No quick fix
Nokia wanted a "quick fix" to remove some of the worst UI niggles from Symbian, for the next release, Symbian^3. It wouldn't make it a modern-looking experience, but it would have removed some annoyances. Some things you had to tap once, others twice, for example. But Symbian^3 became delayed as more features were added. Wilcox calls it "the slowest 'quick fix' in history".
Shades of grey: Meego's Touch UI
Ironically, by the time Elop was unveiled as new CEO in September, Nokia finally had its developer story sorted out. At least on PowerPoint, if not in practice, with QML as a quick and easy way of writing applications that really do run on both Symbian and Linux, and a slick environment called Qt Quick. Nokia retains this strong team of core Qt gurus (it hived off its Qt services business, aimed at in-house developers this week). But it's all now rather moot; the platforms are "burning". Meego is a research project and Nokia (somewhat optimistically, perhaps) envisages a twilight era for Symbian during which Nokia expects shift a further 150 million devices.
You may disagree with one aspect of Wilcox's excellent account. He says the creation of the Symbian Foundation didn't add significantly to the delays. "There's a common misconception that Nokia wasted a lot of time opening the source to Symbian while Apple and Android were running away with the market. This is simply nonsense. The IP checks and configuration management changes would have taken at most a couple of weeks on average for every developer in the Symbian development organisation," he writes.
Accounts differ. The fact is, open sourcing the code required (in Wilcox's own words, from the foreword to one of his books) "disentangling third-party technology from the platform" and "sanitizing the code base", and this took two years of painstaking legal processing, by which time nobody was interested in licensing Symbian. In addition, there really was no "Symbian development organisation". The Foundation was an administrative and support unit, while Nokia had several thousand Symbian developers. So there were really huge costs to the spin-out. If nothing else, an independent Symbian (as it was from 1998 to 2008) may have been able to execute more quickly away from the shadow of Nokia's bureaucracy.
But aside from that, there can be little arguing with Wilcox's contention that management was ultimately to blame for allowing the infighting to continue for so long.
There were consequences, just when Nokia needed a coherent developer story. Developers were advised to write to the old S60 APIs - the only API guaranteed to be supported across Nokia's Symbian phones. The Ovi services and simpler applications (widgets) were written to a simpler, but cruder "web run time", or WRT. It helped to contribute to the market reaction to Nokia's 'iPhone-killer' the N97, backed with an enormous global marketing budget, in the summer of 2009. Hardware decisions giving the device insufficient memory, or an old-fashioned screen, didn't help. But with a flood of more modern and attractive Android devices arriving on the shelves, many Nokia loyalists voted with their feet.
Wilcox adds: "This was a horrific management failure in both not breaking down the technology strategy even a couple of levels to the point where everyone was on the same page and not recognising the problem and fixing it much, much sooner in the development process."
Another developer familiar with the in-fighting writes to us:
"Nokia's culture was steeped in hardware. It thought software happens magically, or in a software factory, or something like that. If all Nokia's upper managers are like that, then it is obvious that they had no clue about the implications of different UI APIs. They should have been fired for gross incompetence."
With both Linux and Symbian platforms, 80 per cent of the code did not need to change to make Nokia competitive once again. With Symbian, the code had been written over many thousands of man-years, and only the top 20 per cent (at most) needed to be refreshed. Yet Nokia couldn't deliver this. For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost. ®
Mark Wilcox's 'What Happened to Nokia Software?'
Nokia globally outsells all other mobile phones and only faces any real competition for the top slot from Samsung and LG. What the fuck does Elop think he is fixing?
fingers in the pie
A very excellent point.
It may not be a bad idea to drop the software idea and go with the best hardware you can slap together. But, focusing upon an incomplete and inferior software solutions is pure nuts. And it will likely ruin the company for all time.
Six months from now Nokia may realize its mistake but it may be too late. Changes are the branches will be trimmed such that six or eight months down the way they will not have the staff to even consider going with the Android market as well.
And there will never be any differentiation with the Microsoft phones. Microsoft will not allow it.
Taking some money now and paying high license fees later is going to doom Nokia. It will never be competitive with Android devices. Not in price. Not in technology. And not in hardware either. Just look at the Atrix, Zoom and others.
Yes, there is going to be a lot of competition in the Android space but going with Microsoft does nothing to help Nokia compete. The Microsoft platform today is inferior in many ways. And Microsoft will preclude the kind of products Nokia may need in order to compete.
I can just imagine the trouble Nokia is going to have once the Android tablets get going in 2011. Not to mention Android phones, etc. Nokia will have one phone model constrained by Microsoft. And it will cost too much. Microsoft will insist upon getting a license fee for each unit sold. And Nokia will be limited in flexibility and strapped by high license costs.
If you design and develop hardware you compete against the likes of HTC, Motorola, etc. Elop thinks he must compete against Google. Google is not the competition at all. Handset makers are the competition. And all of those competitors have Microsoft too if they want it. And they can drop and run with Android if that makes sense at the moment. Nokia is strapped. Even if the Microsoft OS is successful Nokia still can not win.
picking a slow horse looses the race
A decision to focus upon hardware may be valid. But, picking just one OS to run with is a huge mistake.
Nokia's competitors are HTC, Motorola, etc. Focusing only upon Microsoft is a huge mistake. That horse is slow out of the gate and may never catch up. And even if it does, Nokia looses out on the entire Android marketplace.
When you have no idea who your competitors are, you are bound to lose. Google is not a Nokia competitor. They do not make handsets. And now Nokia does not make software. Basing a decision on trying to find competition for Google is a huge mistake.