Fellow Nokia fans, mourn with me. Our Finnish friends have tumbled from their place at the top, brought low by their Korean competitors and their Canadian CEO. At this rate their spot in James T. Kirk’s 23rd century stolen Corvette is in serious jeopardy.
I carried a N95 for four years and loved it. Barring the devices available only to people who lived in Japan, it was the absolute pinnacle of mobile technology at that time and came in an attractive, easy to carry form. It had stereo sound, dedicated media controls, and a 5mp camera when the competition was lucky to have 2mp. It had GPS, turn-by-turn and an accelerometer. It had multitasking before the iPhone even had third-party apps. It had a Python interpreter, for God’s sake!
I only switched away from Nokia when it became pretty clear that Symbian’s days were numbered and that Android was the future. I bought myself a Droid, thinking “No worries, in a couple years Nokia will have caught on and started making Android handsets, and then all will be well.” Given that they were already making Linux devices it was practically a foregone conclusion that Nokia would turn to Google for their next OS. But then came September 21st, 2010, when Stephen Elop (formerly of Microsoft) became Nokia’s first non-Finnish CEO and shortly thereafter announced that Nokia would begin making Windows smartphones, and I had a little Picard moment.
The results have been depressing but completely and utterly predictable. Nokia lost the top spot in smartphone sales to Apple in second quarter 2011, and has now lost the lead in overall phone sales to Samsung. It isn’t especially hard to see why.
Back in 2010 when Nokia realized that they were in trouble, there was some pretty evident market wisdom staring them in the face:
- When you’re winning you can afford to be closed. When you’re losing, go Open.
- Making your handset stand out from the pack is less important than making sure it has the same apps as everyone else. Differentiation is not as important as having Angry Birds.
- Two is company, three is a crowd.
For reasons that the Nokia board will no doubt take with them to the grave, they decided to ignore all of these truths and go with a fledgling, untested operating system with scant big-name app support, made by a company whose attempts to play in other people’s yards (e.g. Kin, Zune) could charitably be described as “horrific vomit-inducing failures”, in a market that clearly wasn’t looking for a third way.
I would love for Nokia to come to their senses, ditch Windows Phone, and use their amply-demonstrated industrial design chops to produce an Android device as gorgeous as the Lumia 900, but I just don’t see it happening so long as Elop is running the show. I think the best we can hope for is for Nokia to fade into pleasant, sepia-tinted memory alongside BeOS and the Amiga; A maker of great products that we remember fondly and whose winning characteristics we will defend vigorously long after they’ve ceased to matter in any way whatsoever.