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The Nokia transformation continues


With Nokia dropping executives like flies recently, it’s tempting to think the company has descended into total disarray. (Today, the chap who ran MeeGo has exited stage right).

Fortunately this is not the case.

Nokia has been through the Perfect Storm and is slowly drifting out of the resulting fog, powered by a whisper of wind and the powerful rowing of a few smart people.

It’s important to recognise that whilst most of the Western media reckons Nokia is completely screwed, this is also not the case.

The company continues to ship a million handsets a day (or thereabouts) and each one of those devices contributes a tiny bit of profit along with a heck of a lot of cash throughput that keeps bankers smiling very, very widely.

Believe it or not, folk actually queued for the N8. Just not in San Francisco or London. So it might as well not have happened as far as the West is concerned.

Sadly the reality is that… well… perception is reality. It’s 0% reality and 100% perception in the case of Nokia from the point of view of the West.

Since Nokia’s reputation has been shot to shreds by exceedingly poor devices (in the context of the competition) and characteristically slow lumbering movements (just look at the struggle some of the management team had trying to fix Ovi Store), combined with numbskull thinking from many senior executives, it’s been rather difficult to imagine Nokia as anything other than doomed.

I’m pleased to see changes happening.

I understand that there’s a heck of a lot of other senior executives in the departure lounge. Good. I have sat in front of many executives and asked straight forward questions only to be met with total and complete ‘numbskullarity’ bordering on neolithic incompetence.

Witness, for example, me sitting in a meeting with one chap about 6 months ago explaining that Silicon Valley developers think the company is FU*KED. And they use that language. I attempted to explain why this was a problem, how it had come about and how precisely to deal with it. The arse of an executive responded that ‘there isn’t a problem’ and that he ‘couldn’t understand my viewpoint’. He even went on to explain that, ‘all the developers I speak to are delighted with Nokia.’ Utter tripe. The other executive — the smart one — who’d recognised the issue and asked me (and another chap) to propose a solution, had to sit in the corner with a pained look on his face, whilst this debacle ensued.

I had to laugh. I actually thanked the chap — after a meeting of perhaps 5 minutes — and admitted to him that he was right, ‘there is no problem.’ If he didn’t see a problem and wasn’t able to entertain my (and the rest of the market’s viewpoint), so be it. I did have to laugh. Because I knew — precisely — that I’d be able to write this text. And look like I’m a total flipping genius.

Which I am — it’s not difficult to look like a genius when you’re dealing with Nokia executives, is it?

Of course they’re not all dullards. The problem is a lot of the arses have been in side positions or haven’t had the authority to do anything beyond try and make their senior bosses understand just how bad the company’s reputation was — and what the substantial implications of this were — and were going to be.

But we’re getting there. Nokia is getting there. The more idiots who are exited from the company, the better. Shake up the management team. Shake up the operations. Shake up the status quo. Empower the smart people.

Goodness me the company is getting there. Back in April 2009, I wrote this post (“ Me: “What about the 400m Ovi compatible handsets by Dec 2010?” iPhone Dev Rockstar: “Uhhh?” “) describing the Valley’s ambivalent (or frankly, negative) response to Nokia and Ovi.

At the time, Ovi and Ovi Store was the pits. Buggy, rubbish content, difficult to love.

Fast forward to today and there are now 140 million Ovi service users. It’s not quite the 400m ‘estimate’ in my post, but it’s substantial. It’s only going to get bigger and bigger and bigger. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 300m Ovi service users by this time next year. That’s 300m folk who could, reasonably, afford $0.99 to spunk on your game or app. And do so on impulse through Ovi’s extensive carrier billing setup.

Now and again this week I’ve let myself believe that the company is on the up.

So, Nokia, please continue to jettison anyone who isn’t equipped or ready to move Nokia into the future, properly.

[And if you can do Hebrew, here’s do check out this post by Didi Chanoch.]


  1. Honestly, I hope this continues into the new year. Right now, these are voluntary exits – no firing going on. That tells me a few really important things (most of which are GOOD):

    1. Elop’s come in, made it clear that things are going to change, and that if you don’t like that, you’re welcome to leave. These are top execs, too.

    2. The ones that leave are most likely the ones who are heading up departments that are going to see the most change – for better or worse. At this point, I’d say any change is probably a good idea, and it obviously can’t hurt.

    I think the really interesting thing is going to be to watch who sticks around at Nokia, and who they hire in to replace these folks that are leaving.

  2. I’m not sure if losing Vanjoki and especially Jääksi was a good thing, but overall I agree.
    And it looks like Nokia is finally starting to be in a place where they can start total war against Apple & Google (Ovi seems to be growing fast, Symbian^3 out, MeeGo & Symbian^4 coming, Qt is the best framework for development etc.)

