There's been a surprisingly muted reaction to Nokia's announcement yesterday that it was launching a direct to consumer Online Shop in the UK, selling SIM-free "vanilla" handsets for "those who may wish to upgrade to a new or more featured device model or have an additional mobile device". It's planning on launching similar sites elsewhere in Europe later in 2006.
As I mentioned last week , growth in handset volumes in saturated markets will increasingly be driven by "second phones" - currently a market poorly catered-for by operators. Nokia must also be irked by the trend towards 18 month contracts and slower upgrade cycles. It presumably also wants to wean certain countries' customers off of handset subsidies - especially when the carrier decides to subsidise a competing product & bundle it with theirs.
At one level, I would have thought this move to sell direct would annoy the mobile operators, and represent a return to the "them vs. us" arms race between handset vendors and carriers, around customer and UI ownership.
On the other hand, they may be complacent & just recall the fuss a few years back, when Nokia launched Club Nokia to sell content & ringtones direct, but which ultimately didn't amount to a major threat, especially compared with other off-portal download sites. Given that SIM-free phones have been available from Carphone Warehouse, Expansys and other places, maybe this isn't such a big deal after all.....
I actually think this is pretty important, especially as I continue to hear that operators are "conspiring" to reduce the accessibility of WiFi-enabled handsets.
Looking at the site, it seems to be an avenue to push both exclusive variants of handsets (eg Black 8800), existing models that operators aren't pushing / customers aren't buying (eg N90)
Even more interesting would be if Nokia did a direct-to-enterprise online shop for its upcoming E-Series devices.....