Samsung Flaunts Its Smartphone Lead By Opening An R&D Center On Nokia’s Doorstep

Not content with following Nokia’s past playbook, by saturating the mobile market with countless iterations of its smartphone hardware, pushing a whole Galaxy of gizmos at every price point and form-factor fancy you can think of, Samsung has gone one further. It’s opened an R&D centre in Espoo, Finland, right on Nokia’s doorstep. Literally on Nokia’s doorstep. If you were in any doubt that Samsung is the new Nokia, this really has to be the final call.

Samsung said the R&D facility, its first in Northern Europe, is being located in Finland because of “the excellent technology development eco-system in Finland”. Which is basically another way of saying ‘thanks to Nokia, and the tech skills of the local people who likely acquired them working at or with Nokia at some point over the past several decades’. Nokia’s presence in Finland has helped build a thriving startup culture, thanks to the pool of local tech skills and experience but also as Nokia has had to reduce its own headcount it has actively encouraged entrepreneurship through its Bridge Programme by supporting former employees leaving to found their own startups. The irony now is that Samsung is looking to tap into an ecosystem Nokia has been helping to build up.

The R&D center — which is part of Samsung’s strategy of ramping up spending in this area this year, up from the circa $10 billion it spent on R&D activities last year — will focus specifically on development of open source software and “advanced technologies in the domains of graphics, web & security for digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, Digital TV and PCs”.

Another irony here is that as Samsung has gobbled up the marketshare Nokia used to own, the Finnish former phone giant has been forced to pull in its horns — to operate with far fewer resources than it had during its mobile heyday (when it too could produce a phone for every price-point and pocket) — thereby limiting the types of devices it can push into. Which in turn leaves room for a company like Samsung to target more development cash at other device type categories, like tablets, a category where Nokia used to play. In a sense, Samsung is just expanding into the footprints of Nokia’s past success.

Samsung said it plans to recruit at least 50 experts in the various technical domains that the R&D center will focus on in the coming years. It also plans to “steadily grow” the facility, pushing research into whatever tech areas it decides it needs to down the line.

As well as thumbing its nose at Nokia by tapping into local Finnish talent, siting an R&D Center in Northern Europe will give Korea-based Samsung a base to plug into a regional network of research and academic organisations, as well as getting close to European startups and businesses.

Europe has been a stronghold for Samsung smartphone hardware, so building closer ties to the region makes sense to futureproof its lead here. A lead Nokia has been trying to dent with its Windows Phone-based Lumia smartphones. Evidence of a slight uplift in sales for Windows Phone in markets such as the U.K. may be another factor pushing Samsung to drive deeper into Nokia’s territory — hence its stated intention now, with the Espoo Centre, to “actively build relationships and co-develop cutting edge technologies with our Finnish partners”.