Nokia is one of the few companies in the world which does not need enemies or competitors to spread lies, rumors, fear, uncertainty and doubt on it’s products – as the company is way ahead everyone else on that. Maemo and Mobilin marriage and conceiving of MeeGo is prime-example of that. Just few months ago Nokia launched it’s new Linux based Maemo phone N900 to excited audiences around the world. But now headlines read that Maemo will be gone – merged with Moblin – without a clear message on what does it all mean on users who already purchased this interesting Maemo 5 based device.
Ari Jaaksi – head of Maemo – has been carrying on the message in his blog that this news is great for the community and great for the users, but comments on the forum and his blog postings tell the tale: people are not so impressed and are afraid that their recently purchased mobile computer will be obsolete in few months of time. Are those fears irrational or is it natural to feel like that?
I’d say both.
Communications and actions from Nokia have always been more or less showing the middle finger to existing customers. They have created really interesting devices, but never really had the energy, effort, know how or style to make anything more out of their small mobile computers. As soon as you have purchased the phone, you have been on your own with the features, software and ecosystem that came with the phone. By then Nokia has moved to something new and touts publicly their next new device, which actually is just a small incremental improvement to what ever you have. You are left wondering what happened – and why you were such a sucker to purchase something, when something better was just around the corner. When phones where just phones, this was acceptable and understandable as features, software and services people used were the ones that you purchased with the phone. Only few users in general population used to download and install additional software to their phones or use additional services.
However Apple truly changed the game, culture and ecosystems around mobile phones.
I can’t name any iPhone user who hasn’t installed additional software to their phone, and who wouldn’t get more value out of their phone at the moment than before. Experience with Nokia these days is quite different. I used to be an avid user of two Nokia services: Widsets and Nokia Sport’s Tracker, of which one was killed with the launch of Ovi Store. Big announcement of making Nokia Maps free was small disappointment when free versions were initially available only for few selected models and users with older phones were greeted only with trial version of new Nokia Maps instead of ’free’. Though Nokia promised getting new software also to older models and I assume situation has improved already, message has always been clear: Only the latest phones and new users are what matter, existing users better purchase new phone. Nokia reserves the right to change direction on a dime and drop support to any phone or service if it feels so.
And based on that it really is no wonder that there is little trust on Nokia. And that is a shame.
Looking these issues with 10’000 feet perspective business goggles on Nokia is doing really rational moves and building solid software development infrastructure, giving developers one API (QT) to program against and gain access to both desktop and mobile environments. So in longer perspective this is great and really promising and could be long needed consolidation of mobile linux efforts to create interesting ecosystem of devices, software and services. At the same time though Apple and Google are working with their closed or semi closed environments and gaining real ground on markets and in user acceptance.
If end users like products and services competitors are making, then Nokia’s future success will be much more harder to accomplish – as switching costs for users do not include just the device, but also all the software and all the services on their existing platforms. Hence Nokia can lose the game, even though they would have the best hardware and most open ecosystem. Openness itself is not a priority to users while the rules of the closed garden do not limit their life and creativity – and especially if closed system provides benefits that no competitor can beat. Openness can be important value to business ecosystem and feed innovations, but unless these innovations are relevant to consumers – end users – this openness will not drive consumer business.
Do not get me wrong. I think openness is good and it is clearly a good direction for Nokia, as they already lost their game with their closed OS – not being able to create comparable success as Apple or Google recently did with their control over hardware and software stack. Nokia needs to be open to get people on their platform and get people to develop services, which would create more traction to the sales of devices. They need people to take them seriously as creator and provider of stable platforms, ecosystem and monetization opportunities, but at the moment they are doing quite sucky job at it – except for companies who are writing software directly for Nokia.
As an end user I hate this situation. I really would have wanted to get N900 computer, but I am afraid I would make a mistake compared to buying iPhone and just enjoying everything the ecosystem is already offering. N900 might be better device, it might have better operating system and open environment – but at the same time it seems abundantly clear that it will take time and huge effort before Nokia’s linux devices get real ecosystem and comparable amount of innovation going. As a consumer I am not interested in developing or tinkering software on my own, even though as a geek I would love that. If N900 would be great deal cheaper device, I would love to have it as a device and do all sorts of things with it – but the reality is that it is really expensive small computer with very limited amount of software to use. And therefore the consumer in me says that I would enjoy my life more with iPhone.
And this is a problem for Nokia.
Even though Nokia has had intriguing dialogue with the geek in me it has failed to convince the consumer in me.
Nokia has worked for few years now building it’s community under Maemo and atleast based on amount of activity on maemo.org it has succeeded in creating open source community. But that community is light years away from making and driving business to the platform.
There are lot’s of things to be done. And for me, a really important thing for Nokia would be to get their story and narrative in order.
And it seems that they might be trying. Atleast are hiring someone to be Head of Customer Dialogue Management: