Update: Ben Smith weighs in with his perspective on the issue.
I saw a re-tweet of the Nokia Plan B open letter to Nokia shareholders and investors. It makes for interesting reading and I do like and appreciate the broad thrust of their arguments. (The Plan B summary: Don’t do the Microsoft deal, get rid of Elop, fire some people, hire some people and the like). The letter, written by ‘9 young Nokia shareholders’, makes some very credible points. My response is: Where were you last year? Where were you when the company was spunking it’s market reputation up the wall and moving slowly, inexorably to last week’s position of utter weakness? The Microsoft strategy is galling for many die-hard Nokia fans. However I think the company had absolutely no alternative. I don’t think many fans and stakeholders truly appreciated the gravity of the situation. The company was in such a dire position that the credit ratings agencies were considering reducing Nokia’s phenomenally good A1 status. The world’s largest handset maker? Downgraded? Shocking. Just because the market has/had lost faith. Nothing but bold steps would placate the industry and Elop knew this. The bold step comprised of two choices: Android or Windows Phone. The steps had to be bold. Massive and bold. Dumping a one-off toe-in-the-water Windows Phone into the US market (as the Plan B’s suggest) would have done absolutely nothing for Nokia. It’s only the fear — the awesome fear — of the world’s largest handset maker adopting a brave new strategy that is making the market sit up and pay attention. Half a billion handsets a year? All migrating to a Nokia-customised WP7? This has lots of people rather excited. (I know the numbers aren’t quite accurate — but it’s not as if we’re talking about a marketplace minnow. This is Nokia!) I don’t think people had any clue just how bad things were for the company prior to last week’s announcements. And taking the market temperature here at Mobile World Congress, I’m content to say that the new strategy is absolutely brilliant. For the first time in what feels like decades, Nokia is being treated as a player again. Developers, suppliers, operators, manufacturers, industry executives — I’ve spoken to many already and the overwhelming response is hugely positive. Oh for sure there is a question over transition and execution, but finally Nokia has a seat at the table. (Remember, just a few weeks ago, Nokia was a total and complete irrelevance to the majority of the industry). Finally Nokia has influence. Finally people are looking at the company and beginning to evaluate it based on an awesome future position. The world’s biggest manufacturer? With a logistical capability second to none? Now back at the table? Yes please. What’s fascinating is the sea change I’m perceiving. All of a sudden people are talking about three major players: Apple, Android and Nokia/Microsoft. (RIM is in there too — although many people don’t quite know how to place them — underestimate RIM at your peril). The key is that — goodness me — Nokia is now ‘a big three’. Nokia is now a player. Of course this perspective is heavily based upon an assumption of proper execution over the next year. But Nokia is back in the game. It’s far too late for what-ifs or maybes. The time for that was last year. Nokia will fall apart if it’s employees fail to get behind the specified strategy 110%. The company needs to ‘right’ itself very, very fast. If you’re a diehard passionate Nokia fan, your first priority should be to help fix the company’s position using WP7. The industry will not wear any other option. A decision needed to be made. It could have been Android or maybe even WebOS (bit of a stretch, I know) but it could not centre around the company’s existing operating systems — they’re perceived by the market to have failed. I know to many this seems like ridiculous logic. Alas, it’s the game of perception vs delivery vs execution. Apple are masters, Google are obsessive and there was no further room for Nokia to deliver. There was no scope to allow Nokia to spend 12 months trying to fix Symbian/MeeGo to the market’s satisfaction. Nokia now has at least 9 months grace to get things right with WP7. If you’d like to see Symbian, MeeGo and so on continue as is, great — me too — I simply adore my N86. I’d love to have seen another revision. But first, right the ship, get the strategy working and demonstrate it to the market. Make Nokia great again. Then by all means bring Symbian and MeeGo to the fore. However I think Nokia can do much better than what we’ve seen hitherto. I think the company can take the existing ‘iPhone’ app interface paradigm and completely change it. I think Nokia could deliver us the next generation of mobile interface based around always-on, uber-connected network-aware seamless mobile computing. I don’t mean WP7 with bells, I mean a totally new interaction layer that will blow our minds. I am hoping for and expecting a lot. But none of that will arrive if Nokia can’t fix its current position and execute Elop’s plan. If you want to see how bad it really was for Nokia, just wait. The real position was hidden for many. But just wait. If we get 9 months of in-fighting and emotional toys-out-the-pram behaviour from an obstinate employee base, we’ll see the true reality — and that will be an awful sight. If you think things changed dramatically on Friday, give a bit of thought to (for example) HP or Qualcomm buying a financially stressed, downgraded paralysed Nokia handset business for a paltry $5 billion this time next year. And doing so primarily for the patent library and a much diminished 10% market global handset position. The game has changed. Nokia missed the boat this time around. The Phoenix is rising from the ashes right now — come on Nokia! Let’s see what you’ve got to show us. I think it could be simply brilliant.