  3. I have got sick and tired of Android devices and iPhone missing calls and sucking at voice in general. So much so, I got the genius £5pcm 1GB 3UK SIM and a copy of the 3 Skype app for Android which actually works. So that’s my Nexus working as a Mifi, email and Skype hub.
    But I run an mobile events company and need to make and receive time critical calls every day. So a couple of weeks ago I bought a Nokia candy bar phone for £180 from Amazon. Lo and behold, it rings every time people call me, and I can hear what they’re saying properly too. It’s amazing after 18 months of shouting what, sorry, I didn’t catch that in to a variety of HTC, Motorola and apple smartphones, I can have proper conversations again. On the last charge I got through 5 hours of calls, 25 MB of packet data and finally had to charge it after day 6, yes that’s 6 days.
    Obviously the software and UX is rubbish, 10,000 button presses later it nearly does things as I want it too. There is some shit hot IP in Nokia hardware, particularly in antenna performance and efficiency where they are literally a decade ahead of everyone else. If they can get beyond a ridiculous maze of menu cul de sacs, and deliver some logic and consistency on Meego devices they’ll come flying back.I’m thinking of holding on for a few more weeks for the western media to pan the N8, then buying a load of Nokia stock when it’s at it’s cheapest.
    Their only problem is software, and that’s by far the easiest one to solve…

  4. You Ewan, I like the approach you are taking.

    However, it’s not entirely correct. The executives that appear “dumb” really aren’t, they are just unprepared to communicate on this issue. Each and every one of them is aware of the US situation, they just don’t know how to evade the conversation in a way that shows Nokia in a positive light. Some of them think appearing to deny the whole thing will work better than admitting the problem and saying that “we are working on it”.

    Nokia culture in this is changing, and it appears people have more leevay in the way they communicate. E.g. Vanjoki has been able to “talk straight” reg. Android, instead of politically correct “not saying anything” sort of communication that Nokia people have been instructed to engage in.

    Nokia is now explicitly a “challenger” instead of incumbent, and THAT is the attitude Nokia needs to start shooting at full barrels. Symbian^3 is a start, but MeeGo is what will really start the game.

  5. Bingo! Hit the nail on the head.

    I want to see more people with good relations dealing with carriers, some folks able to negotiate agreements to allow Nokia the right to produce its own TV and print advertising to better control their image (something that has propelled Apple and damaged Nokia by having the carriers control their image in the US market), and people willing to think outside the Finnish box.

    I love all the guys that left. But I’m not your typical consumer. Nokia missed being the introduction to pocket computing in the US that Android and Apple gladly took themselves in the US and abroad. This is a key that needs to be addressed. The US carrier relation issue is problem one, and usability is step two. If TAT can do it for Android, then either buy them, hire some of their people, or just take some time to create things the best way, not the fast or usual and familiar way you assume works.

    Nokia needed a shakeup, for better or worse. Its time to see if Elop has a vision. Right now we don’t know.

  6. One of the biggest reasons that the share price and talk around Nokia are both tanking, IMO, is that Nokia is fighting a battle that it is ill equipped to fight right now – ie taking on Apple. But by consistently engaging in that battle it is forgetting (and letting everyone forget) the battles it is winning – ie selling a gazillion handsets every day to India etc.

    Nokia should step away from the battle it is losing and tighten up its efforts on the feature and basic phones (it should also sort out the naming issue of handsets and develop and proper upgrade path etc, but that’s another issue). However, it shouldn’t step away from the smartphone battle altogether releasing one or two new handsets, but in the meantime it should hire the best R&D people ever and give them two years to create something completely game changing in secret – then it should come back into the fight.

    At the moment it is losing the battle and looking like idiots for doing so. Step away (for now) and come back stronger when the time is right.

  7. We’ll enver know if Vanjoki not getting the top jb was simply to get a new (foreign) broom or simply that he was incumbent dduring OPK’s time. But by not getting th ejob, it would have been very difficult for Elop to strike out on a change manifesto.

  8. > Nokia is fighting a battle that it is ill equipped to fight right now – ie taking on Apple.

    Eh? Nokia’s been pulling away from Apple and Android for some time (well, always actually). Yes, in smartphones 🙂
    “each week there are 200,000 more Symbian phones out there than iPhones, and almost 500,000 more than Android. Symbian is not being caught and left behind, in terms of raw numbers they are pulling away by a significant percentage every single day.”

    You’re a victim of (mis)perception and misinformation Patrick.

  9. > Obviously the software and UX is rubbish

    If you’re not basing that opinion on a decent full time try-out of Symbian 3 (e.g. at least a week) do you not think that opinion is now somewhat, or even radically, out of date and thus irrelevant, given that Nokia’s forthcoming headline devices (i.e. not the ultra-cheapo smartphones, but the N8, E7, C7, C6-01) are all using Symbian 3?

  10. The way that Nokia can guarantee to screw things up is to build Android or Win Pho 7 phones. They need to hold strong under fire, take on board criticisms and consider them carefully and stick with Symbian and MeeGo no matter what. There are *some* simple easy wins here.

    E.g. one thing I see repeatedly is people unfamiliar with Symbian, or with a preference for iPhone/Android, criticising the look and feel of Symbian^3 on the N8, namely the fonts and icons (some criticisms go deeper than this of course). An easy win would be to a.) Provide some professional slick alternative themes, and b.) hammer the point home about the fact you can change them and make it really simple and obvious for people to do so.

