The urgent task for Erik Bertman, the newly appointed general manager for Nokia China, is to reverse the company’s rapid loss of market share in the world’s biggest smartphone market.
Bertman, who took over in June, is betting that the new flagship Lumia 1020, with its professional photography features and expanded channels, will bring about a rebound in sales. In that effort, Nokia has teamed up with China Unicom, Microsoft Corp and Suning, the nation’s biggest electronics chain retailer.
At present, Nokia’s share of the China market is less than 5 percent, compared with about 30 percent several years ago after the company’s switch to the Windows Mobile system and facing competition from Apple Inc and Samsung.
Bertman is the fourth Nokia China head in three years, and he is positioning the Finland-based firm as “a new challenger instead of a leader” in the market. He has a lot to do to turn around Nokia’s fortunes here.
Bertman brings solid credentials to the job. Originally from Sweden, he joined Nokia in 2004. He has served as the regional head of Nokia in Russia and Turkey, and as financial officer for the sub-Saharan Africa region.
He has been actively touting the features of the Lumia 1020 to industry and the media. He says the 41 million-megal-pixel camera will “blur the line between phones and cameras” and has excellent recording. He shares pictures taken by the phone with friends on WeChat, China’s most popular mobile social platform.
Bertman his wife and three children have moved to Beijing and he is learning Mandarin.
He talked about Nokia China’s new strategy, camera phone development and smartphone market competition during an interview in Nanjing recently – his first since assuming the new post.
Q: What’s your new plan in China to change the fortunes of Nokia?
A: When you turn to a challenger from a leader, you have to care more about every single detail. You have to cooperate more with partners to expand sales and retail channels, both online and offline. You have to offer a unique experience to users and innovation in products to let them know “Nokia is still there.”
We have a clear strategy globally, and it will be adopted in China: Nokia will have high-end flagship models (above 4,000 yuan) and continue to develop low-cost models (1,000 yuan) in China.
I expect China to be the priority region in kicking off latest products like Lumia 1020.
Q: The Lumia 1020 is priced at 5,999 yuan (US$968). Is that too high for Chinese consumers? Will the next generation iPhone, scheduled to be released next month, influence Nokia’s sales?
A: Premium price means premium product. For the moment, people are willing to pay extra. Through Lumia 1020, you can have both a great smartphone and a high quality camera, with features like HD (high definition) and zoom-in and zoom-out.
I can’t comment on rivals. But every player has to seize opportunities in the high-end of the market.
Q: Why has Nokia put a 41-mega-pixel camera on a phone while other top-end smartphones feature camera sensors up to 12 mega-pixels, including Samsung’s Galaxy S4 and the Apple iPhone 5?
A: In this industry, you can’t be a leader without leading in the premium market. Photos and picture-sharing are basic needs for people, and you have to meet the demand. More than 1.5 billion pictures are shot by phone cameras every day, and about 600 million pieces are shared through different websites and social platforms.
Q: Will smartphones replace cameras, even the professional digital single-lens reflex models, one day?
A: I used WeChat two months ago and I have seen many people share moments shot by phones.
The new Lumia 1020 blurs the line of a great smartphone and a professional camera. It allows people to capture moments with the best image quality and easily share them with others. I can talk about many device specifications. In the end, a camera is used to connect emotions.
In China, WeChat is very important in helping people connect with one another in pictures.
Nokia and Microsoft are working hard to improve user experiences on Lumia’s Windows Mobile system. We are focused on providing at least five to 10 high-quality applications, such as Camera 360 (a photography editing and share application).
Q: What’s the difference between Chinese and overseas handset markets?
A: I have never seen before such fierce competition and such a great number of players as in China.
China has three different technology standards and a unique 3G technology standard in TD-SCDMA (time division-synchronous code division multiple access).
Mobile operators have increasingly played important roles in the process of distributing and selling mobile devices.
Q: How do you plan to win in the fiercely competitive Chinese smartphone market?
A: As a challenger, we will cooperate more with partners like Suning and China Unicom.
The new Lumia 1020 started selling in Suning’s outlets, in online stores and in China Unicom outlets earlier this month. China Unicom has provided very competitive packages for Lumia 1020 and the previous model Lumia 525. We need that kind of partnership and support.
Q: How do you find living in China?
A: I have observed a lot of interesting things, like people here drinking wine. In Russia, I could speak decent Russian. Now I am learning Mandarin, and I have to admit it’s not easy.
On weekends, I often visit Chinese electronics malls to observe the market and distribution channels.