Over the last five years I’ve thought a great deal about Nokia’s fall from grace. I’ve participated in many forums and discussions around it’s strategy, and had a wonderful network of friends and people that have worked for Nokia. I tweeted yesterday:
This post is more about what has died with Nokia. It is told below as a story. As for a train wreck this simply isn’t the situation that was planned. Nokia wasn’t supposed to bleed money or lose so much market share. With Windows Phone failing Nokia had two choices. Adopt Android or sell to Microsoft. Microsoft had two choices. Buy Nokia Devices or give up on Windows Mobile and its devices strategy. Slapping Microsoft today on what was Nokia smartphones isn’t going to make them sell better. I suspect Microsoft just added a business that it will find valueless.
My Nokia Bedtime Story: Why Microsoft Will Never Find Nokia Love.
I lost a friend yesterday. For years we were very intimate. I held her tight in my hand, I don’t know how often I reached for her, shared a meal with her, captured my thoughts or enjoyed the world around me. She wasn’t perfect in the years we were together, although we bonded as if one. Still she was both sexy and sharp although it took some time to get to really know her and some of my friends found that harder. When she was at her best she was both music to my ears and color to my eyes. In my part of the world (California) she was less known, and yet I was both proud of her and willing to keep renewing our friendship reaching for the next new thing. In those years we flew together, I was one of her evangelists. I also provided some strategic input from time to time and I’d loved visiting her home in Espoo.
In 2005 my Nokia and I found ourselves in India for the first time. Now I finally understood what her motto and mission was. She’d always talked to me about “connecting people”. Now here in what was a strange and dynamic environment I finally understood her mission. She wanted to bring the world closer together and uplift the masses. My gal was world changing as I found out visiting the Amazon. She worked for a company that truly had a mission, values and cared. As I listened to friends of her’s in rural villages I came to understand how many lives she had changed and how deep her strengths and willingness to cover that last mile.
She saw and wished for better networks, connectivity and she found ways to go around constraints. How many people I’ve seen listening to FM radios, singing along with her. In many household I saw her take a role and place. Unless you have been there you can’t imagine how deep and intimate the relationships were. She seemed to be everywhere and with each change of clothes there was always someone who wanted the older hand me down. There in those rice paddies, dry deserts, or mountain villages she was finally overwhelmed. The potential was mind-blowing and heart-breaking. She lost track of time and changes and had grown arrogant and slow. She also took her eye off what was happening in America.
Then just over six years ago we began to lose touch. We lost that intimacy although I’d carry her along from time to time as her eyes were simply sharper and my life felt compromised. We’d separated. I kept hoping she would come back. My new partner was more sensitive to my needs and was giving me a whole new big screen picture of the world. My Apple had lousy eyesight although played beautiful music and before long I could shop for her and we were just doing more everywhere. For a few years I keep looking for Nokia to come back although each time we met I found her more cantankerous and slow. She still had that Finish beauty but inside there was something wrong. It felt like brain cancer although how am I to really know. When I did talk to her it seemed like on deaf ears.
Then in 2011 I heard she was going to have surgery. Her family had supposedly found the best and many hoped he could bring her back to life. I like many others thought they should have asked for a second and third opinion. Yet we had parted ways, our last real work together completed in 2010. Even then I knew she was very ill. Still many of us had to give the family the benefit of the doubt. Turns out the brain surgeon was a guy called Stephen Elop. He really had a mixed reputation before going to Microsoft. Apparently there he’d been the Office manager. I really wasn’t sure about either his bedside manner or how he might relate to my dear dear Nokia. He seemed to have the backing of the Balmer hospice who were willing to fund him to a few billion although I doubt for the betterment of the world. I think at first it went well. My friend despite her sickness was still printing money although had little love in the US beyond those of us that saw the bigger picture.
Then I read a letter. The surgeon described her as terminal. He was going to operate although she was still far from death. He had some choices although frankly unlike other surgeons never really considered the in-house solution and couldn’t stand those ogling the other open approach. He basically gave her an injection and set her afire. The Symbian fever was highly contagious and quickly escaped into the wild. By this time many were immune although those in emerging markets were completely taken by surprise and her mentors reacted as expected. They cut her off. First in China and then more slowly in India and Africa. She suffered while on the operating table as one by one her favorite shops and supporters closed or simply moved on to Sammy who was cheaper and ripping off everything she had once done.
The surgeon tried a full brain transplant although the equipment from Redmond was half baked and he had to go outside the family to create an impostor or doppelgänger. Of course no-one was fooled. When Nokia had dressed as a communicator she was all powerful, while in the villages she still knew how to light them up and play music to them. The Lumia treatment was strange and totally unfamiliar. Still the surgeon carried on. When the family played their Meego card the surgeon quickly called a stop to it and then started tearing down the house at Espoo to pay the bills. Increasingly there was no going back.
Nokia still undergoing Lumia treatment was released from hospital. Recently she was seen getting PureView supplements, and some of the old color was back. Yet I know from comments here and there that her brains were scrambled. She wasn’t the same and I could never have a relationship with her the same way again. She’d become a sort of evil twin, a mockery or something to be mocked. Her old friends didn’t want her back and the few that tried ended up frustrated and disappointed.
