Nokia’s future is under their control and I believe it will be very bright
My friend Michael posted his weekly Entelligence column over on Engadget and this week his focus was on the future of Nokia. I thought the article was well written and seemed to show Michael’s frustrations with Nokia and their apparent lack of efforts to stem the market share losses as other smartphone platforms come out with more user friendly and intuitive interfaces and Nokia seems to be in reactionary mode. I too have some frustration with Nokia because I KNOW they have the capability to lead with devices and an operating system that excites consumers and we just haven’t seen much from them in interface changes or a clear strategy the past year or two. They need to show us that they are in control and will be blowing our socks off with products and services in the future that have no direct relation to what Apple or Google have already done. I have met some extremely talented and smart people at Nokia and they have obviously seen the success of the iPhone and the excitement surrounding Android so I have to believe they have some very exciting projects in the works to challenge both of these platforms in the next year or two.
Nokia’s platform strategy
We know there is a change in how the operating system is being developed with the Symbian Foundation work and I was pleased to speak with my buddy Rafe for a bit about how the Symbian Foundation and the current Symbian platform is tied together. I still think the Symbian Foundation is a bit unclear to people and this contributes to the confusion with Nokia’s future strategy. As Michael shared first, he is confused by Nokia’s platform strategy. Maemo has been around for a few years, but it wasn’t until Maemo 5 and the Nokia N900 that we have really heard of Nokia getting behind it full force as a platform for future high end devices.
I personally still like using S60 devices, even more than Maemo in most cases, but I do agree that the different versions and Editions can be a bit confusing and are not helpful to developers. I honestly don’t think a device running S60 5th Edition is much different than the UI on the iPhone or a Google Android device so I do not agree that the OS is clunky or creaky. It is actually very customizable, stable, and powerful and my only real heartache with it is with consistency across devices and Editions.
Michael stated that the complexity of Nokia’s platforms is enough to make most developers look elsewhere. He stated, “Without a clear platform strategy, it’s going to be difficult for Nokia to get the developer mindshare required to stay relevant to the mass market.” Actually, with the announcement yesterday for Qt 4.6 the development process becomes much more streamlined and there looks to be cause for developers to embrace the platform. The platform strategy appears to be clearing up as we end 2009. As stated in the press release:
Qt support for Symbian and Maemo creates the first opportunity for developers to target both of these platforms from the same codebase. Being able to share code across platforms means that the applications they create will reach the market faster and reach a broader audience of device users. Qt 4.6 includes support for the Symbian platform for the first time, and also adds Windows 7, Apple Mac OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard) and the upcoming Maemo 6 to the list of Qt supported platforms.
Qt also has multi-touch, kinetic scrolling, capacitive finger touch, and much more that should bring Nokia on par with the latest smartphone user interfaces, but with the added benefit of having Nokia’s vast experience with superior hardware.
Nokia’s service strategy
I completely agree with what Michael wrote regarding the service strategy and I am really not sure what is going on here. They have a couple of very solid services (Ovi Maps and Ovi Store come to mind), but others seem to come and go on a whim and do not have global support (Ovi Music and N-Gage for example). Nokia needs to stick with some core services, then develop and promote them.
Nokia hardware designs
Michael stated that the recent Nokia hardware designs are baffling and referred to the N97 offset keyboard and N900 design. I actually find the offset space bar and keyboard to be quite functional on the N97 and N97 mini with my thumb much more easily finding the space bar than having to reach halfway across the width of the keyboard to activate it. I think the N97 mini is a much better device than the N97 and think Nokia could have done a better job of making sure more RAM and a faster processor were in both of these devices. Nokia has led before with solid hardware with innovative features and I want to see them step up to the plate again.
The N900 is definitely one of those devices that gets better with age and yet still will primarily appeal to the early adopter and power user. We also see some fabulous designs like the N86 8MP that took all the best from the N95 variants and made an almost perfect device in this form factor. I personally still think Nokia’s devices are very cool and know they can do even better. That new X6 looks like a very cool device that may appeal to the masses.
Decline in the US/North American market
I have expressed here on this site numerous times how frustrating it is to be a fan of Nokia devices here in the US where we primarily only see SIM-unlocked devices that may or may not have US 3G frequency support. Unfortunately, the only carrier that seems to carry subsidized devices is AT&T and they ruin the device with all of their bloatware and idiotic customization.
I don’t really buy the $500 price for unlocked devices as being a major sticking point. Shoot, I (and millions of others) paid $599 for the first iPhone just two years ago and the only selling point was the UI since there were no apps and the phone capabilities of the device were quite limited when compared to feature phones. The iPhone still costs you over $500 without a 2-year contract and people still pay that for the device locked to AT&T. T-Mobile launched their Even More Plus plans where they sell feature phones and smartphones for $400+ and people seem to be buying them to get the flexibility to leave the carrier when they want. If Nokia was able to launch a device with a consistent consumer experience and services with print and media advertising in the US I think it could do quite well. People in the US may still think of Nokia as the free, crappy, basic phone they received from their carrier and Nokia needs to advertise and get the word out that they make compelling smartphones.
As Michael states in his closing, of course Nokia is not going away. However, they do have to step up and promote their direction and strategy so it is clear to the press and consumers. While the worldwide market may sustain them for quite some time, I do think they need to address the US market and mindshare as I wrote yesterday. I think advertising about their smartphones and services, with a clear future strategy, can go a long way to appealing to the consumer and even with a higher initial cost they may see the value if it is promoted properly.
I obviously want to see Nokia keep their huge worldwide lead in market share, but I also want to see them increase that market share with a coherent strategy for devices and services since I strongly believe they have what it takes to lead everyone with their intelligent people, vast smartphone experience, and desire to improve the world for all of us.