    A second thing I’ve noticed in N8 reviews by non-Symbian sites is just straightforward lack of awareness by the reviewers of features of the N8, or it’s proven strengths. The marketing team need to provide a “cheat sheet” to all reviewers that basically bashes them over the head with things such as the fact that USB-On-The-Go exists on the N8, and also links to existing independent reviews proving that the N8 camera blows the iPhone 4’s camera out of the water (there seems to be some confusion over this fact 🙂 ) and also has now beaten multiple stand alone compact cameras in tests. This stuff is out there, free, and needs to be hammered home. And the same for other Nokia products and services. If Ovi SDK is now better than iPhone and Android SDKs etc, SHOUT ABOUT IT!

  11. had months of use with E55 and E71 last year. Wrote a much longer reply which disappeared in to moderation. The N8 UI has been described as sluggish and inconsistent which I can well believe.

  12. I read somewhere that Nokia will not relinquish control of the whole vertical stack of service integration, which they would have to running any flavour of Android. This strategy in unlikely to change as it makes commercial sense. Much as me and lots of other people I know in mobile would live to have Nokia devices Android, it’s not going to happen.

    The Meego linux kernel is very very close to that of Android. So much so that there are several common SDKs in the pipeline. If Nokia went all out to head hunt and hire a dozen really talented UI & UX people in San Francisco and London. Then gave them the authority to define an agile working practice to rapidly iterate a consistent UI and device control settings. This would help them catch up. Some of the reports of the legacy internal workings of the product teams within Nokia are nightmarish, which is clearly reflected in the product. With the right people, and some 21st century software development techniques, they could be right back in the game by 2012.

  13. The lack of awareness of N8 features I’ve seen are nothing to do with UI structure. However, I do think you have a point and there is definite room in some specific cases for a better menu structure – reviews have pointed these out. It’s a really pretty minor point issue for most people though – and people who don’t like Symbian tend to not like it because it’s not what they’re used to on Android/iPhone, pure and simple. The generic “Symbian (or if people are being fair, Symbian UI) is crap” argument is now out of date and invalid.

  14. So Dominic you have not in fact tried Symbian 3 and given it a fair shot. OK, at least we know where we stand as regards what your arguments are based on. You think Nokia’s software is indefensibly rubbish. I think the same about Android and iPhone and think the opposite about Symbian. Who’s right, and who’s wrong? I’ve seen far more reviews saying Symbian 3 is now up to par and actually very good than I have criticising it – yes, even in the tech press, and the general press.

    Furthermore there is I am afraid blatant bias – both engadget and gizmodo have been proven to rig their tests against Nokia and it is clear there is Nokia-hate in both camps. Balanced journalists they are not. The Guardian is just letting more of this come out, which is hardly surprising given it’s the Guardian.

    IF there were blanket reviews across the board saying Symbian 3 (which, remember, you apparently haven’t used and I suspect are incapable of taking an unbiased, balanced look at anyway) was rubbish then the majority of reviews would say this. They do not. They suggest further minor tweaks here and there are necessary, that is all.

    If Symbian were that rubbish, why are sales of it all levels pulling away from iPhone and Android at a rate of 200,000/week over iOS and 500,000/week over Android?

    Consumers are voting mate, and they’re not agreeing with you 🙂

  15. Alex, dude, the E Series Nokia phones have always run S3, around 6 months of use is a fair shot.
    If you’re not being paid in to the 40% tax bracket by Nokia to write this stuff then you maybe want to step up to a broader view….

    There are no really good mobile phone platforms. All of them are significantly flawed. iOS is the virtual equivalent of being trussed up in a gimp suit in Steve Job’s basement. Android is a fragmented mess that has more weird platform quirks than you can shake a stick at. BlackBerry is ok to a point but they’ve only just rolled out a capable web browser in the last couple of months. Bada is going to struggle to be relevant. What happened to LiMo? Windows Phone 7 is radically different to everything else that’s out there but commercially unproven.

    As for Symbian 3 on touch screen devices. I don’t know a single person that thinks that it’s brilliant, and that includes the guys at AAS and the former boss of Symbian itself. The Nokia sales happen despite this, it’s testimony to their reach in non western markets that this happens.

    Seriously Alex. There are no perfect mobile phone platforms. In my opinion S3 sits fairly low down the UX pecking order. It’s a very commonly held opinion, even by the CEOs of Sony Ericsson and Samsung, but at the end of the day it’s just my opinion. I have had all the experience of the Nokia devices I need to reach my conclusion. I am happy for Nokia that you feel so strongly that their software is the best. Keep it up, as I said earlier in this dialogue, I am going to buy some shares next month

  16. “Alex, dude, the E Series Nokia phones have always run S3”

    Nope – that’s S60 3rd Edition. There’s yet to be an E-Series device with any touch form of Symbian (until the E7 comes out)


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