Ina Fried

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Nokia CEO Elop: We Would Have Liked to Have Done Better With First Windows Phones

Things haven’t gone exactly as planned for Nokia CEO Stephen Elop since he made his big bet on Windows Phone a year and a half ago.

The company’s Symbian business tailed off far faster than expected, its business in basic phones stumbled and the first crop of Windows Phones failed to take off in the way that he had predicted.

“I’ve said this at our results.., in getting the first Lumia devices out there, I would have liked to have done better,” Elop said. “There is no question.”

But, Elop said, the products are solid and the company isn’t changing course and still believes it can build a good business creating phones based on Microsoft’s operating system.

“We have to be able to stand up and say this is fundamentally better and different,” Elop said in an interview on Tuesday. Even in hindsight, Elop said, betting on Android would not have given the company the room it needed to stand out from the pack.

Still, the move to Windows Phone came with challenges. The “Mango” version of the operating system and its features were already pretty much set by the time Nokia committed to Windows Phone and began developing the first Lumias. That didn’t give Nokia’s first products much of a chance to stand out from other Windows Phones beyond its design.

Another part of the problem, Elop said, was the company didn’t do a good enough job telling its story at retail, particularly in Europe. There the company basically launched the Lumia 800 and made it available broadly without much focus on specific carriers or regions.

“We broad-brushed it,” Elop said. “Everybody had it.”

By the time the Lumia family came to the U.S., the company had a more focused strategy, launching the 710 exclusively with T-Mobile and the 900 exclusively with AT&T.

Elop was diplomatic when asked if Nokia was getting enough support from Microsoft.

“There’s a lot of complexity to partnership, but in terms of the fundamental commitment that we made to each other — in terms of our commitment to Windows Phone, to do our very best work for them, and for them to work closely with us, minute by minute, feature by feature, we’re getting that.”

Also important, Elop said, is the commitment Microsoft is making to adopt Nokia’s maps across many of its products, an investment that will bear more fruit over time.

“They have a deliberate bet on us,” Elop said.

Still, Elop acknowledged that it is at times challenging to deal with his former employer, saying it is not uncommon for top executives at both companies to be texting one another with issues. “We have tough moments, but we get stuff done.”

Elop said he isn’t disappointed that Microsoft didn’t approach Nokia to build the Surface, saying that Nokia isn’t looking to be anyone else’s “white box” manufacturer.

“That’s just not who we are,” Elop said.

Elop also said that Microsoft’s decision to create Surface doesn’t make Nokia less likely to enter the tablet space, but reiterated he has nothing new to announce on that front.

“I understand why they do Surface,” Elop said. “They have long said that the beauty and glory is not being well landed on hardware. They are saying here is the bar; everyone has to be at least this good.”

As for rumors that Microsoft might do its own phone, much as it has on the tablet side with Surface, Elop said he has no evidence that is Redmond’s plan, nor does he think it would have an easy time competing just by releasing a phone under its own brand.

“I have no indications they are planning to do their own phone,” Elop said. “They can do it if they so choose.”

We’ll have more from our interview with Elop later. Also be sure to check out his comments on the role that location-based services will play in Nokia’s future.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald