Devices Opinion

Nokia is absolutely ROCKING — standby for domination soon!

Goodness me, how a year changes things.

Last year I didn’t go to Nokia World. I couldn’t. I just couldn’t face it. Watching some of the streaming video from that event, I simply could not believe that Anssi Van Jokki got away with screaming “Nokia is back” during his keynote. It was — as I think everyone bar the odd Symbian fanatic — total unmitigated bollocks. The future for the company then was hugely uncomfortable to consider.

This year though? Wow.

Let’s get the criteria for ‘wow’ set properly though — as I’ve heard a few people observe that they ‘would have liked to have seen more’ or ‘were reasonably impressed’. What the company’s been able to achieve in 8 months has been nothing short of miraculous.

Back on February 11th of this year, Nokia announced it’s completely new change of direction. As I think I wrote then, the company had no choice. Absolutely no choice. The market was nailing the company to the extent that there were two directions Stephen Elop could have given the assembled media on that day: Android or Windows Phone.

Nothing else. Let’s be clear: Absolutely nothing else. The trauma had gone on too long and despite the fact the company was still shipping a gazillion handsets a minute, that just didn’t work.

The Windows Phone partnership bought the company 10 months to a year of leeway from the media — immediately. Indeed within weeks we started to see positive articles coming out of Silicon Valley referencing Microsoft (and Nokia in the 10th paragraph). It bought so much leeway that in many places the marketplace has collectively begun referring to ‘three ecosystems’ (Apple, Android and Windows Phone) purely because of Nokia’s announcement. No one — especially the numbskull tosspots knocking out $4 blog posts for so called ‘tech’ or ‘mobile’ publications — could afford to write off Nokia. Just in case. You couldn’t write off a million handsets a day in capacity, even if they were all (at that point) Symbian devices. What if *half* of them became Windows Phone devices?

What if Nokia could and Microsoft could deliver a $150 Windows Phone? Or a good looking Windows Phone priced free on contract that had the user experience to at least rival the existing players?

We all sat back and waited.

There was quite a substantial amount of pain internally at Nokia. For months the talented executives I knew were doing a fair amount of staring-into-space as the Elop High Command sought about implementing the new strategy.

And then the shoots of excitement began to eek out of the Nokia HQs I visited.

It was a no-brainer: Nokia hardware with a decent user experience? Yes please.

The question though — the concern — was whether Nokia Global would wear it. Would the employees go with Stephen? Could they see the reality? In the week of the February 11th announcement, many Nokia fans and insiders simply couldn’t/wouldn’t reconcile the loss of Symbian as the primary platform.

The real danger was revolt. Or, at least, lacklustre performance from a workforce who hitherto were collectively unable to see the state they’d got themselves into.

Allied to that issue was the way Nokia normally does things — i.e. 18 month handset cycles. Could the company actually deliver a Windows Phone product in 2011? Many doubted it. Many thought they might be able to vomit out a beta product by November or December. I remember quite a few folk predicting that Elop would rue the day he promised to deliver a device this year.

The next problem was the management purge. It’s rather difficult to remember that on February 11th, Nokia was still the biggest handset manufacturer by miles. To most internal executives — especially the rather vacant ones I have often sat in front of — the company was executing perfectly well. Shocking these folk into action was set to be a real challenge.

In the end many of the leadership team were removed, reassigned or given thanks-for-coming-stop-bothering-us deals to get them out the way.

But executing on the vision Stephen Elop laid out in February wasn’t going to be easy, especially given the ups-and-downs mandated by dramatic management changes.

So could Nokia deliver?

Here’s what I was looking for:

1. At least one decent handset allying Windows Phone with Nokia hardware know-how — something I’d at least consider purchasing and that the Great Unwashed would like
2. A bit of unique Nokia goodness added to the device — Nokia Maps on steroids or something like that
3. A revitalised Nokia brimming with energy, excitement, drive
4. The feeling that the lights are on and that the company was once again seeking a leadership position

This is precisely what I got.

Well, actually, I got a lot more — two new handsets, one at a modest premium of €420 (the Lumia 800) and the Lumia 710 at a far more accessible €270. Both will be free on contract — however Nokia’s focus is most certainly the developing markets that don’t necessarily thrive on operator subsidy.

The executives we saw on stage during the keynote were effervescent, excited, passionate and a true credit to the new Nokia.

We were introduced to the all new marketing campaign (“The Amazing Everyday”) replete with thumping base lines. Folk in the keynote audience were applauding. I nodded silently to myself, delighted.

Here’s the Lumia video:

And the concept advert selling ‘the amazing everyday’ now rolling out:

The whole package was there, including a whole new line of accessories that I’ll take a look at shortly. Nokia Drive, the new ‘maps’ product is looking fantastic (video). No need to bother with TomTom now. Just buy a Nokia Lumia and you’re done.

