Nokia gears up for new strike on US market

Nokia's head of North America said the company is finally poised to do what it takes to gain share in the US market

Nokia Windows Phones were well-hidden during a tour of the company's phone-testing facility in San Diego, but they loomed large over the conversation.

Nokia's new head of North America, a transplant from Microsoft who has been with the phone maker since February, said that organizational changes and mindset changes make Nokia poised to finally have an impact in the U.S. The number-one phone maker in the world has scant market share in the U.S. and has been trying to break into the market for years. With Windows Mobile, which Nokia announced last year it would start using, it hopes to finally do so.

Engineers at the San Diego facility are designing Windows Phones specifically for the North American market, said Chris Weber, president of North America for Nokia, during a tour offered to journalists attending the CTIA Enterprise and Applications conference on Tuesday.

"They're not taking world phones and retrofitting them, which I think was the strategy in the past," he said.

Nokia may also finally be ready to accommodate the unique mobile business model in the U.S., where operators exert control over the phone development process and can determine the success or failure of a phone, more so than their counterparts in other parts of the world. Nokia's unwillingness or inability to work with U.S. operators has been cited as one reason it has such small market share in the U.S.

But Weber said the company is working on unique variants of phone models for various operators, indicating it may finally be willing to accommodate their demands.

Weber declined to name which operators in the U.S. the company is working closely with, but when asked if they were national or regional, he said the company is working with a "broad set of operators."

His group has also been reorganized in ways he thinks gives it the autonomy to create products and cater to the business model in the U.S. In the past, the group responsible for North America was separate from the main smartphone development group at Nokia, limiting its influence, he said. Now his engineers are part of the overall smartphone group at the company where they can have more say in how the phones turn out, he said.

In addition to phone design, his group is working on accessories and unique content and apps for the market. "We'll play big in accessories. We have some cool and unique ones," he said.

Besides working with Microsoft to encourage development for the Windows Phone Marketplace, Nokia is developing its own apps and content, he said.

The company has not said exactly when its first Windows Phones will go on sale, but implied it would make an announcement at its upcoming Nokia World conference in London later this month.

At the San Diego facility, Weber said that Windows Phones are being subject to the same harsh treatment as Symbian phones, which were on display in the facility. Workers in the test labs in San Diego do their best to break phones, looking for weak spots. They put them in very high and very low temperatures, drop them, knock them around in tumblers and pour cooking oil, suntan lotion and cleaning supplies on them. Then they examine the results in a forensics lab that they compare to those used in the popular CSI television shows.

Nancy Gohring covers mobile phones and cloud computing for The IDG News Service. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @idgnancy. Nancy's e-mail address is Nancy_Gohring@idg.com

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