images, files or your location. But it is important not to just highlight WhatsApp. If you look at others, such as MXit, people can communicate across a number of communities on their Nokia, be it smartphone or mobile phone. Something important here in addition to just messaging is fixed cost. This is a huge thing for the South African consumer, and currently only one handset manufacturer has an offering in that space. This is certainly an area we are exploring and something we want to start innovating in soon.
AG: To what extent is the N9 a stopgap, with an operating system – MeeGo – that has been written off by most analysts?
GB: Many analysts have focused on the platform, but we have always said focus less on the platform and more on the user experience.
Many key elements of the N9, both in software and hardware, will continue in future Nokia products and that is more important. I think when analysts, media and most importantly consumers use the N9 they will certainly see that the user experience is not only unique, but also leading edge. Even though the vast majority of South African’s are not inclined to download thousands of apps, we are making sure that most of the top global apps are covered, and we are working locally to make sure that is the case here as well.
AG: What is Nokia’s current thinking about the present and future implementation of Symbian on smartphones?
GB: Symbian will continue to be improved on, and there will be more Symbian smartphones in the future. We will support the platform for a number of years still, and with the great reception these improvements have been receiving, Symbian will offer great value at a number of price points and form factors.
AG: Will Symbian co-exist with Windows on Nokia phones? If so, in what way?
GB: Yes, Symbian will cover certain price points and form factors that are important in markets like South Africa.
AG: Does Nokia have a differentiated app and content strategy for the SA market?
GB: Certainly, this is a very key focus for us, in contrast to many other platforms and manufacturers in South Africa. From a content perspective, we have over 800 local apps and items in the Nokia Store. Add to that our unique position as the only company with integrated operator billing, across all three major operators, and we have a very strong proposition. We are currently working with over 120 local brands, developers and companies to build content unique and compelling content. The Nokia Music Store in South Africa is still the largest source of legal music downloads, which makes us very proud. We have a huge catalogue of local artists, unequalled in the local scene.
AG: How are local apps and content performing on Nokia phones?
GB: Local apps continue to grow as a percentage of local downloads and getting high quality content like You, Huisgenoot Skouspel, News24 or the FNB App. We expect, as we get more quality content, this will continue.
AG: How closely is Nokia working with Microsoft in South Africa to provide local content on the coming Windows phones?
GB: We are engaging with Microsoft on a number of levels, across a number of streams. Both Microsoft and ourselves appreciate the importance of local content and have already run developer workshops for Windows Phone in South Africa. Here, we are aligning with the hard work Microsoft have already been doing with local developers and content and expect to see a vibrant app offering when Nokia with Windows Phone comes to South Africa.
AG: On a personal note, what is your favourite gadget outside of the Nokia family?nnGB: I would have to say the Nintendo Wii, I have spent quite a bit of time getting beaten by my son with this gadget. However, I think an Xbox will be arriving in the household very soon and I have been amazed by what I have been seeing with the integration of Windows Phone, Xbox and Kinect. nnAG: What gadget do you wish would be invented now?
GB: Despite being in the technology industry I am going to say I have all the gadgets I need. I think what I would love, something that would add real value, is anything that can emphasize the quality time I spend with my family. I firmly believe that we need more technology that emphasizes the amazing everyday moments in our lives, not something that distracts you from them.
* Follow Arthur on Twitter on @art2gee
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