Nokia heading to Silicon Valley? And the 'Standing on a burning platform' memo

With Nokia expected to unveil a shift in its long term strategy at the company’s annual Capital Markets Day this Friday, it should be no surprise that rumor and conjecture are rife. Much of that has focused on whether or not the Finnish mobile giant will be adopting a third-party platform with talk of Windows Phone 7 given new CEO Stephen Elop’s previous connection with Redmond. A rumor that our well-placed sources would appear to confirm – see below.

But we’re also hearing that Nokia is planning to lay down stronger roots in Silicon Valley too – like so many a European tech outfit – something that The Register’s Andrew Orlowski is also reporting. And in what looks like preparing the troops for a major change of direction, an internal Nokia memo titled ‘Standing on a burning platform’ has been doing the rounds. The widely distributed circular penned by Elop himself is a description of Nokia’s somewhat precarious position – and I say that as someone who has been fairly bullish on the handset maker’s recent products.

Specifically, our sources say that the memo paints a picture of a smartphone market in which Apple owns the high end, Android is winning in the mid-range, and Chinese competitors – MediaTek is singled out – are likely to snatch the low end. In other words, Nokia is being attacked on all fronts. Symbian and MeeGo are cited as simply not being competitive enough.

Instead, the choices facing the company, as hinted at by Elop in Nokia’s recent earnings call, are to “build, catalyse or join” – the implication, says one source, is that to build is a reference to Symbian or Meego, catalyse refers to Windows Phone 7 and join would mean Android.

Of course, becoming yet-another-Android offering would be a massive change of direction for Nokia which has (in my opinion, rightly) always had a home grown platform strategy. ‘Not invented here‘, if you will.

The move to support Windows Phone 7, a burgeoning although financially well backed mobile OS, would also be a major sea change. One well-placed source says to expect this to indeed happen, though perhaps not till 2012, as Nokia tries again to find greater success in North America. Another source close to the company says that in the longer term Windows Phone will in fact become the company’s primary platform. I’d find that staggering.

Which brings us back to Nokia “moving” to Silicon Valley.

The Register talks of the company considering setting up a virtual HQ in the U.S., rather than actually relocating its major operations away from Finland and London. We understand this to mean that the CEO’s office (strategy, marketing) could move to Silicon Valley and probably MeeGo’s development too. We’re not sure where this would leave Symbian although one source who claims to be privy to the company’s plans suggests that the N8 “generation” of devices will be end of line for the platform. MeeGo is also described by our source as on life support.

Lastly, we’re told that the memo ends with the metaphor of a man jumping off the platform into the unknown to avoid certain death – hence its title. More should become clear on Friday, of course, although how much of Nokia’s hard and fast plans will be stated depends on “how much drama” Elop wants to make, says one source. The internal memo is designed to set the context – the why – while Friday should officially reveal the what.

As always, watch this space.