Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Nokia: How to Destroy a Company - Part II

As I have mentioned previously, I have been a long time Nokia user. In first part of this article I linked to an article by Eldar Murtazin. In the second part I will take you through my experience of witnessing the demise of Nokia from the perspective of an end user.

Nokia's downfall can, in many ways, be termed parallel to the downfall of Symbian as a lead platform for the company. Symbian was the leading smartphone OS in the world till a few years ago. Not only it enjoyed support from Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson among others, it was also considered to be the most powerful and flexible.

Believe it or not, to the Nokia faithful like me, iPhone was a non-event. While having an attractive touchscreen interface, it lacked too many features vs Symbian (and even does today to some extent) to interest me. In fact I handled an iPhone and disliked the interface right away. Then there were other issues, like absence of MMS, multiple SMS recipients, and broken Bluetooth, not to mention the paltry camera. What we didn't count on was that Apple put smoothness of operation first and foremost, and did not hesitate from dropping features in order to ensure the quality of the user experience, and that would push the iPhone as the phone of choice for non-geeks.

Then Nokia promised a touch version of Symbian and announce the 5800 XpressMusic as its launch vehicle. With a 3.2 inch nHD screen, wifi, GPS, TV Out, and unparalleled audio, the phone had it all and easily beat the iPhone in terms of raw specs. Back then, smartphones used to be geek territory and owners were expected to put in quite a lot of labor into their phones in order to get them to work. iPhone changed all that under our noses but we were more concerned about what a phone COULD do, not HOW. And 5800 promised everything including the kitchen sink.

The phone launched and I paid an astronomical sum for it. The screen was resistive, which meant that it required pressure to be clicked, but I had been sufficiently blinded by blogs like AllAboutSymbian to believe that it was, in fact, preferable to multitouch (capacitive) offered by iPhone. I used to feel proud that the 5800's touchscreen could be operated by gloved fingers, a big problem in Russia but absolutely irrelevant to hot and humid Karachi.

So I got the phone and knowing nothing better, enjoyed it. The desktop was next to useless with just a big calendar widget and four customizable icons, followed by butt-ugly 'contacts' and 'menu' items underneath. Everything, from the clock to the signal bars, was clickable and served up the relevant app or setting. The phone lacked kinetic scrolling and all scrolling had to be done via a scroll bar. Yet, all this was cutting edge since it was 2008.

About a year later, the N97 was launched. It promised to be a revolution, and as usual, I bought into the hype. Two months later I gave it away to my sister, since its internal C: Drive storage of a paltry 50 MB meant that I had to clean web cache before every browsing session. Incredibly, not even a software workaround was offered by Nokia to address this. It was a pattern I should have been getting used to, but my jaded mind still insisted on Nokia being the best.

With their flagship set left in the dust, Nokia unveiled the N900, a stunning piece of hardware that ran on Maemo 5, the desktop-like Linux based OS previously used power Nokia's internet tablets. The set with its stunning screen and user interface, coupled to the stellar hardware, seemed to be a answer to my prayers and once I again I bought into the hype.

This time the hype lasted several months long. If you could get over the limited apps available for the set, all was hunky dory except for the fact that the phone only operated in landscape mode. Nokia had promised a firmware update within two months of release to enable portrait operation, but the placement of the lockscreen key meant that this was a promise Nokia did not intend to keep. So six months later I was with a phone that was uncomfortable to use despite its amazing hardware and software. I sold it in exchange for HTC Legend on a whim.

Within the first few minutes, several things struck me:
1) Android was far more user friendly and customizable than any other system
2) The desktop customization alone ran rings around anything offered by Symbian
3) Android Market was teeming with good apps
4) The contacts from Google and various services such as Facebook were seemlessly synchronized
5) Multitouch with kinetic scrolling meant that operating the phone after anything by Nokia was equivalent to driving a Ferrari after a motorcycle.
6) The Symbian app menu was and is a horrible place to be.
7) By sticking to conservative processors in the interest of battery life, Nokia ensured that their sets were slow and ungainly in terms of performance.
8) Nokia deliberately killed any hopes of being able to compete with iOS and Android by ditching Maemo and then Meego, and deciding to go with Windows Phone.

Within those few minutes I realized what I was missing by sticking to Nokia. The world had moved on. Nokia swindled its users out of user interface improvement by taking years to implement simple things such as kinetic scrolling and customizable homescreens. Today's Belle system by Nokia looks and feels like a pale imitation of the Android interface.

Having lost hundreds of thousands of my hard earned cash to faulty devices from Nokia, I will not regret one bit when the inevitable bankruptcy comes. The entire Nokia user base missed out on two years of innovation following the launch of iPhone and then Android, which redefined how mobile phones were to be used. Nokia had the guts to charge top drawer prices for devices which were clearly inferior. I think this way not by way of revenge, but simply because Nokia deserves it.

I will also hold blogs like responsible for criminally misrepresenting the true picture in the mobile landscape. Through useless, irrelevant comparisons, dreaming up fictitious scenarios where a particular Nokia set was destined to excel the rivals, meaningless comparisons, and offering ridiculous workarounds for situations where a rival system clearly had the functional advantage, blogs such as these ensured that their readers remained a false sense of superiority. Visit the blog today, read the forum comments and see for yourselves.

Interestingly enough, AAS banned me from using its forums about two years ago when I started blowing apart their bias and attempts to mislead users. That ban has only recently been lifted. Too bad I now have absolutely no interest in visiting that site except for comic relief.

How times change.

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