Repeat the following words in your head: ‘Nokia Smartphone’. Say them again. And again… What images come to mind? The awesome camera of the Nokia N8? The fantastic keyboard on the E7? The despair as your phone is rendered useless as Symbian crashes for the 60th time that hour?
Most companies don’t get hardware. They don’t understand that customers want a phone that feels bulletproof, with good weight in the hand, and don’t mind if it’s a bit thicker if it feels right. They prefer clear screens they can see outdoors, rather than ﬁtting a bajillion pixels into something that your thumb can reach all sides of. They don’t get that there is no point making a phone as tiny as possible, and then ﬁtting a slide out QWERTY keyboard to it.
It get’s even worse when you look at cameras. There is no point having 12 megapixels if the lens is tiny, and the sensor is blinded as soon as it becomes twilight. You need to have the proper equipment behind the scenes to make it all come together. You need a lens up front that can capture the light you need. Perhaps one that has been to the moon, like the Karl Zeiss lenses used on Nokia’s camera phones.
The ‘thing’ Nokia doesn’t get, and it’s a big thing, is software. Whilst Symbian is perfectly acceptable in a mid range feature phone, it feels out of place on anything that even wants to call itself a Smartphone. With crashes, hangs, and freezes a regular occurrence; and features being there one model, not the next; Symbian gives a very buggy and inconsistent experience.
Did I hear you say software?
One company that does get software, and has managed to convince people to use it, is Microsoft. Their release of Windows Phone 7 in October 2011 changed the face of mobile Windows forever.
No longer a realm of tiny onscreen keyboard, styluses, crashes, slowdowns, and gaudy skins; Windows Phone 7 takes the Apple approach and locks the whole system down.
You can only use one theme, though you can change the main colour. Your home screen is ﬁlled with similar looking blocks (they’re called Tiles), and the main customisation comes in which order you put them.
Apps are tested by Microsoft before being put on the Marketplace, features are released as they become honed and tested, and if it doesn’t work; it doesn’t make it in. This all leads to one thing: a consistent experience. One that is reliable, enjoyable, and doesn’t bafﬂe as soon as you change to the newest handset. The problem with Windows Phone 7? The current batch of handsets are nothing special, and feel a bit cheap at times. The HD7 is a modernised HD2, the Mozart is a Desire, and the LG handsets are just… well LG.
A marriage made in heaven?
What we see here are the two main weaknesses. Nokia’s weakness is that its software is, in a word, shite. Microsofts? The current WP7 handset manufacturers aren’t putting enough love into it.
But take the love and attention Microsoft are giving to Windows Phone 7, and mix it with Nokia; a handset manufacturer known for it’s great hardware, and one that is in dire need of a way to secure it’s future? You may just have got the perfect pairing.
If Nokia continued as they were, they would not have been long for this world. The company was losing money, unable to secure a foothold in some crucial markets (*cough*the US*cough*), and were losing some of their more loyal customers. With the appointment of Stephen Elop (a former Executive at Microsoft) the company decided to stop this spiral, and perhaps try and get back to altitude.
They have put all of their eggs in a basket, and shipped that basket to Redmond, Washington. They have committed to making all their smartphones Windows Phones, and Microsoft have rewarded them with more free reign than any other smartphone manufacturer when it comes to WP devices. Nokia’s more loved services, such as Ovi Maps, have been rebranded as Nokia Services; and will make their way into Windows Phone over time.
The two are truly working together. Only time will tell if this was the right choice.
Should it have been Android?
The last thing the world needs is another Android handset manufacturer. It seems every man and his dog, and his dogs pups, and their aunties, and their owners, and their grandmas (confused yet? I know I am); are making Android handsets. Every single one of them looks different, every single one of them works completely differently, and every single one has different apps that will and won’t work on it. And guess what: that annoys people.
Symbian was already starting to annoy people, and a switch to Android would have driven some of those crazy. The handsets would have been running vanilla Android, or a Nokia overlay. Let’s look at why that would suck.
Vanilla Android: There’s a reason why everyone makes their own overlays for Android. The vanilla version is boring, and can be daunting to new users. This would put off new users, looking to move to Nokia Smartphones.
Nokia overlay: Were you not reading when I said that Nokia suck at phone software?
What about the Young Ones?
We’re not talking about Rick Mayall and friends here. We’re talking Samsung Mobile, HTC, Apple, etc. These companies may have less experience than Nokia, but seem to be doing alright. Should Nokia just step back, like a proud father heading to retirement, and let the new kids on the block tear up the market? Should they go kicking and screaming towards the old people’s home, trying to teach the new guys how to do it?
Nokia still have a bit of ﬁght left in them, but how much is yet to be seen. Even if they do leave the handset market, Nokia still has a massive part to play in the world of Mobile Network Infrastructure. They will never truly leave behind the market that made their brand what is is, but their role may certainly change.
And if all goes to pot, maybe Microsoft will just buy them and start making their own phones. They did it with Xbox, Zune and Surface. Why not add phone to that mix?
Do you think Nokia were right to jump in bed with the big friendly giant from Redmond? Would you have rather seem a friendly green robot welcoming you on each reboot? Are Nokia betraying their loyal fans? We want to know your opinion, so don’t be shy…
Sam Hutchings is active on Twitter at @Smutchings where he describes himself as a ‘…full Time nerd and technophile’.