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Nokia’s perception problem continues

Matt Warman is the Consumer Technology Editor at The Telegraph. Today he’s published a post asking, What does Nokia need to do to become relevant again?.

I don’t quite think Nokia understands just how bad their perception problem is in the West. Their reputation is in utter, utter tatters. Almost everyone considers the company at best irrelevant and at worst, offensive. (As in the devices, the UI, the entire offering is ‘offensive’).

In Matt’s peice, he makes this rather large point:

3) Ditch Symbian for smartphones: Nokia claims that Symbian “democratises the smartphone market”. They’re saying that open source programmes make their phones more customisable and more relevant to a larger audience than, say, an iPhone. But Android is already by some measures outselling the Apple iPhone, it’s already open source and it’s already very good, when HTC design with it at least.

This is where Google have done a phenomenal job. Android is not at all open source. Well, let me put it another way: It’s open, but as long as Google are happy. If I wanted to contribute a new addition to the Android platform that, say, changed the default search functions so that users were continually sent to use the Taptu search engine, rather than Google, can you imagine Google agreeing to that?

No.

That said, you’d probably have a bit of a job explaining the need to the Symbian Foundation’s source control committee — but if you have a good idea, if you’re willing to help contribute ideas, time and code, you can play. Everyone can play with Symbian. But not with Google.

Matt continues:

Symbian 4 is, by virtue of its arrival later this year, surely not able to be a patch on Android 1.6, never mind the newer 2.1, and equally poor in comparison to iPhone OS3. What’s the point in backing the Symbian horse? Insiders say forthcoming OS Meego will be great. It’s too little, too late, when Android is already streaks ahead and Windows Phone 7 Series is on the way. (I’d love, by the way, to be proved wrong, but “the open source OS” Symbian 4 is currently a secret – you can take a look here at Mashable, however.

Symbian itself is a thoroughly efficient operating system.

I think Matt has an issue with the actual user interface layer. Me too. It’s definitely in need of a complete revamp.

The real issue, of course, is that Nokia is doing reasonably well. Yes there’s been a fiscal blip but the company is still making cash hand-over-first selling millions of handsets a day.

My key point, here, is to point out to all the Nokia High Command that Matt’s article is another example of just how badly the market rates Nokia. There’s a lot of people in Nokia who know this — and who have some really, really good ideas for how to fix it. But they don’t have the budgets or the authority.

Meanwhile — and as Matt points out in his last point — let’s hop the N8 actually works nicely… and let’s also hope there are legions of developers making applications for it right now.

I think that’s a far-fetched hope though, given that the application I made with the brilliant point-and-click Ovi App Wizard doesn’t apparently work on Nokia N97/N97 Minis. Not very useful.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

8 replies on “Nokia’s perception problem continues”

Must resist temptation to rant. I was the same briefing. But yes perception versus reality is a big issue.

Ewan, I'm completely confused as to why you just swallow Mr Warman's comments wholeheartedly without in the slightest bit questioning them, or him, or his background and allegiances (if any) and so on, especially given your recent spate of highly pro-Symbian comments around the time you were being wined and dined by them at MWC in Barcelona (and flown out too). You seem to change your tune whenever the wind changes direction 🙂

Let's look at this objectively. Warman's opinions are the words of a raving Android-fanboy loony. This one statement alone gives the whole game away: “Symbian 4 is, by virtue of its arrival later this year, surely not able to be a patch on Android 1.6, never mind the newer 2.1, and equally poor in comparison to iPhone OS3”. It's ludicrous, and shocking coming from someone in his job. And anyone who doesn't know why it's ludicrous needs to be given a Moto V3 and told to go and sit in the corner and play quietly.

> I think Matt has an issue with the actual user interface layer
Ha ha. Indeed. I think Matt has several issues, and they revolve around a hardcore allegiance to Android and an inability to look at anything else in the slightest bit objectively.

There are SO many journalists pronouncing this that and the other, not just about Symbian, but other OSes too, and they literally don't have a clue what they're talking about.

Anyway, ignore my opinion. Look at the figures. If Mr Warman is even close to being right can he explain how Symbian is selling in numbers that aren't even the faintest dream of Android devotees? And how Nokia has grown smartphone marketshare on the back of an allegedly crap S60 5th edition, in an otherwise flat market (including Apple) in the last 2 quarters? And even more importantly how he's managed to go Back To The Future, and use completed and launched Symbian^4 devices in the marketplace, has seen Symbian and Nokia marketshare plunge to nothing, and Android reign supreme?

> Almost everyone considers the company at best irrelevant and at worst, offensive.
This is really just silly. Who is 'everyone'? Everyone in the Android and iPhone fanboy camps? OK, accepted. Geeks based in the States? As we all know, or should know, geeks based in the States are clueless about mobile on a global level, and clueless about Symbian.

The real problem with this article that you've fallen for hook line and sinker is it overshadows more sober, genuine and fair criticism of Nokia and Symbian coming from more reputable quarters (e.g. Tomi Ahonen for one off the top of my head).

There you go, unlike Rafe I didn't resist the temptation to rant 🙂 But yes, there's perception and there's reality. I prefer to live in the real world 🙂

I don't think I swallowed them — I just focused on point 3 and in particular the 'open' element. I also wanted to highlight how Nokia is being perceived! 😀

This is not Nokia's problem. Or rather, this is not a problem with Nokia. I'm sorry. Someone had to say it. Although I love marketing and PR, I have to contradict what seems to be an unwritten rule of both, that “you create your perception”. Well, sometimes you do. Sometimes, after working hard (and spending a lot of money only on this) for many, many years, you do (Apple does).

