A requiem for Nokia: I really should have seen this coming…

Let’s be perfectly clear here: Dramatic headlines aside, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the Finnish phone maker is suddenly going to go bankrupt, or even cease to be a dominant player in the mobile industry. But with their infamous announcement of February 11th I feel very strongly that, like Microsoft, Nokia’s days as an innovator are pretty much over.

A lot of Nokia fans were surprised by the news, as was I — a little. As soon as I started hearing the rumours of a Nokia adopting Windows Phone it immediately made sense.

Let’s connect the dots, shall we?

I. The Booklet

Early in 2010 I got to play with Nokia’s first netbook. I was, quite frankly, shocked that it couldn’t run Intel’s own Moblin distro — and ditto for MeeGo, the Linux Foundation-approved alliance between Nokia and Intel. But it was, best as I can recall, the first low-powered laptop to ship with Windows 7 rather than XP.

In netbook circles it’s pretty much accepted as fact that Microsoft has bullied their licensees to ship XP instead of Linux — mostly to frustrate users and spur them to upgrade to more expensive hardware for a better Windows experience.

That the Booklet ran Windows 7 and offered integration of Nokia’s Ovi services was significant.

II. MeeGo and Intel

You may have heard that MeeGo is pretty much dead. I put the blame for this squarely on Intel; where MeeGo had the chance to quell some of Android’s explosive growth in 2010 the nascent mobile OS was held back by their partner’s agenda — to get Intel chips onto mobile phones.

This realization came to me via some comments I left on Dennis Bournique’s WAP Review.

III. Android Enlightenment

It was an interesting coincidence that I first read this article — about Symbian being stuck in a PDA smartphone rut in an age of Internet phones — on a Google Nexus One. Using Android made me realize just how poorly Symbian compared, especially the stock web browser. Sure it can play Flash video, but when page loads are so incredibly slow what’s the point?

Whereas Symbian is an OS that can connect to the Internet, Android feels more like a portal to it. There’s a big difference.

IV. The Rockstar CEO

I tweeted this to Nokia CEO Stephen Elop Friday morning after hearing the news — perhaps not one of my more mature moments but it fairly accurately represented my feelings at the time.

What’s the cliché of the rockstar CEO? It goes back to the first dot-com boom of the late 1990s, and plays out something like this:

  1. Company is in trouble, or is seen to be by stockholders. They demand action.
  2. Random executive is brought in to save the day — specifically because they have no ties whatsoever to anyone or anything prior.
  3. The new CEO has consultations with key people within organization, mostly as a courtesy.
  4. CEO makes a wild guess as what’s best for the future of the company, though the consequences won’t affect them in any way.
  5. The situation (usually) gets worse, CEO shrugs and hops on a private jet to their next gig. Lather, rinse, repeat.

That’s my understanding of it, anyway.

Partnering with Microsoft is as bad a deal for Nokia as the Intel alliance — Espoo gets Windows Phone 7 (instead of MeeGo) while Redmond gets to put WP7 on at least some of the tens of millions of handsets Nokia ships each quarter.

It’s also a slap in the face to the their most ardent supporters, many of whom have begged for Android on at least one device. I see no reason why Nokia couldn’t throw them a bone — release a single device running Android, another with WP7 and see how they both fare. Instead they’ve made their jump from a burning platform seem like an act of desperation.

Update: There’s been a mention of an Android-powered Nokia handset from a reliable source, but it doesn’t jibe with what the company’s rockstar CEO is saying in public.

I’m glad I jumped ship when I did, but my heart goes out to Nokia fans around the world. It’s one thing to jump, but quite another to be pushed from behind.


  1. “I’m glad I jumped ship when I did, but my heart goes out to Nokia fans around the world.”

    *Sobs, sniffs* As to why I did not go for Android when I got the chance, I cannot tell, but there’s always a way out. NITDroid…not equally good, but not bad for consolation.

    One thing that beats me, why did Nokia not just stick with Maemo? I mean it’s just an awesome OS…

  2. I’m really happy, that Nokia currently has no device on the market that is interesting enough – the two years I give a phone before replacement are up (well, to be honest: since december)
    Now Nokia burned all bridges and made their devices unbuyable… I guess I’ll wait for the HP Pre III and buy that.
    I still highy dislike Android for it’s Google ties… Guess I’m really fucked with the current crop of Smartphone OS available

  3. Yep. And after initally some negative comments (mainly concerning the casing) came up they ended pretty quick and I only hear good stuff about them

    And with a tablet coming up HP appears to go the same way Apple went. But with amore open attitude (pun intended) – they pay for the servers of a homebrew community (seems to be similar, but a lot more far reaching than jailbreaking)

    And the dact that WebOS is just a Linux under the hood (although with some proprietary, unfree modifications) that actually allows you to access a terminal it looks like a nice replacement for Meego/maemo for me

  4. Nokia’s board are too staid to accept anything so radical as your ‘Rock Star CEO’ as a concept, much less as in-your-face reality. That’s just not their style. FRankly, had they been so open to new ideas or so willing to take chances, they wouldn’t have fallen so low.

    Tho we often disagree on matters of causality, I think Tomi Ahonen got it (mostly) right with his suggestion that Elop’s plan was likely the middle-ground option of those presented by three CEO-candidates. Sounds odd, I know but it makes a certain amount of sense.:


  5. AC:
    There’s a lot of short-sightedness in boardrooms, and boards will opt to play it safe rather than gamble. The shareholders prefer short-term gains over long-term development, so I’m not surprised by this. The Nokia management and the board probably looked at the costs of developing an OS versus licensing someone else’s and opted for the lower cost. The top execs get their bonuses, the shareholders get better stock prices and dividends, innovation stifled.

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