A lot of things have been said and written about Nokia’s adoption of Windows Phone as their smartphone platform. Some things are very obvious. Others less so. Here are my thoughts on the saga.
Symbian ruled the smartphone market for ten (10) years unchallenged. Against Palm OS, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, it held on to over 40% of the smartphone market during that period. That was awesome. But times have changed and its age eventually became its weakness, especially against the new breed mobile platforms, Android and iOS. That wasn’t a bad thing. It was inevitable. Other OSes too will hit that point when they will need to give way.
Some ignorantly and rashly call Symbian a failure. That’s like saying that Mohammed Ali is a failure just because he is now old and has stepped out of the ring. Symbian has had an amazing life, and even after it has been “killed” by everyone, it still sells in good quantities. As a matter of fact, it has the largest installed smartphone base in the world today and is still the most used mobile platform for web browsing globally.
But Symbian had aged. Nokia needed something refreshing and different. Windows Phone qualified; no problem. The problem was that stupid “Burning Platform” speech in early 2011. As far as I am concerned, Nokia should simply have announced that they were adding Windows Phone to their smartphone line-up and not announced Symbian’s death (even if they were going to kill the latter off).
Thereafter, they could gradually transit in such a way that Symbian sales wouldn’t drop as sharply as it has. Most other manufacturers run multiple smartphone platforms anyway. Samsung does Android, Windows Phone and Bada. HTC does Android and Windows Phone. Nokia could have at least pretended to run two platforms for a while.
Anyway, what’s done is done. We move on.
MeeGo And the N9
MeeGo wasn’t ready. The N9 does not run MeeGo; the Maemo 6 OS was only branded as MeeGo. Whatever it was that happened between Nokia and Intel, it was a complete mess. Years after, there is no single MeeGo device in existence. Sad.
The N9 could not have saved Nokia. It is a great device, but unpolished in many areas. In addition, there are so few apps available for it that there was no way it could go up against iOS and Android. Lastly, it had no ecosystem to build on. It was dead on arrival. Great device, but absolutely no future.
Nokia’s own attempt at building an ecosystem, Ovi, failed on many fronts. as a matter of fact, only the maps app was stellar, and Nokia have wisely kept Nokia Maps till date. MeeGo would have had no ecosystem to fall back on. Ovi’s failure nailed any hopes that MeeGo might have entertained.
Windows Phone is unique and superb in many ways. I have used two Windows Phone devices and like the OS in many ways. However, unless Nokia modifies it in very deep ways, it is going to hurt the company’s fortunes badly. Windows Phone is so different from what traditional Nokia fans have been used to, that it cannot hope to ever help Nokia retain a significant share of its fanbase.
Nokia needs to add things like USB mass storage, Bluetooth file transfer and other usability options to make this platform friendly to older fans. As it is now, it seems that Nokia is more interested in gaining the US market and losing the rest of the world. Which is sort of odd. And suicidal.
Already, Nokia’s place in the smartphone market has shifted so dramatically that it is shocking. Since the “burning platform” announcement, Symbian has no longer been selling as much as it used to. Who wants to buy a product that its maker has pronounced dead? Who wants to keep investing in such a product? Developers? Consumers?
Nokia In Focus
As far back as June 2010, Nokia had presentation charts that indicated that they were going to produce Windows smartphones. The chart below is from an article I did in June 2010:
That was before Elop. As far as the evidence available suggests, Elop is not to blame for Nokia’s current woes. The Board are. They kicked out the old hands (who must have protested some of these changes) and brought in Elop to do exactly what he is doing now. That is the only explanation for the fact that Elop hasn’t been fired yet inspite of having bled away the company’s marketshare and revenue in drastic proportions.
Critics need to stop wasting their energies on Stephen Elop. He who pays the piper dictates the tune. That’s the Board. Things are playing out according to the plan of the Board of Nokia corporation. Nokia’s board wanted this!
Some even say that the plan is for Microsoft to eventually acquire Nokia. I must admit, that doesn’t sound so far-fetched right now. Who would have thought that Google would ever be in a position to buy the once mighty Motorola (who were largest mobile maker before Nokia took over)?
Unless Nokia finds a way to customise Windows Phone to levels that their traditional fan base will feel comfortable with, they will lose their hold on markets in Africa, South America and Asia. Who will take it up? Android? Blackberry? Bada (yes; Bada is selling better than most people think)? Who knows?
Microsoft’s Windows Phone is still largely locked up against these markets. For example, if you purchase a Windows Phone device today in this part of the world, chances are that you can’t purchase apps in the Market to enhance it. You are entirely at the mercy of free apps.
I don’t have any answers to the future. The mobile landscape is too volatile. One thing is certain: Nokia was in a tight spot, more like between the devil and a rock. They have chosen a course to follow. However it plays out will be seen in the coming years.
Get Over It
I see a lot of people getting worked up about how things have turned out so far. My advice: get over it. It has happened. Find a platform that meets your needs and buy devices from there.
If you are a die-hard Symbian fan, there are a number of new devices out there for your consideration, and one or two more are still on the way. If Symbian no longer floats your boat, take a look around, hunt and try out others till you find something that meets your needs.
One thing is sure: the Nokia/Symbian glory days are over. No-one stays on top forever. The more things change, the more things stay the same.