Nokia Music is another great example of the company applying its own services to the Windows platform. That video is here. It’s more or less like Spotify. Totally free, totally smooth, no username or password, no friction. I think consumers will really like it. It’s what the previous Nokia Music services should have been.

And then the hardware.

Well, you need to see it. You really need to have hands on with the Lumia 800 to truly appreciate it’s magnificence. It feels fantastic. It’s a pleasure to use. Now — I haven’t had more than a cursory hands-on experience yet but I am already feeling the need to stick my name down on the pre-order list.

Let’s not forget the next Billion — the first part of the keynote was dedicated to announcing the company’s next generation Symbian devices that, I shit ye not, actually appear nifty. Nokia was at paints to point out that it’s not all about an €800 handset. The whole planet will not be buying iPhone 4S devices. The hundreds of millions of customers across the (HUGE) developing countries need a different price point. Hence the focus on Series 40 devices that, goodness me, look pretty sweet. The All About Symbian team are working on their coverage if you’re interested — here’s Steve’s first look at the Nokia 700 running Symbian Belle.

I was delighted when — toward the end of the keynote — a live linkup with one of the company’s factories in Finland revealed that the Lumia 800 is actually being packed right now for distribution across key territories (Western Europe, in particular) starting next month.

So job done.

Nice work, Nokia. You have delivered. This is precisely what I was hoping for.

Now then — the next step is to get these products out to market. Given the amount of cash Nokia, Microsoft and it’s partners (operators, retailers) are putting on the table, I’m hopeful that we’ll see some good results by the 2nd or 3rd quarters of 2012.

When I bumped into Ewan Spence earlier (one of the key chaps at All About Symbian/Windows Phone), he pointed out that one of the most exciting points was Nokia keeping its powder dry. What he meant was this: What’s next? What is Nokia working on — right now — that we haven’t yet seen? If they can deliver this quality in 8 months, what will they be shipping this time next year? Will they be able to subvert the iPhone/Android paradigm? I think so. The capabilities of the Nokia Labs are legendary — we just haven’t seen much from them recently. What if Nokia actually started to — gasp — innovate dramatically? Oh yes.

So I’m pleased. I think it’s fair to say Nokia are back. Now, I’d like to start see them beginning to dominate the market.

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.

23 replies on “Nokia is absolutely ROCKING — standby for domination soon!”

Agree with you Erwan, Nokia is back, but not its European developer partners. Only one European partner was mentioned during the keynote, Rovio, all the other partners were mostly US based, including ESPN a US based TV channel!!. Compare that to the companies exhibiting at the Nokia World 5 years ago:
So Nokia might be saved, but in the process it has put the last nail in European mobile ecosystem. Too bad.

sure but if it goes the same way as Android and iOS, good luck to them to get some attention in Redmond to be featured on the store. I hope Nokia will remember its roots and have its own “app selection program” so that they can promote some apps from the Old Continent. 

Nokia already have an “App App” to highlight their picks in the WP app world. I think it has an innovative name like “Nokia Apps” or something similar (need more coffee…)

I’d love to share your enthusiasm but I suspect it is overblown. Are you really sure about Windows Phone UI? The swipe on the iphone might get on your nerves but that’s likely to prove to be nothing compared to how annoying the WP7 interface could be in use

A few thoughts:

Doesnt’ the start screen strike you as inefficient with only 8 tiles? For comparison the iphone has ready access to 20 apps and quick access to notification pulldown screen

If the tiles were an effective way of launching apps, why do they need the boring long list of apps screen as backup?

Don’t you think the actual applications “look and feel” with all that large font sized text and partial words is a bit annoying?

I haven’t actually played with the phones so my initial reaction is just based on the videos but I do think the UI looks annoying. I wonder if that view will be widespread?

ps Nokia Music is as much “more or less like Spotify” as a Fiesta is more or less like Ferrari

Mark, valid points indeed. I’m extrapolating that since the company has managed to deliver 2x phones in just 8 months — a phenomenal achievement — we should expect a lot more from them in the coming months.

I actually find the ‘Metro’ user interface a complete breath of fresh air. The key difference with the tiles is that they’re ‘live’ (or, they can be live, if you wish). So they actually display relevant information there-and-then, instead of you having to click-and-wait for the app to open before discovering if there’s anything going on (i.e. iPhone or Android style).

How will consumers react? I wonder. The chap from Phones4U (see other post) was hugely enthusiastic. Hugely. He reckons they’ll love it. I think it does look polished. It’s definitely not for everyone but then again, there are still folk buying millions of Symbian devices every day!

There are some glaring errors in this post, and I’m just wondering why?

> You couldn’t write off a million handsets a day in capacity, even if they were all (at that point) Symbian devices.

Do you mean capacity for Nokia factories to churn out handsets? Or sales? Symbian sales are nowhere near a million a day. S40 based handsets sell about a million a day. Surely, surely, you can’t possibly be making the mistake of Symbian = S40 like some other reviewers working for mainstream publications out there?

