The future is dire for Nokia & Symbian applications: Dead by 2012?

Despite my joy with the Nokia N900 (do a search for the recent excitement here at MIR), the complete and utter failure in the context of the application race is clear to see.

Just how completely screwed is Nokia — and in particular, Symbian — in these stakes?

We don’t need complicated in-depth analysis. We don’t need to pour over the Ovi Store.

If you’d like to see what the market thinks about Nokia, all you have to do is visit the official site of one of Hollywood’s latest movies, ’2012′. It’s the next version in the apocalyptic-nightmare-CGI-fest genre (the previous being The Day After Tomorrow).

Visit the movie’s website and this is what you see, menu wise:

- About the film
- Video
- The Experience
- iPhone Apps
- Game
- 2012 Sweepstakes

Here’s a screenshot of the ‘iPhone Apps’ menu option:

Despite the fact that the iPhone makes up such a small percentage of American and international film-going audiences, Sony Pictures have made a simple decision: Nokia is irrelevant.

This is a worrying, worrying position for Nokia — and one that I’m seeing many, many other big non-technology companies adopt. Indeed I’m writing this post as an Aide-memoire. I’m often asked by readers, normobs, investment bankers and analysts about what I think of the Nokia position. And it’s these examples that I cite to back up my ‘Noboby cares about Nokia or Symbian‘ position.

I’d like to be clear that I’m a big fan of the platform. I’m a regular user of my Nokia N86. But the company’s continued inability to connect — AT ALL — with the rest of the planet in the context of mobile applications, is utterly, utterly dismaying.

Somebody, somewhere, at Sony Pictures, made a determination that, as far as mobile platforms go, iPhone works. They’ll have weighed up the pros and cons for distribution, for ease of acquisition/download, cost of programming and experience. And in that meeting — for this movie in particular — they’ll have said ‘Right, then, iPhone it is.’

Somebody will have, no doubt, asked about the other mobile platforms.

Someone will have commented words to this effect, ‘A lot of our customers use Nokia, so we should…’

And the executive in charge will, I suspect, (after receiving the cost proposal from an Eastern European Symbian development house) have cut in with a very, very final, ‘No. Let’s move on.’

I’ve no doubt that these same executives are carefully weighing the Android platform — but, likewise, it doesn’t get a look in yet. The keyword is ‘yet‘.

The dire, dire reality is that for these kind of ‘normob’ companies, the door was closed on Nokia and Symbian a long, long time ago. And the key was thrown away.

What can Nokia and Symbian do about this?

Is it just too late?

Is the platform simply too unwieldy and too difficult? Is the mindset at Nokia and Symbian, despite recent attempts to the contrary, still far, far too restrictive?

Is the reality simply that, if you’re Nokia, Sony Ericsson… or anybody running Symbian, if you want the likes of Sony Pictures to pay attention and to support their releases on the Symbian platform, the best, quickest and only way of doing this is to pay Sony Pictures for the privilege?

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  • http://joshrussell.com joshr

    nokia should do something like inq and run it as an autonomous company, like sony and microsoft have done with their game consoles.

    that would allow them to play with new ideas, low risk, outside of the main objectives of the mothership.

    they might learn something they can then bring back in to the rest of the company.

    and a million other things nokia could do. they are incredible cash rich, so they can afford to fail a few times. but not too many.

  • John Cooper

    I think this is more to do with the types of companies that Sony is used to dealing with. I come from a services background that deals with OEM's and their ecosystem directly. This is completely different from the digital agency or games companies that are doing these apps for brands etc. Symbian development can be difficult but the functionality can be greater. However Sony does not want a carrier grade app it wants something quick and dirty and this is what the digital agencies can achieve.

    I am seeing the digital agencies start to fall fowl of more complex issues around app development when dealing with the nuances of having an app talk on a network etc. I have examples but not for public consumption.

    If the guys that are playing with your brand already can knock you up and iPhone app then why not?

