It’s been a gruesome week in the mobile phone market. The almost embarrassing dominance of Apple (ideas for spending $90 billion of spare cash, anyone?) provided a cruel contrast to the desperate plight of the opposition. The maker of Blackberrys ditched its founders. Nokia, the one-time rubber-boot manufacturer, tried to stay positive, boasting that it had sold a million Windows-based Lumia phones in the last three months. During that time Apple shipped 37 million iPhones. It has sold 315 million of them worldwide.

The eclipse of Nokia is one of the wonders of the age, providing fodder for business school studies for decades to come. At the turn of the century, its position in the burgeoning mobile phone market seemed unassailable. Its combination of market dominance and mouth-watering margins meant that it could outspend and out-develop any competitor who came up with a better product. It sold its billionth phone in 2005, and in late 2007, deemed the world’s fifth most valuable brand, the business was valued at 100 billion euros.

It’s worth 13 billion euros today, less than four months’ (declining) sales. Its products are still good, but Apple has changed the game utterly. The business school study might ask why Nokia didn’t see the Blackberry eating its lunch, and why both companies then failed to notice until Apple’s apps got past the 100,000 mark.

The story is also a parable for today’s winner-takes-all capitalism. Established businesses which considered they were serving their local markets well are being blown away by globalisation. It is not sufficient to be the best in Finland, or even in Europe, if there’s a better competitor in America or China. You won’t merely finish second, you may be completely finished. Nokia is not just struggling to compete, it is struggling to stay alive.

Even if it doesn’t do for Nokia, the combination of globalisation and the mobile internet will be lethal for a wide swathe of businesses. Any activity that does not need physical delivery of a product is potentially vulnerable to being turned into a mobile app. Right now, Apple looks like the master of the universe, but perhaps the terrible example of Nokia explains why the shares in what is currently (alongside Exxon) the world’s most valuable company, are selling on just 10 times earnings.

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