Message for Nokia: It’s the OS, Stupid.

14 Feb

Unlike the general market’s reaction to Nokia’s decision to dumped Symbian for Microsoft’s mobile OS, I feel rather reticent about the latest move. At best it is laughable, at worst, we have another disaster in the making. No point in feeling angry, or even sorry. Then again I might be wrong. It would sad seeing a tree chopping company made good in the mobile industry only to see it gravitating to its roots, pardon the pun.

I’ve grown up with Nokia. My friends, my family, my wife – we all used Nokia. But we ditched it. For 2 reasons: quality issues and limited software for its Symbian OS. Had Nokia been making phones that last a reasonable time, I may still be using it today, albeit as a back up phone. The Symbian OS was really nothing to speak of, and I felt sorry for the executives who bought their business phones like the Nokia E7. They will have little or no support in the coming months, since Nokia has decided to dump its OS.

Nokia CEO Elop mentioned in this memo that they were standing on a burning platform. However, I don’t think they have all jumped into icy cold waters as some, like Richard Windsor of Nomura Securities have said. Rather, I think they might have missed their footing altogether and are falling into an abyss, never again to rise. Some people just forgot about Palm’s experience.

When Palm (who?) was in it’s heydays, they had the business world. Almost every business executives and even students use a palm. Even as newer phones with much better features came on the market, Palm and its devices held their own for they have a loyal following. Perhaps not as fervor as iPhone’s following, but still loyal. The reason for the loyalty wasn’t because of the hardware, but because Palm was noted for it’s OS. In fact, they were the first to come up with the threaded sms messaging feature, which proved an instant hit. It still is.

However, someone apparently got complacent and greedy and subsequently, the company was broken into 2 units: one for developing Palm devices (so that they could either have Palm OS handsets or “YIKES!” windows mobile smartphones).  The other, to concentrate on developing the Palm OS and sell it to other handset makers. The result, which was expected, was a quick sinking of both the divisions into oblivion. What’s the point of buying a Palm device without Palm OS? It’s like a body without its soul. When it comes to technology, beyond the bells and whistles of the hardware, it is ultimately the OS that makes or breaks it.

Now, where does this marriage between Nokia and Microsoft leave them? To begin with, Symbian was dead long ago. But Nokia held on, in part because they made sleek-looking phones with some reasonable features. As a brand, Nokia still holds a big advantage. And that counted too. Had they courted HP/Palm and decided to use WebOS (now I’m assuming that there’s a mobile edition for WebOS phones) for some of their new devices, they might gain some new grounds (with ex-Palm users like me) and perhaps with some slick marketing, they could even convince their existing customers to try switch to the new platform. But Windows 7? Many have tried Microsoft’s Windows 7 and the response has been lukewarm. A few of my friends, who in spite of my advice against it, bought Windows 7 phones only to regret it immediately.  For Nokia to ditch its OS overnight and not being able to commit to a date in releasing it’s first Windows 7 phone would be a step too dangerous to tread. Alas, not only did Nokia tread, they jumped.

Honestly, I don’t think many of their customers will be waiting around to see the mess.

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