But sometimes you don't, can't and shouldn't.

I'm generally fine with bloggers writing things they don't understand. Because hey, bloggers aren't journalists (Eric Schmidt said that, so it must be true). You know, not the elite. (Well, apart from Gizmodo, who definitely do seem to think the crap they spit out every day has something to do with journalism). So GigaOM, Engadget, Gawker and the tons of copycat blogs out there can continue to think that the world ends on the US-Mexico border, or that they can see Russia from somewhere. The internet is open for anything.

But to see such rubbish in a newspaper… and they say the media isn't dying. It's killing itself with articles such as this. With writers such as this guy. They're all too busy crying for lost revenue (which they are not *entitled* to, but that's something no one gets) to actually *make* journalism. You know, as in “a process”.

Hence, I declare myself a journalist.

If this guy is, I'm twice the journalist he is.

And Ewan, I appreciate what you're trying to do here, but, again, this is not Nokia's problem to solve. It's the people who write stupid things. They are the problem. And I don't see how better communication from Nokia or Symbian^5 will ever be able to change them.

Vlad,

I'm interested to know what your response would be if you were running Nokia. Is the answer to simply 'let them eat cake' — let the readers read the negative or slightly negative content on the basis that the mainstream media is dying?

I think Matt is simply echoing the viewpoint held by a majority in the West. And I think that view should be substantially corrected by Nokia, both in terms of direct action (show us the super-dooper N8 etc) and through information (explain the company's focus on shifting units in the huge developing markets vs super high quality iPhone rivals).

Vlad – speak to anyone that works at Nokia, especially in consumer research. They will agree with Matt's piece, and Ewan's commentary. Sadly, those at the top are too busy re-arranging the deckchairs on The Titanic… 🙁

If I were running Nokia, I would have a different perspective, and I may even do exactly what you say that Nokia should do. But I'm not running Nokia, and so I can 'call it as it is'.

The N8 won't get the positive press you are expecting, mark my words. And not because it won't be a good phone, but because it isn't revolutionary in any 'big' way.

And the “western” press, aka based 99% in the US and the rest in the UK (“special relationship” and all that) will never think of anything that is not made (Sorry, designed) by a US-based company as revolutionary or groundbreaking. Call me whatever you want for saying this, but I'm willing to bet on it. (And please check the last time that ever happened in the mobile space – I honestly can't remember)

If Palm in 2009 was ZTE, Huawei, or even Nokia, no one would have cared about their desperate effort to reinvent themselves, or about what is in my opinion one of the best mobile OSs on the market even now. But Palm being Palm (HQ where?), the hype reached almost iPhone-esque levels. And for what? Mediocre hardware and, yes, interesting software.

But Symbian won't ever become interesting to those people. Because it will always build upon what it is right now. The UI may change in ^4, but I don't think anyone can afford to change it so dramatically that it will be completely unrecognizable.

Symbian is going down in price levels towards the mainstream (the mid-end) and will stay there for another decade. Ground-breaking stuff may come from MeeGo if someone just shoots the person who came up with that brand. And if Nokia decide to actually work on something for more than a year before scrapping it or turning it into something else.

The MeeGo play in the embedded space though is absolutely huge, and if it succeeds (a big if) even a little bit, will change everything around us. Because in 2-3 years “embedded” may be anything, from your vacuum cleaner to your kitchen table.

And that's that.

So, Nokia – bureaucratic? Definitely. Show me one huge corporation that isn't (Apple is a dictatorship, that doesn't count). Slow? You bet. But my opinion is that they have good ideas. And, strange as it may seem, they see where the future is headed. They're just too slow to do everything right and at the right time (m-banking comes to mind as a perfect example, also the free nav – they never would've done that if Google didn't, and that was stupid as they could've been the first ones to implement it).

I'm not in any way defending, for example, the countless reorgs. But then again, consider that most of the “top” people DO NOT work for you or me, the bloggers, the press, or even the consumers. In reality they work for the shareholders. And since (I hear) most of those may be “Western”-based, they may grow market share but the stock prices fall. Which is a discussion for another time, but suffice to say that it's a bit counter-intuitive. The fact that investment firms are also under the spell of the iStuff is really, really funny and ridiculous, btw. That the press and blogosphere are is fine with me. Well, not the press.

Which brings me back to my press point. The guy you quoted I would have fired if I was his superior. That writing is not journalism. It's opinion-blogging disguised as news reporting. Which is perfectly cool (to me) on Giz, but not in a newspaper. And the fact that they do less and less actual journalism and more of this is one of the reasons people stop caring about traditional media organizations and stop reading. Again, a bigger discussion for, perhaps, another time.

One more thing. There was an event not long ago (can't for the life of me remember the name, it may have been CTIA, I hope I'm not wrong), in the US, where the entire Nokia keynote was dedicated to explaining their strategy. The response from the Giz's of the world? Yawn.

Vlad, exhaustive perspective! I very much enjoyed reading. I think I'm more or less in agreement.

I do think the N95 got a pretty good reception from the Western media in its time though?

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