Now, Nokia, what about the hardware?
Getting the OS right is only half of the story
Comment If Symbian is Nokia's "burning platform", has the Finnish phone giant thrown itself into the frying pan to escape the fire?
There's undoubtedly something desperate in the move. Nokia is spending way too much money promoting a platform, Symbian, that is commanding less and less market share. Where once it led, now Nokia has been forced to follow, buying Symbian to bring home to the operating system's developers the commercial need to catch up with first Apple and then Google's Android.
Symbian has a colossal customer base, but, like Windows Mobile, it is a platform that feels like a relic from a previous era. Pace Ovi, the public's interest in downloadable apps hasn't helped Symbian's smartphone aspirations because Nokia's smartphones are just not perceived that as such.
Nokia's smartphones feel like an extension of its older, messaging-centric offerings, not a bright new platform for a bright new category of handset. Nokia began developing smartphones when they were premium products for businesspeople. Now they're increasingly mainstream products for consumers, and the old approach won't work for these new buyers.
In short, it needs a new approach - and a new platform. Nokia could completely re-skin Symbian as an entirely new entity, which might appeal to punters, but probably wouldn't have enthused third-party developers.
It still has MeeGo, but it too feels tarnished by an earnestness entirely unsuitable for a consumer offering.
Apple's not going to license iOS, and HP has already acquired Palm for WebOS. HP's WebOS announcements this week, taking in not only smartphones but tablets and even PCs too, shows just how much it understands that the consumerisation of information technology products requires new platforms.
It's the hardware, stupid
Nokia has no choice but to start afresh - takes too long - or adopt Android and/or Windows Phone. Nokia rightly realises Android is plunging ever more downmarket, as hardware makers pursue volume over value. Android will become the Windows of the phone world: a commodity market benefitting the operating system's developer far more than those who license and use it.
And here's Microsoft, as motivated to revive a sagging mobile presence as Nokia is, and entering with a platform that is actually generating positive feedback.
Palm tried and failed to reverse its decline by supporting Windows Mobile, but this time Nokia is taking a fresh product that has the consumer buzz Symbian has largely failed to acquire, and which Windows Mobile never had, which is why Sony Ericsson's WinMo strategy was equally wrong-headed. Ditto Motorola's pre-Android efforts.
But the consumer smartphone market is not solely about software. Yes, Nokia needs to adopt an engaging new platform, but its also needs so reinvent its approach to how its hardware looks. Far too many, if not all, of its smartphones, even its most recent ones, have seemed like clunky, decade-old mobiles when sat alongside the likes of HTC handsets, let alone Apple ones.
This is an issue for all of the old-school phone giants, not just Nokia. Apple changed the smartphone's design language, and its most major competitors keep speaking the old tongue.
It doesn't matter how flash Nokia's new operating system is, consumers make their first bite with their eyes. If your phones look weak on the shelf, punters will not buy them. It took Samsung and LG a long time to figure this one out, but they got it in end. Nokia, so far as today's announcements go, has yet to show it has also learned the lesson. ®