Nokia Outlook: Another Year in Limbo

NEW YORK, ( TheStreet) -- Once again, Nokia ( NOK) tells investors to wait until next year for a radical new phone to compete with the likes of Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone.

The update for a still distant future in smartphones came Wednesday, during Nokia's analyst day presentation in Espoo, Finland. Nokia offered its outlook for 2010, which was broadly in line with expectations calling for 10% mobile phone industry growth and a hopeful promise to reverse what's been a steady erosion of market share.

Nokia however revealed that it is stuck in a painfully awkward position in its smartphone evolution. This news coincides with the debut of Google's ( GOOG) Android software, which arrived with a big splash on phones like the Motorola ( MOT) Droid.

Acknowledging some shortcomings with its current crop of top-shelf phones, Nokia says it is now re-engineering its aging Symbian operating system to improve the user interface. Translation: Symbian stays on life support leaving the crowd still yearning for something new.

"They were surprisingly aggressive in their defense of Symbian, bluntly rejecting Symbian criticism," says MKM Partners analyst Tero Kuittinen, who monitored the presentation.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited something new, Maemo 5, only now hits the market with the introduction of Nokia's $569 N900 phone. Nokia's Maemo software is designed to bring a laptop-like computer performance to a palm-sized phone.
Nokia N900
Nokia N900

Maemo 5, we hardly knew you. "Sounds like they are not promising anything on Maemo 5 front," says Kuittinen.

The reason for why Nokia didn't talk much about Maemo 5 is what Nokia is now promising for next year, a "radically better" system with the Maemo 6, which is due in the second half of 2010. And if the arrival of N900 was any indication it will likely come later rather than sooner. It also leaves the N900 to be viewed as an inferior first effort.

Perhaps it's a sign that your analysts' day show isn't going well when your stock price drops. Nokia shares were down 2% to $13.17 in morning trading Wednesday. Nokia is down 15% this year.

Nokia owes its No.1 rank in wireless handsets to the popularity of its low and mid-range phones in regions like Europe and Asia. But Nokia has failed to keep up in the fast growing smartphone segment. Nokia's 42% share of the business fell to 39% in the past year as rivals like Apple and Research In Motion ( RIMM), won the hearts of big-spending consumers.

Investors typically tune in to these state-of-the-company addresses hoping to hear about solutions for slumping business. Being told to wait another year may test investor patience.

-- Reported by Scott Moritz in New York

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