Nokia and HP get back in the game.

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Stephen Elop, Nokia’s new CEO agrees with Vince Lombardi: Second place is the first loser.

In a fiercely homiletic memo to his staff this week, he compared his company with a man atop a burning platform: Would he die from cowardice and inaction, Stephen Elop wondered, or would he take the perilous plunge into freezing waters below, saving himself and all he represented? Students of American literature could not help recalling “Sinners in the hands of an angry God,” and the technorati properly warned, “Look out, Google.”

Elop’s memo reads in part: “We have more than one explosion — we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fueling a blazing fire around us. While competitors poured flames on our market share, what happened at Nokia? We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time.” Not your everyday “please follow the dress code” kind of memo.

At least two “explosions”
The memo, not coincidentally, comes on the heels of last week’s reports that smartphones powered by Google Android have toppled Nokia’s Symbian from the top of the OS rankings. Those reports, however, represent just the latest in a series of disappointing quarterly surveys showing Nokia has dropped 7% of its market share while Google and Apple consistently have scored major gains.

Nokia has failed to keep pace with the proliferation of smartphones. In fact, even the expression “failed to keep pace” euphemizes the situation; “fell out of the starting blocks” more accurately characterizes Nokia’s protracted inertia. The company has not developed its own operating system, nor has it aggressively pursued new partnerships with OS innovators or long-term collaborators. Just as importantly, Nokia has lost ground in manufacturing because of its recalcitrance about new operating systems. Although it continues to rank number one among handheld producers, it holds on primarily because of its dominance at the low end, where it faces significant challenges from Chinese competitors who make smaller, lighter, quicker, more capable phones at competitive prices.

While the memo reverberates throughout the techie community, all eyes now turn to next week’s Barcelona trade show, where Nokia will declare its plans and debut its new products. Analysts especially want to know how quickly Nokia can put its recovery plans to work and show significant results.

Meanwhile, at Hewlett-Packard…
Executives unveiled their entry into the Touchpad competition, introducing its 1½-pound, nine inch darling, cleverly named “TouchPad.” Capitalizing on its acquisition of Palm last April, HP developed its new WebOS, which runs the TouchPad and soon will drive Hewlett-Packard PCs. That second little detail rocked the technorati more than the cool new tablet, because HP continues dominating the competition among PC and laptop makers.

For now, HP’s tablet will run only on wi-fi, but Todd Bradley, HP executive vice-president, assured a 3G/4G model is in development and will go to market as soon as possible. TouchPad scoops Apple’s iPad with the one feature iPad lovers wish they had: HP designers wisely loaded their tablet with front-facing cameras for video chat. HP’s high-powered lightweight also includes a powerful sound system and supports Adobe Flash. These two strategic add-ons encourage independent developers quickly, imaginatively to introduce games and functional features for the new pad.

HP also announced plans for two new smartphones—an updated and upgraded version of the highly regarded Palm Pre, and a “jumbo phone”-alternative called the Veer, which will double as a mobile hotspot and come loaded with everybody’s handheld favorites including Bluetooth.

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