Is Nokia really outselling BlackBerry, and what does it all mean?

This morning Nokia reported its financial results for the June quarter.  Overall, Nokia is hanging in there.  The company is seeing much stronger results from its ownership in Nokia Siemens Networks, while the business of making phones has not yet returned to profitability.

As far as Lumia goes, Nokia managed to sell 7.4 million of these Windows-based smartphones compared to 5.6 million last quarter.  Naturally, with BlackBerry having shipped only 6.8 million phones last quarter (a number that has been in decline), the media jumped all over this to declare Nokia the victor as the #3 player in smartphones.

I think the comparison of 7.4 million Lumias to 6.8 million BlackBerrys is pretty much useless.  Why?  Well, this is the 7th quarter of Lumia shipments while it’s barely the 2nd quarter of BlackBerry 10 shipments.  And obviously the Q10 has had nearly no effect on BlackBerry’s latest numbers because of the timing of its launch relative to quarter end.  In addition, the Q5 hadn’t even shipped by the time the quarter ended.  So we really need to see what the next couple of quarters bring.  Yes, Nokia is far ahead of BlackBerry, but both Lumia and BlackBerry 10 device volumes are growing.

But more important, we should not be thinking about legacy BBOS phones as part of the modern day smartphone battle.  The latest BB7 OS may still be selling well in emerging markets, but it represents the past, not the future.  Legacy BlackBerry users will either migrate to BlackBerry 10, or they’ll leave the platform in favor of something else. 

It’s worth pointing out that in Lumia’s second quarter on the market, they shipped only 2 million phones versus BlackBerry 10 volume of 2.7 million in the second quarter.  Lumia volume grew to 4 million in the third quarter of shipments, and I suspect given the launch of the Q10 and Q5 in the BlackBerry August quarter, we’ll see much stronger performance than this from the Waterloo company when they report their next results.

Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia

Depending on how you look at the fight between Nokia and BlackBerry, you can therefore argue that BlackBerry is winning because it’s accelerating BB10 phone sales faster than Nokia, or you can argue that timing is irrelevant, and Nokia is ahead in absolute numbers.  So this battle for third place is quite interesting. 

It’s also interesting to reflect on the fact that Nokia had to sell Lumia phones to an audience that was not already using Windows Phone, while BlackBerry has a huge built-in customer base having peaked its subscriber base at about 80 million.  So one should expect BlackBerry to experience a stronger acceleration, just as appears to be happening.  Yet for Nokia to have delivered 32% sequential growth in Lumia volume is nothing to dismiss.

Nokia and BlackBerry are fairly similar companies in a lot of ways.  Nokia has 4.1 billion EUR of net cash, while BlackBerry has $3.1 billion.  Smartphone volumes are similar, and I’d guess that Nokia’s device margin of 24.4% is close to BlackBerry’s.  Remember that BlackBerry recently had 36% gross margin, but this includes a fairly large chunk of high-margin service revenue. On the bottom line, as I said, both companies are pretty close to break even.

Let them both keep moving.  Let the race continue, and let the players fight hard.  In the end it’s all makes our consumer experience better.

(Chris Umiastowski is a contributing financial writer to the Mobile Nation network. You can see the rest of his posts here at AndroidCentral, iMore and CrackBerry.)

Chris Umiastowski