August 09, 2011, 5:27 PM — Personal tech website Engadget has some disheartening news for Nokia fans in the U.S. who eagerly awaited the sleek-looking Meego-based N9 smartphone announced on June 21 by the Finnish mobile device maker.
It's the first, and likely the last, Meego smartphone from Nokia, which is trying to buy time before it can roll out the WIndows Phone 7 devices it's making in partnership with Microsoft sometime late this year or early in 2011.
That there'll be no other Nokia Meego smartphones isn't the bad news: It's that the N9 won't be for sale in the U.S. when the device becomes available elsewhere in September.
According to Engadget, a Nokia representative, asked about a U.S. shipping date for the N9, said, "At this time we will not be making it available in the U.S."
Maybe you could read a little wiggle room into "at this time," but it's hard to imagine Nokia reversing course and trying the U.S. market, unless Nokia and Microsoft fall behind on rolling out the WP7 smartphones.
For their sake, they better not. Nokia's essential invisibility in the smartphone market has ravaged its market share, earnings and stock price. In the second quarter, Nokia shipped 16.7 million smartphones, down 30% from the 23.8 million devices shipped in the year-ago quarter. This as the smartphone market grew 76% year-over-year.
Worse, Nokia fell behind Apple and Samsung into third place in the smartphone market. Unless the N9 is a quirky hit, there's more market share disintegration to come.
For its part, Microsoft's WP7 peaked at 9% of U.S. market share in November, a month after its launch, and has been going down since.
Which raises a fair question: How excited, exactly, are we supposed to be about the Nokia-Microsoft partnership? It's not like they're going to have Apple and Google back on their heels. Both those companies are several versions down the road with their smartphone platforms and have a growing number of often passionate and loyal users.
To carve out a respectable niche in the smartphone market -- after essentially being absent for nearly a year -- Nokia and Microsoft need to come up with something special, something that's not merely comparable to the most popular smartphones already on the market.
I'm not so sure they're capable of meeting that challenge, but I'd be happy to be pleasantly surprised.