Analysis: The Fall of Nokia
Nokia Bochum Plant - Alongside Finland, this was the place from where the best premium phones came from. Nokia shafted this facility for the likes of Hungary, Bulgaria and China
Along the way, Nokia has made many notorious choices. Nokia once stood for exceptional quality. Even the simplest cheapest Nokia phones were durable, were robust, were reliable, and were operationally sound. Nokia also started to cut corners. Phones were built in Finland, Germany etc. But in the past few years they moved production to the East, causing a lot of ruckus
- and losing valuable governmental contracts in the process. Time and again, this resulted in delays, problems, dissatisfaction. The N97 was not an isolated case of a bad product. It's a bit like what happened with Mercedes-Benz cars some years ago. What once stood for ultimate excellence, suddenly had production problems, quality problems, time and again.
What phone has an infinite battery life? What phone even in normal use has 'too good' battery life? Not a single one. Nokia knows this, they knew that their devices will be used for all kinds of consumer entertainment, and if you start to watch some videos on the phone, its battery drains rapidly. And Nokia used to be the phone you wanted wherever electricity supply is not reliable (or available) - why, because every tiny village with a gadget store will stock some spare Nokia batteries and chargers. But suddenly some pinhead in Nokia HQ decided that 'we need to be more like the iPhone' even though iPhone users themselves were begging Apple to give them user-changeable batteries - but no, Nokia got the i-madness, and released phones where the battery is no longer changeable by the user. This also marked the death of Nokia's universal charger. Such moves alienated heavy phone users - I would not even consider buying one for which I can't get a spare battery - I always walk around with a spare battery for each of my phones that I use. An utterly stupid decision. Even if that was only 5% of Nokia users, it is customers who otherwise would have been loyal to Nokia, who were driven away - I am sure HTC, RIM and Samsung took a disproportionate share of those customers.
Example of this madness is also departure from the microSD standard. First - Nokia is so clever and innovative, that they offer us the hot-swappable microSD slot like on the E90 Communicator - a godsend for swapping media data, whether your favorite music or the movie you want to see or you need more capacity for pictures etc. And so loyal Nokia customers buy expensive high-capacity microSD cards. What does Nokia do? Makes themselves incompatible with previous Nokia phones! Previous PREMIUM Nokia phones. Utter madness! No problem, these customers will notice that if they like their QWERTY phones, the Blackberry will support microSD very happily. And for nice touch-screen phones, Samsung Galaxy phones support microSD.
Nokia has systematically been adopting idiotic ideas from the iPhone, which are not industry-conforming, and in particular, which will infuriate loyal Nokia owners. Like that silly slider keypad on the N97 and the N900 - who was the genius that cut one whole line of keys to make a weird keyboard. It's like a QWERTY but it's not a real QWERTY - like the worst of all worlds! Thus, after a couple of weeks of struggling with it, many loyal Nokia owners returned the N97s in massive numbers and told friends: don't buy it.
ABANDON ICONIC PRODUCTS Imagine if you are General Motors and you manufacture the Chevrolet Corvette, an iconic sports car, sold at a very high price above the price of an average car. The 'Vette' has a fiercely loyal user base in the USA and cult status in most other car markets. The Corvette has been consistently a profit-generating model and also it is used as a showcase car and high-priced aspirational car, to promote Chevrolet and GM as sporting brands - i.e. used as the pace car at the legendary Indy 500 race, etc. Now, we know that Toyota introduced the Prius in a totally different form factor. There would be nothing crazy for GM to 'copy' a Prius and release its own hybrid car [Volt]. But for as long as the Corvette is still selling profitably - it would be utterly crazy for GM to 'discontinue' the Vette in favor of the Prius.
This is exactly what Nokia has done. Nokia had two truly iconic premium phones, so explicitly known 'Nokia' phones, that almost any 'clone' that tried that form factor would be assumed to be a Nokia. I am talking of the Communicator i.e. 'palmtop' clamshell body style with full QWERTY and massive screen; and the N92/N93/N93i Series i.e. 'contortionist' body style which folds many ways, including the way that typical videocams now look - camera shooting in one direction, with the screen flipped and turned so we can see from the screen what we are shooting in video mode. Both of these form factors, in their last models - the E90 Communicator in 2007 and the N93i in 2006 were award-winners and widely celebrated by the industry. The beauty of the N93i was, that it allowed exceptional optics - something you cannot do in a slim 'iPhone clone' phone. And the beauty in the Communicator was obviously the widest most comfortable QWERTY screen as well as allowing the fitting of the biggest screen conceivable.
So what does the Nokia management do after the iPhone comes along? They first release touch screen phones like the N97 and the N8, which 'are not iPhone clones' and 'are not iPhone killers' while clearly attempting to create phones that copy the iPhone look and feel - like GM trying to do a Toyota Prius - but the sheer madness - Nokia announce that they won't release more phones on the N93 form factor and while not expressly saying so, seem to suggest there will never be any more Communicators either. This is madness. If it was actually possible to 'out-do the iPhone' and Nokia's N8 would now be selling better than the iPhone, I would be ok with the above. But Nokia was winning, then they panicked, and decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory! Nobody is going to match Apple in user friendliness; that cannot be done. Hundreds of PC makers tried for 27 years to defeat the Mac and they never ever managed to do it. No, let Apple have its 'customer satisfaction' corner - for pure touch screen phones - and don't try to fight that battle. Go for those areas that Apple is not pursuing i.e. QWERTY+touch hybrids and pure QWERTYs. And there - don't cut the corners! You have another rival for QWERTY now, and that's the Blackberry - far better at 'narrow QWERTY' - where you do have to fight RIM. The only part that Nokia has 'to itself' more-or-less is the wide QWERTY; mighty Communicator. Don't abandon that! Apple refuses to meet you in that battle and RIM probably knows better that it would be a costly battle to try. You own that, Nokia! If you are known for the best QWERTY wide keyboards then make darn sure that every one of your QWERTY keyboards is indeed the best on the planet. This is the corner you cannot cut! Else you lose your loyal customer - a hard lesson that needed to be learned with the N97. Cameras? Nokia's partner is Carl Zeiss. Why not release every single year one new superphone that is the best camera/video phone - on the other 'iconic' Nokia form factor, yes N93. And raise that camera to 12 megapixels and beyond - with 3x (more more) real optical zoom and with Xenon flash etc. Yes, make it a touch screen phone too, obviously, but this is a form factor and type of phone, that Apple refuses to do. It's your market. After the premium super camera+smartphone, then offer cheaper models, like BMW does its 7 series and then 5-series and 3-series - using the same folder form factor, offer a smaller touch screen and lesser optical resolution, like an 8 megapixel camera for a mid-price point, etc. This is how money is made.
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