Nokia Seeks Handset Licensing Partner in 2016

Nokia is taking a break from the smartphone market, but it doesn't plan on sitting it out forever. The handset maker confirmed Monday it's looking for a brand licensing partner to build its next phones, which likely won't see the light of day before the fourth quarter of 2016.

Robert Morlino, a spokesman for Nokia Technologies, put out a statement to address rumors about the company's future in handsets. Speculation resurfaced after Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) announced massive job cuts and a narrowing of its own device focus last week. (See Microsoft Restructures Amidst Nokia Flop and Eurobites: Nokia Quashes Handsets Rumor.)

Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) still exists as a standalone company, but is focused on mobile network infrastructure, location and mapping services, and technology development and licensing. It may consider making mobile phones again, but Morlino says it will do so in a completely different way than before -- via a brand-licensing model in which a partner is responsible for all the manufacturing, sales, marketing and customer support of the products. (See Carmakers Closing In on Nokia HERE – Report and Nokia Slumps on Networks Malaise.)

"If and when we find a world-class partner who can take on those responsibilities, we would work closely with them to guide the design and technology differentiation, as we did with the Nokia N1 Android tablet," he writes. "That's the only way the bar would be met for a mobile device we'd be proud to have bear the Nokia brand, and that people will love to buy."

For more on mobile device and operating system strategies, peruse the dedicated mobile content page here on Light Reading.

Once the world's biggest mobile phone maker, Nokia hasn't been a major player in the Android and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) dominated market for a while now. Yet while the Finnish vendor doesn't have a smartphone pipeline, it is still looking to monetize its patents, technologies and once-iconic brand. Licensing can give Nokia a path to market without any of the heavy lifting.

Nokia may have more tablets in the near-term future, but -- owing to a contract with Microsoft -- Morlino said the soonest it will have another phone is in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This reiterates comments that Nokia CEO Rajiv Suri made almost a year ago, when it launched the Nokia N1 Android tablet. He said at the time that Nokia was also considering leveraging its brand for security systems, set-top boxes and other opportunities beyond devices, but reiterated that any licensing deal would take time. (See Did Nokia Really Just Launch a Tablet?)

He said then, "It will take time for opportunities to come to fruition -- 18-month negotiations, with litigation can take longer. I would suggest caution when it comes to timing."

— Sarah Thomas, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading

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Sarah Thomas 7/15/2015 | 11:36:48 AM
Re: Foxconn I meant also hearing more about sales figures and how people like the tablet, but no news can be good news, I suppose.

Thanks for sharing the video, Susan!
Susan Fourtané 7/15/2015 | 6:24:53 AM
Re: Foxconn You're very welcome, Kruz. I had a similar impression, yes. :) Nokia Technologies will probably have some more news at this year's conference in Finland. Maybe about a new smartphone partnership. 

Kruz 7/15/2015 | 6:17:55 AM
Re: Foxconn Thanks Suzan, I got to play with the tablet earlier on. My remarks is that the build feels like an Apple product :)
Susan Fourtané 7/15/2015 | 4:45:53 AM
Re: Foxconn Kruz, 

I posted a video demo of the N1 and its ZLauncher below, if you haven't seen it at MWC. 

Susan Fourtané 7/15/2015 | 4:40:14 AM
Re: Foxconn Sarah, 

Not hearing much about the partnership is a good sign. Otherwise, it would mean they are in trouble. Isn't that what always happen? 

As for markets, they were only considering Asia first, and later on Finland and some other EU countries. 

I had an N1 in my hands two times. The first when it was launched in November last year in Finland. The second was at MWC in Barcelona this year. 

What I found very interesting was Nokia's ZLauncher's software. Here you can see the video demo I did of it. The tablet is pretty cool.: 

Kruz 7/14/2015 | 8:50:38 AM
Re: Foxconn Correct, and these are markets where the Nokia brand still has recognition 
Kruz 7/14/2015 | 8:50:01 AM
Re: Foxconn You would never know how well it did; it is Nokia's approach, marketing it as sold out while offering limited quantities at affordable prices in a huge market.

But I would trust Rajeev's move who has been rather planning strategically well his moves with NSN and Nokia. There is value in going into this direction and the world needs a first class Android device with a solid feel. I just wish this was the case for Nokia years ago.

Sarah Thomas 7/14/2015 | 8:29:04 AM
Re: Foxconn Those markets are where its strength was towards the end, so it makes sense to revisit them first rather than tackle the saturated US and European markets.
Sarah Thomas 7/14/2015 | 8:28:27 AM
Re: Foxconn I wonder how that partnership has worked out. I don't hear much about it, although it sold out of 20,000 of them in less than 4 minutes when it was launched in China.
Susan Fourtané 7/14/2015 | 2:35:58 AM
Re: Foxconn Sarah, Foxconn was interested in joining the smartphone market a few years ago (I don't remember exactly the year), which makes me believe that this could be the right time for licensing a Nokia smartphone. If the partnership on the N1 has worked well for both there are good chances they will partner again in a line of smartphones. -Susan
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