Nokia was once the king of the mobile world, holding 40% of the smart phone market in 2008 before Apple’s iPhone came to shake things up. The Finnish company now has less than 15% of the worlds market just five years after it was at its peak. Nokia saw that its Symbian operating system wasn’t up to par with Google and Apple’s offerings, so in 2011 they made a decision – put all the eggs into Microsoft’s Windows Phone basket. Two years on and although it is gaining market share by the month, Windows Phone is still only on 4% of the worlds smart phones.
In 2011, Nokia had 4 options – stick with Symbian, go to the popular Android platform, continue to develop its MeeGo operating system or swap to an already developed but unproven Windows Phone operating system.
Symbian was always Nokia’s baby which it fought long and hard for, and this fighting eventually did more bad things than good – but Symbian, along with Nokia’s hardware designs, were responsible for their pre-iPhone success and was the backbone of just about every smartphone they made before Windows Phone. It was light-years ahead of everything else, its multi-tasking was better than even some modern smartphone operating systems are today and it was powerful, but simple to use. Although Symbian was brilliant at the time, it was hampered by two things – politics and Nokia’s complacency, with one of Nokia’s designers telling the WSJ that “You were spending more time fighting politics than doing design.”
In 2008, one year after the release of the iPhone, they released two phones that were meant to be the ‘iPhone killers’, the N97 and 5800 – both devices got praised for their hardware, especially the N97 which featured things like a 640 x 360 3.5-inch screen, 32GB of inbuilt memory with a microSD slot, 5-megapixel camera, a 434MHz processor and even an FM transmitter – in 2008! But using the device had one let down, Symbian. Reading reviews would lead you to read things like “Fantastic device, only hampered by dated Symbian platform”, “Symbian platform needs a massive UI overhaul” and “Buggy, years behind Apple’s iPhone’s operating system”.
Fast forward 4 years later and Nokia announces that the 41-megapixel Nokia 808 will be the last of Symbian, signalling the end of an era.
So why did they drop Symbian? Symbian was starting to look a bit better with every update that came out, and aside from the childish UI elements, it had potential, but as Nokia has now learnt – a good operating system isn’t everything. You need an ecosystem – Symbian didn’t have this. Symbian didn’t have apps, it didn’t have music, it didn’t have games – all things that people require in their modern smartphone. For this reason, Symbian was doomed.
In September 2011, Nokia released possibly the best phone of the year, running the best operating system – the Nokia N9 running their MeeGo platform. The problem was, it was a dead man walking, with Nokia already announcing that it would be the companies first and only device to be based on the MeeGo operating system. It was praised from every one, for every aspect of the device, with Engadget Editor Vlad Savov saying the N9 is ”Love at first sight — this is possibly the most beautiful phone ever made,” and “MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan is such a breath of fresh air it will leave you gasping.”
But this perceived perfect option was also dropped.
In an interesting interview, Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop revealed toBusinessWeek in 2011 that they left MeeGo behind due to its slow development. With Elop mentioning a meeting where he pulled in key employees and discussed MeeGo’s future.
“Before the first interview, Elop drew out what he knew about the plans for MeeGo on a whiteboard, with a different colour marker for the products being developed, their target date for introduction, and the current levels of bugs in each product,” the BusinessWeek piece reads.
“Soon the whiteboard was filled with colour, and the news was not good: At its current pace, Nokia was on track to introduce only three MeeGo-driven models before 2014 – far too slow to keep the company in the game.”
And because of this slow development, possibly the most promising and exciting platform was dropped in a second.
Google’s free open-source platform had grown and grown since 2008 and at the time, most thought it would be the obvious contender for Nokia to pick for its future – it was popular, had a solid eco-system that was constantly improving and had almost unlimited possibilities with its customisation. This all sounded great for Nokia, except for two things – Google wasn’t prepared to give them any preference, even over their smallest users and their was already a king in the Android world: Samsung.
Nokia was well aware from when they first saw Android that one key player would eventually rule all of the Android world, and they certainly had an idea that it may be Samsung. So diving into an ecosystem that is already dominated by a massive player would be suicide for the company.
So why Windows Phone?
Windows Phone was an unknown quantity when Nokia signed the dotted line, it didn’t have many apps nor did its initial launch break any sales records – so why would Nokia choose to bank their future in Microsoft’s operating system? A cynic would say it’s because Microsoft sent Stephen Elop in as a Trojan horse to get Nokia over to their mobile platform, but the truth is that Nokia had no real alternative. If it stayed with Symbian or MeeGo they would have drowned as neither were developing fast enough to combat the competition and if they went with Android they would have had to compete with Samsung’s marketing dollars and resources to become the top dog in the Android world – Windows Phone made sense – It had the financial backing of Microsoft and it would be differentiating itself from the rest of the market with an operating system that was quite unique and powerful.
Was it the right move, though? I don’t think that’s really the right question. I think the right question is – did Nokia handle it right? Or, will Nokia handle it right? Nokia is in a tough position of having no back ups if Windows Phone fails – perhaps if it kept on developing a MeeGo device per year that platform could have grown and become as dominate as Apple’s – perhaps not. Nokia wasn’t in the financial situation to do that. What Nokia must do now is to continue to make amazing hardware and pressure or even pay developers to create the key apps for the Windows Phone platform.
The app problem is a bit of a catch-22 – you need apps to bring in users, but you need users to bring in developers to create these apps.
Nokia is in for an even tougher few years than it has been in the past, but if it plays the right moves with hardware and continues to pursue key apps for the platform then it might still be in with a shot.This article originally comes from tuned.tech.life