Nokia Earnings: Perfecting the Smartphone Market Nose Dive

Last Updated Jul 21, 2011 10:20 AM EDT

The only word for Nokia (NOK) in its earnings release today is down. Revenue down. Product unit sales down. Average selling price and gross margin, down. Only operating profits were up, but that was 6 percent only year over year. Even they were down in sequential quarters. And with

OK, so I lied, there are other descriptions, like grim. Painful. Abysmal. A bad omen of things to come. Here's the worst but most apt: Of all the major players in the mobile market, Nokia is the only company that makes RIM (RIMM) look as though it's doing relatively well. Nokia's fall is so precipitous, you have to wonder if the company can survive, even if the phones it eventually ships with Microsoft (MSFT) Windows Phone are flawless.

All kinds of ugly
Nokia's sales have tanked at a rate that would have seemed unthinkable even a few months ago. Now, it's a race between Nokia and RIM to see who can crash hard enough to make the bigger crater in the ground. A couple of graphs are easily worth a few thousand words. The first one shows overall phone unit sales by geographic area (click to enlarge):


The Americas are the only markets in which Nokia sees any growth. Even there, only Latin America has significant growth. In North America, Nokia was only able to go from 1.2 million units in the first quarter to 1.5 million in the second quarter. And there's still a 42 percent drop year over year.

Everywhere else, including its European back yard, the company has heavy unit losses, whether in year-over-year or sequential quarter comparisons. That includes Europe, which Nokia used to have sewn up. But as bad as that looks, Nokia's smartphone business is even worse (click to enlarge):


Look at the unit volumes. In an industry segment that is growing faster than anyone can track, Nokia's volume went down by more than a third, year-over-year. And it's down by 31 percent since the first quarter, even as gross margins plummet. Nokia is in a complete nose dive at a time when many other companies -- at least, ones whose name isn't Research in Motion -- see amazing amounts of volume.

Apple (AAPL) sold 20.3 million iPhones last quarter -- at prices and margins that would make Nokia CEO Stephen Elop weep. Google (GOOG) claims 49.5 million Android activations a quarter, though how many of them are phones is up in the air.

How much of that success owes to the utter mismanagement that Nokia has seen over the last few years? The market share is shifting so drastically that it threatens to reduce the power Nokia traditionally had over carriers. Reduce that pull enough and the company won't have the muscle necessary to push its Windows Phone units, especially as the bulk of the effort isn't expected to appear until next year.

We're seeing the distinct possibility that prolonged inaction may have irreversibly wounded Nokia. Elop was hired to turn the company around, but that could be literally impossible.

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Image: Flickr user gray_um, CC 2.0.
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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.