> [re: Lumias] Both will be free on contract — however Nokia’s focus is most certainly the developing markets that don’t necessarily thrive on operator subsidy.

Hang on, this is two entirely separate things you’re talking about. Lumia is not for developing markets – unless you’re talking about the minority of rich folk there. S40 is for developing markets. WinPho can’t even begin to come close to the price points that developing markets need, and the reason is because like all MS software it is an inefficiently engineered resource hog relative to say S40 or Symbian and needs much more expensive hardware to run.

> Let’s not forget the next Billion — the first part of the keynote was dedicated to announcing the company’s next generation Symbian devices that, I shit ye not, actually appear nifty.

Again, you’re talking about two entirely different things. The next billion is entirely relating to *S40* (and whatever it becomes using the Meltemi project). Next gen Symbian devices are indeed very nifty, but also include the update to Symbian known as Belle that will be free to all Symbian devices of the last year – N8 onwards, and provide an iPhone/Android class user experience. This is nothing to do with the next billion.

I will also say that the overwhelming reaction of people on Nokia-related blogs is either outright negative, or unimpressed, with all the WinPho related announcements. So that is interesting. And also the experience of people using early releases of Symbian Belle, and separately the N9, is that these are EASILY good enough to be fully competitive in the market place to date, and that the whole WinPho thing is and was not necessary. However that does not speak so much to the future where stronger arguments can perhaps be made in favour of alternatives.

I also don’t recognise Ewan’s story of Feb 11. Up to Feb 11 Nokia was doing very well. Finally with S^3 they had competitive phones, (better in some places, worse in others). Then Elop cut himself off at the knees with ‘the burning platform’ and surprise surprise Nokia smartphone sales tanked…. The irony now with Belle and N9 – they did genuinely have the keys to their future in their own hands instead of chucking them over to MS.

Timple you are actually correct, regardless of what anyone else thinks. The only thing that those in favour of a Nokia WinPho based future can argue, is the same as what Elop said – that for various technical reasons Symbian and MeeGo weren’t well set for the future. Personally I don’t believe this based on what I know of Symbian, and incidentally, what I have heard directly from a 9-year Symbian employee in person, and a MeeGo engineer’s blog, amongst other things. But….the WinPho camp could make the same argument Elop did.
Without being on the inside of Symbian and MeeGo engineering teams it’s difficult to say who is actually right. What is worth remembering is that it is 100% possible that the technical arguments against Symbian and MeeGo were incorrect and Elop was just making excuses, and that WinPho was pushed for other reasons [insert reason of choice here!].

Given that it is in fact *NOKIA* who are supplying key parts of the ecosystem for WP phones (that they and the critics argued was the main thing they were incapable of doing), the best bet would actually have been to give Symbian a WinPho-class user experience 6 months ago, along with all the other efficiency and bureaucracy improvements Elop has made, and make more MeeGo handsets. i.e. do everything Elop and Nokia have done, just do it for/with Symbian and MeeGo rather than WinPho which is a clear step backwards on multiple fronts (technically, sales, customer-allegiance, and even parts of the ecosystem – Qt is much more popular than WinPho. etc etc).

> The key difference with the tiles is that they’re ‘live’ (or, they can be live, if you wish). So they actually display relevant information there-and-then, instead of you having to click-and-wait for the app to open before discovering if there’s anything going on (i.e. iPhone or Android style).

You know this has been a feature of Symbian (and especially S^3) for AGES don’t you? And that WinPho tiles are limited, whereas Symbian ’tiles’ (widgets – and I’m not talking WRT widgets incidentally) are more flexible and better looking?

Just saying….there is still NO reason to have gone WinPho vs say Symbian Belle (and later improvements to Symbian). And it’s not a timing issue either – Belle was out earlier than Nokia’s WP handsets, and in more hardware flavours too.

I had a play with the new OS and it’s unbelievably good.

I will be watching how Nokia/MS can de-centralise themselves toward a hybrid approach to seriously ignite the dev community as ‘domination’ will be found in pervasive/systemic convergence across personal platforms and tools. Nokia’s approach to this virtualised convergence will determine their success rate.

That is bull. Angry Birds, Soundcloud, Spotify, Skype (before) Nokia Maps, all of the stuff I really like about my mobile devices comes from Europe. 

You pretty much mentioned all popular European Apps, now look at all the others mentioned during the Nokia keynote. 

and they were all launched 2-3 years ago when. I am talking about new app developers who will need to pitch their new apps in California or Redmond to be part of the selected new apps (instead of disappearing in the “long tail”)

Again, not true. I don’t know the keynote by heart, but in Amsterdam, Stockholm & Berlin, loads of mobile stuff is happening, on all platforms. And many of them are better than anything made in California.

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