    I suspect it is also an education and marketing issue. Nokia world is too complicated, whats Symbian? What's S60? I have to do what to get on a Nokia etc.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Excellent perspective John

  • http://www.mobyko.com/ Julian Saunders

    It is simply unforgivable that 27 months after the original iPhone launch that the World's largest manufacturer of mobile phones has not got it's act together to compete with Apple. No doubt years of poor industry competition lulled Nokia into a false sense of security and now that they have to raise their game they simply don't have the products, services, or technology platforms to deliver a truly user focussed high quality experience. The operators should take their fair share of the blame too. Attempting to strong arm their customers into walled gardens and own brand portals was not in the customers best interests and the customer now knows it! Apple and the iPhone are accelerating away from the competition. Only Android has a serious opportunity to catch up, but all involved in it's future should take not of the lessons to be learnt. Give the user what they want in a simple and easy high quality experience. Easily said. Very difficult to do, but Nokia for one had better up their game if they are to compete. Make bold decisions – ditch Symbian and get up to date.

  • http://www.nokiacreative.com/ James Burland

    Well, it not really *that* unforgivable is it? I mean the iPhone is, and always has been, a pocket computer.

    In essence the iPhone is the end product of the greatest computing company in world. Nokia are a phone company not a computing company. This also explains why Google are potentially about to hand Nokia its own head on an Android shaped plate.

    What’s much more unforgivable is Microsoft’s inability to compete with Apple… Are they not the biggest computing powerhouse of the 20th century?

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  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/matt.rhys.jones Matt Jones

    It makes me very sad to say so, but Nokia are effectively the Oasis (the musical group) of the mobile industry. Once daring and a force to be reckoned with, they now knock out the same thing over and over again, that creativity and drive they once had seemingly decreases while the money they have increases.

    Yes, they may occasionally break out the mold and start to think a bit different (N900, I'm looking at you), but we all now that the next one is going to be a Symbian 5th Edition or similar, and be EXACTLY the same as everything else that you got bored of a few years back.

    Also, I strongly suspect (don't quote me on this I have no knowledge of the inner workings of mobile app design) but surely we come back to one of the original reasons why the app store has done so well; the app designer only needs to make one version. The film studio turns to Symbian and instantly has to start thinking about 5th Editon, 3rd Edition, Feature Packs, screen sizes, “What the hell is nHD when it's at home?”. Even the delivery of the content is an issue, the App Store is simple and works, the Ovi Store is anything but and consumers are still not savvy enough to understand how to get something from the PC to the phone!!!

    “Screw this, it's too complicated, just make an iPhone one.”

  • rafeblandford

    Oh come on… (I know I'm rising to Ewan's carefully laid bait here).

    Hollywood is US driven to a very high degree. Nokia is, currently, nowhere in the US (despite some efforts). That's why you get something like this.

    Not to mention the fact you credit the entertainment industry with a rational decision making process when it comes to mobile. iPhone apps are a glamour item that look good for promotion (not about making money).

    An (for my own comment bait). How much do apps really matter at the moment? How many people by a phone because of apps (or rather the perception of apps)? And of those who do care for how many it is a crucial factor (versus cost / what it looks life / camera / web browsing etc etc). How quickly is this changing?

    Yes iPhone may be 'it' at the moment in the US market. That's one market? What about India, China, Europe? But this is still dwarfed by JME content – which if your talking global, maximum impact, minimum costs is still (probably the way to go).

    BTW I agree absolutely that Nokia needs to up its game and you need a good experience as possible, but, whatever people may think, there is still loads of time to do that for the mass market.

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  • Name

    This is a preposterous piece of ‘analysis’, you’re deducing from the fact that a single film boasts an iPhone application that the whole Symbian platform is going to be gone eventually? It’s really shocking that idiots like you even have a job. For the record here are two facts:

    1.) Yes, in choosing a single phone platform to develop an application for in the American market, you would pick the iPhone because it has the most units in the US and moreover the kind of people who buy iPhones are the kind of people who are willing to spend a few dollars on apps.

    2.) There’s somewhere called the rest of the world. Heard of it? That’s everywhere outside the US. The population is quite big, over 6 billion. Might be a market there.

