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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Nokia Acquires Leica Camera AG


How does that sound? It's enough to bring the word "synergy" back into play.

Of course, the headline springs straight from my RF fried brain. But that doesn't mean it couldn't happen. The question is, why should it? And who'd benefit?

As a business, Leica Camera AG is nowadays in dire straits. Not quite kaput, but getting there. Failure to stay apace of digital developments in photography has led to lower sales and zero earnings. Recently the company has had to lay off a good number of its highly specialized work force, as it tries to cut costs while playing catch up with the technology of competitors. There has been speculation that the Leica, its stock depressed, is ripe for takeover.

As a brand, however, the Leica name is still unparalleled for the prestige attached to it. For many photographers, if not most, and for much of the general public as well, Leica is synonymous with top-notch optics and serious photography - synonymous, in fact, with photography itself.

So my question is, what would happen if a mobile phone manufacturer - Nokia, say - were to acquire Leica? In my view such a development would state clearly that the mobile maker intends to stay out front of its competitors - and that its imaging phones are intended to be used as real photographic tools.

Imagine the Leica name on the lens of every Nokia cameraphone. Want a toy? Buy some other brand. But if you want a real camera, built into your phone, your only choice is Nokia. That would be the message.

And it wouldn't be long, then, before other manufacturers followed suit - the Schneider-Krueznach name on Samsung phones, Carl Zeiss, scrawled in script on Sony Ericsson products, and so on. Judging from camera phone sales figures, mobile manufacturers are already major players in the photography field. Branding moves such as I am suggesting are all but inevitable.

Given this, it seems reasonable to ask if Nokia will be first to make the move. And to suggest that they should be. The match up between Nokia and Leica seems a natural, given the geographic and cultural proximity of the two companies. This would set the pace for the mobile industry (not to mention the photographic one), reinvigorate both brands, and be good news for consumers, who'd benefit by further convergence. If Nokia doesn't do it, someone else very well might. There isn't that much distance - as we've already seen - between Europe and Japan.

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