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What are Nokia’s options?

| February 10, 2011 | 37 Replies

So we’ve seen the so-called memo, corroborated by a number of e-mails written to Engadget editors claiming its authenticity, we’ve had to live through the hundreds of rumours claiming that Nokia is edging towards the adoption of Windows Phone 7 and the associated ecosystem. Having little to no information from Nokia themselves and having not heard any firm denials of Windows Phone 7 coupled with the fact that the relationship between Nokia and Microsoft has become more than a formality given the employment history of Mr. Elop, we’re left with the following questions.

What is the current problem with Nokia?

What can be done to fix the problem?

How long will any fixes take to implement?

What is the cost of such fixes?

In the following post I’ll attempt to cover the following questions using the information that has been provided for us, in hopefully more detail and using more sound logic than the “analysts” have thus far provided us.

Problems at Nokia:

The memo details a few issues within Nokia that have been rather well known in the public sphere including the difficulty of writing for and developing Symbian OS which has seen a fragmented and diverse code-base over the years and thusly accumulating masses of code that are no longer applicable and/or useful.

The memo also details a lack of cross-talk between development groups working on different hardware and/or product lines and a distinct lack of sufficient communication and cooperation. Sadly another well-known truth.

Poor execution of both marketing strategies and implementation of ideas such as Maemo in its various incarnations have indeed led to a  ceding of the high-end market and associated profits to companies like Apple. Ovi Music, Files (cloud-based storage) and numerous other ideas were either poorly implemented due to either hardware limitations of devices and/or ineptitude of the managers of these projects.

Numerous engineers, designers and coders have complained about the stifling bureaucracy within the organisation and how difficult it is to get KEY, innovative ideas implemented without the support of middle-management.

This coupled with a painfully slow development and productisation process led to Nokia being significantly behind the curve compared to newer players with significantly less legacy and associated burden.

These problems aren’t new and have been covered time and again in the public domain both by blogs like ourselves but by Nokia themselves who have gone a long way with regards to recent restructurings in order to fix a significant bit of the problem.

Fixing these problems:

Reduce fragmentation and overall workload

A lot has been made of Symbian being an old, antiquated operating system with little to no future. I’d rather not get into that today given the number of times I’ve had to deal with the same issue. Rather, I give a look to the fragmentation and diversification of the code-base Symbian has built up over the years.

On current Nokia devices there are a number of different versions of Symbian.

Symbian 9.1-9.3 are all present on the touchscreen-less devices of their range with device prices ranging anywhere from 100-350 Dollars (pardon my lack of familiarity with European currency and device prices)

Symbian 9.4 is used on Nokia’s first touchscreen devices using S60 5th edition which in itself exists in multiple incarnations, S^1 and the pseudo S^2 used on the N97 and C6-00.

And finally Symbian^3 which is used on the E7, C6-01,N8 and C7.

Devices based on each of these different versions of Symbian were released in calendar year 2010 alone. The differences between each of these versions of Symbian are significant enough to warrant separate teams working to improve, debug and maintain them. Coupled with the fact that in the past, individual product teams responsible for individual devices or groups of devices used to create their own branch of Symbian code and created their own functionality, features and sometimes interfaces without sharing the majority of this work, we had a situation where producing a new device often entailed doing the same work that had been done many years before!

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It took until Symbian^3 for this practice to cease! Now Nokia have a common code base that is shared amongst all of these devices and used by all product teams.

The second issue somewhat related to Symbian’s history is the accumulation of code that makes the OS unsuitable to current use. While I can’t say I fully understand the technical details involved, it’s almost a certainty that there are a number of quirks inherent to the platform that have prevented the implementation of certain features (may include certain Qt API’s). In my limited knowledge most of the issues with Symbian have involved the legacy versions of the platform. Hence it’s my very honest opinion that anything NOT Symbian^3 should be dropped forthwith. The amount of work and man-power being dedicated to those platforms could be better used making their newer platforms better. And it’s my opinion that Symbian^3 can drop low enough to cover the gaps created by dropping the other versions of Symbian IMO. Focus on MeeGo for high end and use S^3 to scale everywhere else in the product range.

Encourage engineers and developers, get their ideas out the door!

While Google as a company have been involved in some questionable practices (as have all large corporations), one idea that has stuck out for me is their allowing employees a certain amount of time a week to work on their own projects which they can then share with the rest of the company and can subsequently find its way into their offerings. Gmail, Google news, Google talk and numerous other projects fall under this same umbrella of employee projects. Nokia has a similar set-up with their Beta-Labs project but I don’t feel like it goes quite as far as Google’s idea. I think that there are tons of smart people and brilliant ideas inside Nokia that have been stifled out of them or simply ignored by middle management.

Outsource!!

Nokia are a proud company and obviously felt like they were capable of doing everything pretty much inside, as evidence by Ovi Chat, Ovi Mail, Ovi Maps, Ovi Music, Ovi Files and the list goes on! Now while some of these have been utter successes, it’s obvious to even the most ardent fans that some things are simply a step too far for them. What they’ve often refused to do is partner with outside companies in order to provide services that they’re either ill-adapted to provide or would be too risky to attempt.

When the Nokia 5800 shipped in the US it came with coupons for Amazon videos on demand. Since then I’ve heard absolutely NOTHING about partnerships with media houses and/or secondary providers to push video content to Symbian or Maemo users either through an on device portal or an Ovi Suite hosted service.

This is just a single example of a sickening trend. If you really can’t do it in a timely fashion, outsource it, plain and simple.

What are their realistic options.

As the media has said time and again since Elop became CEO, the adoption of Windows Phone 7 as their platform of choice either in the short term or over a longer period of time IS possible and plausible given the tone used in the “Burning platform memo”. There are of course a number of issues with that approach including but not limited to the thousands of people employed by Nokia that are involved in Qt and Symbian who would in all likelihood NOT be carried over into any new partnership.

Then one considers their acquisitions such as Trolltech and Navteq in recent years and how if at all these can fit into the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem. Coupled with their own mail services, file sharing service, Application store and development framework, it’s pretty much impossible to see any long-term relationship between the two companies that doesn’t involve Nokia’s self-flagellation.

As mentioned earlier a viable option would be to kill other versions of Symbian and push S^3 lower in the product range while focusing the majority of their software resources on MeeGo. Producing a Windows Phone 7 handset or two in the interim is possible, provided that there are SIGNIFICANT benefits to Nokia’s own ecosystem later down the line. These may include but are not limited to content and services such as Zune Pass,  better Exchange and Office support and cloud services such as Sharepoint for the E-series devices.

Outside of that, Nokia could simply go on as usual with no changes to their plans and descend into a quagmire of mediocrity after losing the battle of mindshare and user-experience to those with significantly greater entrenchment in those areas. In any event, we’ll find out exactly what Nokia’s plans are by tomorrow and  hopefully those plans leave me able to continue blogging with the same verve and motivation that I’ve shown to this point.

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Category: Nokia

About the Author ()

So you've read something I've written. yay!! As you already know, my name is Andre and I'm currently a student based in Atlanta. Much like Jay, I pretty much blog here in my free time. Follow me on twitter @andre1989 or contact me directly at Andre(at)mynokiablog(dot)com. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions or suggestions.