    If you think the mobile market swings on the ability of film studios to develop tie-in games easily for a particular platform, then words can’t describe how misinformed you are.

  • http://www.phonething.com/ Alex Kerr

    Well, I can't disagree with your conclusion as none of us know the future. But your reasoning? Because of one film website? In the US? (Nokia's historically most weak market). Are you serious?

    I like your site and your journalism, but really you're doing your credibility no favours with this sort of article. I've seen more sound reasoning in the Sunday Sport (or would have if I read it).

    Nokia and Symbian are not even beginning to be in the state that you suggest they are. Not even beginning! A short term local blip in recent months etc sure. Market shares and popularity ebb and flow though.

    If Nokia and Symbian fail and Android and iPhone eventually reign supreme, I will shed no tears. But really, no one has ANY evidence to suggest this is their medium or long term fate. There is WAY too much short term reactionism going on here. Which is what geeks tend to do (sigh)….

    Here's a different viewpoint for all you naysayers and prophets of doom to read:
    http://communities-dominate.blogs.com/brands/20

  • http://www.phonething.com/ Alex Kerr

    A loud and cheery “hear hear!” to all that!

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    I'm talking about applications and I'm 100% right Alex.

    Why no 'Nokia App' on the home screen of the Sony Pictures movie site?

    Or, if you're working on the basis that Motorola is far more popular in the States, why no 'Motorola App'?

    The answer is simple: Everything else for Sony Pictures is irrelevant — and we move on…

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    Yup. See comment above, Name.

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  • goodygoody2

    Hi,

    I work with a mobile marketing company and we do the whole range of services from iPhone, to Symbian apps and all that and we get 2 types of media clients in the door.

    1. That wants an iPhone app
    2. That wants to provide an app that the majority of handsets can interact with.

    The problem with iPhone apps is there limited market penetration, although yes they look absolutely great (in general) and therefore marketeers love them.

    The problem with developing any other apps is, that they arent iPhone apps but from a brand perspective can give you a broader reach.

    So what are our customers doing if they want a nice interactive piece of content, that can be accessed by a normob? Asking us to develop a WAP site! Most operators (at least in Ireland anyway) have capped 99cent per day offerings are the public are now used to interacting with brands that way, and you get to deliver a media rich experience which on a per campaign basis (such as a movie launch) ticks all the major boxes.

    Of course one could argue that using WAP is a step back, although this could be true from a technology point of view, when you consider the Normob, they dont care or know how they are getting the experience they just want to get it…. :)

  • salimfadhley

    “The operators should take their fair share of the blame too. Attempting to strong arm their customers into walled gardens and own brand portals was not in the customers best interests and the customer now knows it!”

    It's not just the walled-garden: The networks are stultifying progress by tricking customers into outrageous 2y contracts on devices which are quite obsolete and unsupported by the manufacturers within a year.

  • macashok

    What happened to Mac PC's. Surely its amazing but how many people use that. almost everyone uses Microsoft.
    The same will apply to smart phones as well. Nokia will do to Apple what Microsoft did to the Mac. Right now the picture does not look very clear. Its all about iPhone and Android . But check out Nokia's OVI and how its expanding everyday. And most important thing, the pricing factor. Apple's always been exclusive and i believe will remain exclusive for the elite few. Nokia's market is vast and diverse. Wait for some revolutionary handsets from nokia. Its will be all about convergence and nokia is up to it.

  • salimfadhley

    “The operators should take their fair share of the blame too. Attempting to strong arm their customers into walled gardens and own brand portals was not in the customers best interests and the customer now knows it!”

    It's not just the walled-garden: The networks are stultifying progress by tricking customers into outrageous 2y contracts on devices which are quite obsolete and unsupported by the manufacturers within a year.

  • faiz553

    I agree with what Rafe said..”Hollywood is US driven to a very high degree. Nokia is, currently, nowhere in the US (despite some efforts). That's why you get something like this.”

    You make a very good point. I come from India…and I remember that way before the iPhone came…when I had my Nokia 7210 http://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_7210-318.php There used to be a game, wallpapers, themes etc for almost every big Hindi movie production.

