Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What Nokia should've done

It’s been painful to watch Nokia stumble lately. It saddens me to see such a great company, full of smart people, struggle to get anything meaningful to the market. Nokia’s new leadership have had to do some painful and drastic measures to try to get the company on the right track. Probably the most painful one being the de-prioritization of the MeeGo operating system in favor of the Windows Phone OS. Killing, or at least seriously de-railing the single thing that gave hope of a better, Symbian-free, future has put a big downer on the organization, the open source community and, to some extent, Finland.

Don’t get me wrong. WP is a perfectly good phone OS and honestly playing with it for a while makes going back to the iPhone feel antiquated. And choosing between Android and WP for Nokia, I would’ve probably done the same decision. At least now Nokia has some sort of chance for differentiation. Where as the Android market is already over-saturated and cluttered. But yes, the this was clearly a situation where Nokia only had two bad options.

But let’s go back to 2009, to simpler times, when MeeGo was still called Maemo and Prince was still called Prince…

N770, N800, N810, N900

The N900 was a doomed to begin with. The EVP of smartphones and project owner of everything cool at Nokia, Anssi Vanjoki, had stated that he had a five-step plan for the Linux-based devices, before they are ready for prime-time. N900 was the fourth (and currently the latest) step in that continuum. The predecessors for the N900 were the phone-less internet tablets: N770, N800 and N810. Part of this plan was that the N900 was a test device to learn about the capabilities and limitation of the platform. It’s like a public beta - not to be taken too seriously, as it was, after all, just an iteration on the way to the promised land. Which Nokia never got to.

I loved the N900 from the first time I used it. Sure it was way too big to fit in my jeans pockets and could be considered to be somewhat ugly or boxy, but the smoothness of the Maemo5 OS versus the pain of using Symbian was a breath of fresh air. The software had it’s weird glitches and suffered from some really bad design choices (resistive touch screen… no portrait mode... three levels of navigation...), but all in all it was paradigm shift in OS’s for Nokia.

Now here’s what Nokia should’ve done: The N900 was clearly a test and the hardware platform was already by launch seriously aged (Cortex A8 running at 600 MHz). They should’ve simple refreshed the hardware and fix a few of the stupid design choices on the device and blast full speed ahead with Maemo5, instead of waiting for the magical unicorn of Maemo6 which never came to be, due to the merger with Moblin forming what is now called Meego. Just imagine an E7 with the Maemo5 sofware – a totally competitive offering to what’s out there now. At least better than the current Symbian offering.

I don’t know what has happened to Maemo since it became part of Meego, but looking at the pathetic Meego-tablet demos out there, it seems like integration and added complexity has not done it any favors. I think the "five step plan" from Mr. Vanjoki felt very arbitrary and honestly Nokia should've just sticked with Maemo5 and pushed forward full steam on that. We can just imagine what two or three years of full scale development would've done for it and how far it could be today. Personally I don't think it's still too late. So Nokia, please bring Maemo5 back.

(Full disclosure: I've worked at Nokia 2006-2010,  and was in a global marketing role and did work for the N900.)

1 comment:

  1. "the big do not always eat the little... the fast always eat the slow" - BMW