Fear, uncertainty and doubt – or how Nokia stumbles in communication with consumers

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:

http://tyopaikat.oikotie.fi/avoimet-tyopaikat/x/434806?sRef=PremiumJobs

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3 vastausta artikkeliin: Fear, uncertainty and doubt – or how Nokia stumbles in communication with consumers

  1. John Doe sanoo:

    (Finland does not need the Russians anymore to screw it and it cash machine, the Finns are doing it themselves, in blogs.)

    Nokia never promised that old hardware will be upgraded with new firmware. Updates are delivered all the time but once you buy a Nokia product you have it with is current OS version for the duration of its life. That’s it. And this explains haw Nokia can have so many phone models, each satisfying the needs and price range for a certain market segment. Updating E71 with Symbian 9.3 (not to mention 9.4) would make no sense and nobody can justify the costs. N900 will be forever a Maemo 5 device, N97 will be forever Symbian 9.4.

    If a user does not understand what he is buying then the user is stupid (whether it blogs or not). Don’t extrapolate Apple’s one product strategy to Nokia’s current offering. It does not fit and it is not supposed to.

    The situation is different with apps and Ovi Maps is a good example of Nokia’s effort to make the same features available to all customers. Not an easy task considering how many device models with their hardware constraints developers have to cover. Of course that app will not be available on all devices at once. So what? Want to bitch about something? Then bitch about the fact that in some countries, the free Ovi Maps service offers an almost empty map. Now that would be something to expect Nokia to improve.

    Unlike any of its competitors Nokia has to support (to some degree) 7 generations of its products, to say the least. Every now and then you hear of a Nokia customer in APAC using still a Nokia 7650 or 6600 and being happy with it. On sites like Yahoo! Answers customers of Nokia are asking still about apps for S60 2nd Edition devices, N70 being notably common. Can Nokia be expected to provide the same level of support for all its devices, forever? No. That would make it a victim of its own success (popularity and product quality and robustness combined).

  2. Branedy sanoo:

    John Doe, or who ever you are, that is why the iPhone is called a ’Game Changer’ that is why the Nokia ’Buy it once, and never support it again’ philosophy is over, past, done with. If they no longer wish to participate in the new game, they can just give up and sell dumb feature phones. Thats more and more sounding like a prescription for brain dead management practice in my opinion and I suggest that if Nokia doesn’t change, they might be the next motorola. because if you think that the customer is going to stay ’stupid’ about the Nokia ’sell and dump’ program, you’d be wrong.

  3. huima sanoo:

    Thanks ”John Doe” for you comments. Though I don’t agree your arguments about screwing with the cash machine I appreciate your comments.

    I honestly believe that openly talking about Nokia and Nokia’s products could help the company and communities around it’s products. I truly want Nokia to succeed – and create great products and services… and employ thousands of Finnish engineers also in the future.

    Nokia’s game and strategy is different than Apple’s, no doubt about it, and you iterated challenges Nokia has in supporting it’s vast product portfolio around the globe. Nokia has and has had excellent recipe for success in traditional phones – and that is also what I tried to say when I commented about how consumers purchased purchased the phone and everything came in a package and expectation levels were set by texts in the box ’Sales package includes’ and ’Features’.

    What I tried to communicate is that when Nokia competes in the smartphone category with products in similar price points as the iPhone and expensive Android phones they need to communicate better with their consumers and manage expectation levels properly.

    No doubt that N900 is a magnificent device – I’ve already blogged about my limited experience with it and that I really lusted after it – and even though there would not be any more updates or no new software, it can still be great device and of great value to it’s users with everything it has now.

    With the same 600 euros ( +- something ) users paid for the device, they could have purchased some other smart phone – for example iPhone and tap into that really vibrant ecosystem. However they wanted something else than iPhone and purchased N900 with some expectations in mind about Maemo being the thing with which Nokia is competing against iPhone and Android.

    As you can read from Jaaksi’s blog and Maemo.org some users who made the purchase feel let down, though rationally there might not be any reason to feel so. Calling those users stupid, as you suggested, might also be in order – but I don’t think it is appropriate or right.

    Like I said, strategically and technically Nokia is doing really interesting things and right moves. But they have still long way to go and – at least I think so – they would need to communicate better with their end users.

    There are only so many chances to screw people over. And even though your intention wouldn’t have been to screw people over, if people think you screwed them over – it counts.

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