As of yesterday I learned the full truth. She had really died some time ago. Life is often weirder than fiction. She’s been Microsoft since that fateful day when Elop Osbourned the company . No wonder we could never really talk after that and that feeling was gone. My Nokia was a lost soul despite those deep inside that still hope to resuscitate her. Her new Microsoftian masters are not an organization that knows much about soul. They know about business. They don’t understand intimacy and don’t want to hear why I react the way I do. Yet I had years and years of Microsoft – always the blue screen of death – and then some reboot or more. Nothing ever got simpler. Microsoft will never understand the person (brand) I hold in my hand is unlikely to be them, that I don’t trust them, desire them or want any real intimacy from them. No I want total security and the partner in my hand to be reliable, long-lasting, loving and passionate. You see I left Microsoft before I left Nokia and my story is about the goodwill and pleasure that Nokia brought to my life. Those feelings are not transferable, they have to be earned.
Still I did not mean to make this story just about me. Back in the village the Nokia dumb phone is either still going, is replaced by a china phone, or soon to be replaced by a smartphone. The costs of always on connectivity continue to decline in emerging markets. In markets like India where 50% of the population is under 25 the smartphone is the single most important purchase they will make. The volume is in people, living lives and doing their business. There’s an expression that frames the emerging market experience with their first mobile phone. It’s “calls come to me”. It’s not that you can make calls, rather it is the value that the calls represent. The emerging world will shape the smartphones of the future. Yet real demand comes when one gets their first smartphone and they say “value comes to me” or it helps me save, get a better life. Smartphones are still unproven at the bottom of the pyramid and with illiterate owners. Nokia was one of the few that really tried to make a difference everyday. She knew a $50 or $20 smartphone would ultimately bring us all together in new ways. Today we know she died trying.
There is a lesson and a difference between what Nokia was, “an intimate partner” and just talking about mobiles as “tools for life”. While Nokia was promoting Windows phone I had some hope the transplant might actually achieve the values my dear dear Nokia held at heart. Today I don’t believe that is true. Microsoft doesn’t have that heart, that soul. For even if Microsoft tried to define their vision today they would put it in terms of a Windows computer in every pocket. That’s why they will fail to change the course of current history and can’t unseat Samsung or Apple. It’s not about computers. It’s about people. The secret that may have died with Nokia and I hope is reborn or has some second life sometime is the empowerment of personal relationships. Nokia’s connecting people was about empowerment. She strived for better lives possible even at the detriment to pure profits. For awhile she was queen of the world.
My current partner and I probably aren’t forever. Fact is at times I feel I’m straight-jacketed in this relationship and while I enjoy it I don’t love quite the same way. She’s a thing of beauty, a trophy, and yet slightly shallow. With Nokia I always felt we were reaching for a better world. One that was both more inclusive and more personal. One built on trust and empowerment. There is no doubt in my mind that is gone. I do have a good mate these days who I hang out with from time to time. His name is Android and many like him a lot. Still I have the feeling he want to eat the world and I’m never quite sure which clone I’m talking to. That’s soul thing is his problem too. We don’t know whether or not he really has a soul. Still he’s way more attractive and established than Microsoft and I don’t see anything changing that.
I almost wish I could turn back the clock, go back to school, or perhaps more realistically given my age encourage the next generation, the offspring to set to changing the world. Many of the pieces around next generation mobile are coming together. From context and location, to payments. Mobile is still a story for the people. There is no guaranteed certainty that Apple or Android will master the key dimensions as mobile takes on new roles in a fully connected world.
With 30000 employees ostensibly going to Microsoft I can see many dropping out and many more being let go. I trust they will fuel something new in Finland. Hard to believe that two companies and adjacent countries, Skype, Nokia and Finland, Estonia have fueled the communications revolution over the last 10+ years. These two firms (other than iPhone) have had more impact on changing lives than any other. Strangely they are now owned by Microsoft, both bought well past their peak. Let’s hope the cultures and the people that brought us both of these fantastic companies can still find a way to take society to the next level in communications. Nokia still has some key future pieces to reinvent itself and once again change lives. Perhaps its time to pull in the Estonians too. I’ll keep watching even if just for old times sake.
If you want to read two blogs – one short and one long by Tomi Ahonen on Nokia they will fill you in on many of the links and times related to my story above. There are hundreds of other reports out there.
My simple summary is. The Microsoft surgery didn’t work and killed the Nokia Device business. Microsoft still hopes to make a go of it and rumor is Stephen Elop may be the next Microsoft CEO. There is no love for the Windows Phone and slapping a Windows or Microsoft label on it officially won’t change it and will guarantee that no other company will be willing to now make them.
Finally, think about whether or not you want Microsoft as your keys, your wallet, your media center, your papers and books, or more involved in your personal communications, relationships. In other words Microsoft must take any relationship with you to a more intimate level to be successful. I believe this is impossible as unlike Nokia they have never seen my life through my pocket.
A few old posts – from me.
- HP – What’s your strategy? Steve Balmer’s Burning Platform – Applying Elop’s Burning Platform to Microsoft August 18 2011
- My Nokia Ovi Experience and Upgrading an N95 to Ovi Compatibility – Nothing was integrated, frustrating to use. Usablity failures became more obvious. Jan 4th 2010
- China Phone”” Beats Nokia N95 in Boombox Test Nokia missed the China phone challenge in India. April 29th 2008
- Has Nokia Crushed Skype’s Mobile Ambitions? Nokia could have beaten / had Skype beaten in Mobile. All the building blocks for it’s own facetime, February 1, 2007