When I last spoke to Jo Harlow in November of 2010, the former captain of the Duke University women's basketball team was heading Nokia's Symbian Smartphone division. My, how things have changed. Amongst Nokia executives, Jo has probably seen the most upheaval following Stephen Elop's directive to abandon Symbian and MeeGo for a Windows Phone future. Yet even with all that change, I'm told that Jo has undergone the most dramatic transformation over the last eight months, reenergized by the platform shift and a more focused and decisive leadership team.
Jo now holds the title of Executive VP of Smart Devices. As a direct report to Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, Harlow has responsibility for Windows Phone development as well as the Symbian and MeeGo platforms and gear and entertainment businesses. That puts Harlow very much at the center of Nokia's transition strategy.
When asked to clarify Nokia's Symbian to Windows Phone transition strategy by region, Jo explained that Symbian would end its very meager Symbian presence in the US early next year. "As we launch Windows Phone, that will really be the Nokia platform in North America," she said. Jo's boss is helping to pave the way with US carriers:
"[Stephen Elop] brought a willingness to do what it takes to be successful in the US market. That means being willing to have the portfolio and the right investments to get into the US market. Our decision to go with Windows Phone gave us opportunities technology-wise to enter the US market with the right technologies, be it LTE or CDMA, that we would not have had with either Symbian or with MeeGo. I think the other thing that he has worked very hard on is to establish positive relationships with the operators as well. So, we're working at all levels to return to success in the US market."
Other parts of the world will transition more slowly due to the strength of Symbian and relative weakness of Windows Phone in those markets. "What you'll see Symbian doing in the future is complementing the Windows Phone portfolio until we are able to fully replace Symbian."
Jo was also happy to discuss other possible exploits of the broad Microsoft ecosystem. "We are looking into our own tablet strategy," she told me, "I don't have any details I can share today, but clearly it's a huge opportunity in terms of the companionship between a smartphone and a tablet." Jo's overriding principle for any new product in "this exciting space" must relate to Nokia's core competence of mobility.