From Jim Collins to Michael Porter, the latest generation of management gurus argued companies must focus on core competencies and shed all other activities.
Just what makes a “core competency,” however, is always in flux. And as electronics companies see sales plunging like cliff divers, they are quickly redefining the terms.
With today’s launch of Nokia Booklet 3G,Nokia, long synonymous with mobile phones, has now officially entered the netbook market.
But Nokia is just the latest in a string of high-profile OEMs that are seemingly trying to jump-start their revenues by going after what are increasingly commodity markets.
Dell, in conjunction with China Mobile, is said to be looking at jumping in the mobile phone wars. In doing so, the world’s No. 2 computer maker would join Hewlett-Packard, Acer and Asustek as PC OEMs that either have launched or are planning to debut smartphones.
Meanwhile, China Mobile, AT&T and Far EasTone Telecommunications are among the mobile providers now pitching netbooks.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, Roger Yuen, Acer’s vice president of Asia-Pacific smart handheld business group, is quoted as saying “it is relatively easy for PC makers to make smartphones because the two devices share similar components and software.”
Which makes sense to analysts, I suppose, but is something of an insider’s joke in electronics manufacturing. After all, what doesn’t have Intel Inside?
The moves are highly questionable. As this article today in the Wall Street Journal notes, “Analysts say PC makers are unlikely to reap significant benefits in the near term as they need to develop better relationships with mobile operators to sell their products. It will also take time to develop differentiated products and market their own brands in a segment where consumers already have many choices.”
The WSJ hedges, adding, “[M]any agree that longer-term, PC makers have a chance to gain share which would generate a new source of revenue growth and improve overall profitability.”
I don’t see it. These are extraordinarily competitive markets, flush with big-name brands with deep pockets. IBM. Nokia. Samsung. Dell. H-P. The list goes on. None is going to give in without a (very expensive) fight.
Meanwhile, the broader markets are showing some signs of leveling: Worldwide mobile phone sales fell 6.1% year-over-year to 286.1 million units during the second quarter. And the battle for the niche markets – like smartphones – may already be over. Nokia holds a 47% share of that market, and RIM has been entrenched in second place.
New players have found the going bumpy. Take for example, Apple’s much-ballyhooed entry, the iPhone. Measured in terms of style and pizzazz, it has performed exceedingly well. In terms of units sold, it’s another story. Apple shipped 5.4 million units in the second quarter, Gartner says, good for 2.4% market share. Very likely, Apple makes the equipment as a medium to sell its highly profitable catalog of digital music.
Given that, and given that few companies boast Apple’s marketing and design savvy, it’s hard to fathom why a company would risk dominance in one market to attempt to conquer such foreboding – and possibly worthless – terrain.
It brings to mind one more business truism: That the grass – and the profits – is always greener on the other side of the fence.