Saturday, April 14, 2012

Don't blame Elop

The fall guy
Nokia has taken one whopping beating after each other lately. Thus making the stock price and credit rating laughable at best. The superficial reason is simple - Nokia's phones aren't good enough. Nokia has not had a game-changing hit device since... well... the N95. I'm talking about a device that redefines the market . The N95 could do that, because it was essentially the last phone of the convergent device hardware race. The N95 had GPS, maps, a five megapixel camera, high-speed internet and expandable memory. Looking at it now, five(!) years later, it's still a comparable feature set from a hardware perspective.

Nokia won the race to build a true convergent mobile computer.

All it lacked was good software.

Product teams at Nokia were built around, well, products. The hardware differences around the phones defined the offering - not how well it worked with the Nokia ecosystem. The N81 team developed experiences and software that weren't compatible with the N82 - and then the teams would struggle to introduce their "improvements" into the master Symbian stack. Splintering from a common software strain leads to fragmentation and grinds improvements to a halt, as reintroducing code is slow and painful.

The result: a total mess. Despite an enormous footprint in market share, it was essentially impossible to develop software that would work on all high-end Nokia devices and the store experience was pretty crappy as well. That's why there really wasn't any significant app ecosystem around Nokia. This is the opportunity that Apple took with iPhone - and the rest is history.

I've seen a lot of talk lately blaming Stephen Elop for the downfall of Nokia. I think this is unfair. The real reason why Nokia has had a hard time is because it has moved into an industry that it hadn't previously been in: building holistic device and software platforms. Elop inherited a house built by the previous management, and this house was rotten to its core. Symbian was, and probably still is, a mess of spaghetticode and, despite a promising start, the Meego team suffered the same fate due to weak management and the weird decision to integrate Moblin into the stack, all while trying to get it ready for the new flagship device launches. The result was the N9 - too little, too late - and too many corners cut to scale.

A lot of blame has been put on Elop - saying that his announcement of the Microsoft partnership was too drastic, and therefore he destroyed the Symbian phone business and subsequently the company. To these people I ask: try using a touch-screen Symbian device from 2010 for a few weeks. Let's see if you'd choose to buy a Nokia device as your next phone. Perhaps, due a process of tap-dancing and sleight-of-hand, Elop could've managed to postpone the Nokiacalypse by a few months, but it was on its way. The device portfolio was just too messy to attract developers and the user experience too poor to keep or gain customers.

In hindsight, the company should've just talked to ten or twenty N95 owners in 2007 to realize that, nobody really used any of the it's fancy functions due to poor level of OS experience and the lack of interesting software. Focusing on that problem, rather than megapixels or the bill of materials, would've been the right thing to do. Instead, Nokia decided to stay the course. This decision was made well before Mr. Elop took the reigns. And that was the decision that destroyed the company.

Edit: typos, removed fragment sentences and tautology.


  1. And I would add to this the unbelievable arrogance of the Finnish senior management that just refused to believe that the world was changing and the old engineer-led model did not apply anymore. Suddenly the race wasn't about technology - it was about the experiences the technology could enable. And that's where the humanists kicked the engineers in the...well you know where.

    The thing that makes me sad is the fact that there were a lot of us in the company who realized this but the top management just was too proud to admit that they might need to listen to some hoodie-wearing gamers and admit that they might be wrong. Good lesson there for all: Creativity and out of the box thinking

    + looking at Samsung's current growth I think supporting multiple OS's might not have been such a bad idea after all...vs. desperately sticking with Symbian...but then again what do I know... ;)

  2. Thank you for posting these comments. The Amazon purchasers of the new Lumia really love their phone. I believe there's still a chance; engineers really do count.

  3. You are so far off the mark it's not funny.

    Where are your figures? Can you back up any of your claims with actual PROOF?

    Tomi Ahonen can - you can hate on him all you like but he is dead right

    Symbian revenue and profits GREW before they switched over to WP7. It was the BIGGEST OS in the world - and was going to be so for at least the next 2 years.

    Do you know how featureless WP7 is compared to Symbian? You can't even use WP7 as a mass storage device - you can't! (one of over 100 examples)

    The transition to Meego was being supported by INTEL....ONE OF THE BIGGEST COMPANIES IN THE WORLD. Do you think they were going to let it go to waste? In fact, they've now developed it further with Samsung and called it Tizen

    Had Elop not killed Symbian like he did they would be MAKING MONEY. Nokia is now burning through it's cash reserves and could possibly be out of business next year at this rate

    So, Elop isn't to blame? Yeah sure, pigs can fly too

    1. May i also add Jusso, that Meego had the full support of the biggest phone carrier IN THE WORLD - China Mobile. And then Elop told them they're canning it. Now they can only get their Lumia's on the smallest carrier in China. That's wise, isn't it - great move by Elop

      Not to mention the fact that it has now come to light that suppliers/carriers are not taking shipments of Lumia's as they have lots of stock in reserve - and are going to wait until they're sold (if they're sold)

      Oh, and btw, it makes sense for you to compare a phone from 2007 to now - because that really makes sense, doesn't it. Have you used Symbian Belle? Or Meego? Get your facts straight Jusso. At the moment what you're posting is total rubbish