Expectedly, Emmanuel Olalere’s recent article, Had Nokia chosen Android, has generated a lot of buzz. Many people are passionate about Nokia’s fortunes, as well as the fantasy of Android on Nokia phones these days. That is no surprise. However, most people miss out on one crucial factor to an old player succeeding in an evolving market.
I have written about this in times past, but it bears repeating anyway. In almost any business undertaking, and especially in technology, a migration path is important if a player wants to keep a huge chunk of its current users. Here are two glaring examples:
Palm ditched PalmOS and built WebOS from the scratch without any backward compatibility. Status of WebOS: comatose.
Microsoft threw Windows Mobile out the window (no pun intended) and replaced it with Windows Phone, a totally different beast with no compatibility with Windows Mobile. Status of Windows Phone: struggling.
It is almost always a mistake to do this. Following a migration path is always the best bet.
Possible Migration paths from Symbian
Forget about MeeGo; MeeGo is vapourware. There is not one single device out in the market running MeeGo. The N9 runs Maemo Harmattan simply re-branded as Meego. The MeeGo folks have since signed up on the Tizen project. Can we just forget that this Nokia-Intel baby ended in an abortion and so never existed to the consumer?
Nokia has produced amazing devices running Maemo over the years.
I used the N900 and the N9 (both of them run Maemo), and they are splendid devices. Maemo has so much in common with Symbian, yet is more modern and refined. Before the N900, there had been a couple of other Maemo-powered devices. It would have been a logical upgrade path. There were (and still are) millions of Nokia faithfuls rooting for Maemo. Migrating up this path would have been easy pie.
3. Nokia Belle
This is 2012 and we see Nokia Belle, a modern iteration of Symbian, running on a handful of devices, including the fantastic 701. Belle’s latest version, feature pack 1, is so good that it is a capable competition to Android.
In my opinion, it is not too late for Nokia to put its weight behind either Maemo or Belle. Both OSes belong to them and they can play with them as they wish.
Alternatively, a dual approach of making devices running both Maemo and Symbian would not be a bad idea.
We will all have different opinions about what Nokia ought to have done and what OS they should have adopted. But one thing is clear to me: not having an upgrade path is the greatest mistake bar the “Burning Platform” speech that the Nokia CEO made.
Ditching Symbian for a platform that is so different and alien to such a huge existing user base is not done. I love the simplicity of the Windows Phone user interface, but the transition is quite jarring for even me. I can imagine how it must be for many less adventurous persons.