  • macashok

    What happened to Mac PC's. Surely its amazing but how many people use that. almost everyone uses Microsoft.
    The same will apply to smart phones as well. Nokia will do to Apple what Microsoft did to the Mac. Right now the picture does not look very clear. Its all about iPhone and Android . But check out Nokia's OVI and how its expanding everyday. And most important thing, the pricing factor. Apple's always been exclusive and i believe will remain exclusive for the elite few. Nokia's market is vast and diverse. Wait for some revolutionary handsets from nokia. Its will be all about convergence and nokia is up to it.

  • http://www.sci-fi-london.com/ Robert Grant

    I agree wholeheartedly with rafeblandford's comment. What I imagine is a Hollywood exec, sitting in a marketing meeting and fiddling incessantly with his iPhone and then saying “Hey! Can we get a 2012 app for my iPhone, the kids would love that!” his total disregard for Nokia (or Samsung, or Sony Ericsson, or HTC or anyone else for that matter) having more to do with his own 'head space' than anything to do with market share.

  • http://www.mobileindustryreview.com Ewan

    And you don't see any problem with the 'head space' issue?

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  • salimfadhley

    For now the Mameo platform is priced out of the mainstream, windows mobile is irrelivant and Apple's products are for a wealthy minority. Businesses will continue to prefer Blackberry.

    The battle will be between Symbian and Android.

    Android already has a mature app-store and a great deal of momentum. Symbian has a whole load of legacy and has managed to annoy developers.

    My wife was a speaker today at the Symbian conference. She mentioned that the whole thing seemed dead and pointless. Symbian has already lost the PR war. It's heamoraging developers and will shortly loose the App war. Nokia is to blame. With the exception of the unreleased N900 they have delivered nothing substantially new since the amazing N95. They are guilty of a gross failure of imagination.

  • http://quickrecipesonsymbianos.blogspot.com/ michael aubert

    I'm typing this from the Hands-On Lab 1 inside SEE2009.

    So far I have been somehow roped into 2 side projects, the Qt presentation blew my mind, I learned that Sun has contributed code to the Symbian foundation, which makes me eager to attend the BOF session on the future of managed runtimes later today.

    The number of exhibitors has basically been cut in half, the organization of the event leaves a lot to be desired (I'm assuming a drastic budget cut this year) and the Wiley booth doesn't seem to be shifting many books but the 3 afternoon streams are going at least as strong as last year.

  • Chuck

    I would call Nokia “exclusive.” In the past I tried to purchase the 9500 and then the E3 ?, you now the phones that remind you of a laptop, and could not buy them in the Indy area. If I purchased elsewhere I had to pay an exorbitant price. I was willing to pay a reasonable price for the phone, buy Blackberry connect and use it within the enterprise, but I finally gave up.

    I'm a long time user of Symbian (go back to Psion 3A) and still day dream about what could have, should have been but the world has turned. Nokia and Symbian have not demonstrated the capability to turn with it in a way that will enable it to capture the smart phone market.
    CSB

  • Dre

    Alex is right, Ewan. After moving to the USA from europe, I was amazed that nokia is almost unheard-of here. Working in Silicon valley, most people have androids or nokias. I'm the only person I know with a nokia (and I bought it full price, e71 only became available from att about 5 months after I bought mine) and I feel like I have the poor-man's phone, appwise. I like that it's not crippled but I don't think I'll get another nokia. Also, I'll expect android applications in the future, but the iphone is 'the coolest phone' for now so that's what got the apps.

  • Guest

    Guys, you can hear this opinions (i.e. Symbian is shit, Symbian will die, Symbian is ugly, etc. etc.) for more than 5 years. That time they confronted with Windows Mobile and Palm OS. Where are Windows Mobile and Palm OS now? On the same time, in 2009 Symbian had more than 2x market share than the 2nd being RIM. Yeah, it's a kind of very popular (and very boring) thing to spit continuously on Symbian 'cause it's not a “cool” thing but the fact is that in Asia there're no competitors for it. And the future is in Asia….

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