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back to article Why Nokia failed: 'Wasted 2,000 man years' on UIs that didn't work

When Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced that Nokia was abandoning its development of its own smartphone platforms and APIs, and betting the farm on somebody else's, many people asked why it was necessary. Nokia had spent 15 years trying to develop and maintain its own software, which it regarded as strategic to maintaining its …

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Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope

"Europe lost its last global technology platform. "

Not holding out any hope for YouView then? :-)

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(Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

Re: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi; you're my only hope

Well, there's Sky. That's a platform, I'm not sure how global it is...

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Hope

It's not yet released is it? The author is talking of tehnologies that are present on the market. Hope is there always :)

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NO Maemo

Article misses out on the N900 Maemo device, another flag ship, nokia next best thing that has now been left with linux geeks and third party updates.

which I own.

This will be my last Nokia.

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Anonymous Coward

reply

I went back to using my E90 and put my N900 in a drawer hoping for a port of some OS that works.

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it's actually in there...

...but you have to look quite hard:

"The Linux team, beavering away on the long-term replacement for Symbian, devised one based on Gtk. This didn't use Qt either, and was also abandoned."

This seems to be a reference to Maemo, to me. Of course, the implied timeline is I believe incorrect; Maemo with its GTK+ interface existed before Nokia bought out Trolltech and announced it was throwing all its eggs in the Qt basket, so it's not the case that the 'Linux team' was writing a GTK+-based interface at the same time as (and in internal competition with) the Qt side of things. The Qt switch essentially undermined Maemo, in fact, by forcing a perfectly decent Gtk+-based UI to be entirely redesigned and redeveloped with Qt, which was one of the major sources of delays in getting a Meego device out.

(I run an N900 too, and with the current Community SSU I pretty much love it. The only thing that really annoys me is the lack of a decent native Google Maps app, using the mobile website kinda sucks. Let's hope that running-Android-apps-on-Maemo thing that's been in the news lately shows up soon.)

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You are lucky

Open source OS (in true sense, having community) is immortal.

Just imagine you bought a shiny new Symbian device and feel lucky.

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Unhappy

I agree... Why?

I will never understand why they did not want to continue development of Maemo. Like you I own an N900 (which I bought, unlocked as soon as it came out!) as well as the older N800, which I still occasionally use. But Maemo seems to have stopped all development, other than a little maintenance of some apps by 3rd party developers, so I'm seriously thinking about sticking Android on the N900 - someone has already done the hard work.

Like you, right now, I can't see me ever buying Nokia again. Great shame.

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Unhappy

NITdroid

I tried NIT droid on my n810 and it sucked balls and is no longer being worked on :( anyone know of some more up-to-date android software for the n810 ?

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Linux

For the same reason they've abandoned Meego

Open Source is about free developers, and prying free developers away from Android is going to be pretty much impossible. Nokia simply do not have the resources(or ability) to be sole maintainers of a mobile linux fork.

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As I tell to Symbian owners

It is not like some LISP AI app read news on websites and N900 decides not to work fine.

As long as GSM/3G standards are in use and there isn't a huge flaw in OS, it will keep working just like E90 does.

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FAIL

Major fact fail

Regarding Symbian quote on page 1: "With its mature and well-debugged phone stacks, it is better for phone calls than any other smartphone: it drops fewer calls, the calls sound better, and it uses the antenna better. Symbian's power consumption and performance on comparable hardware are also best of class, despite the baroque middleware added over the years by Nokia."

Sadly you have been quite badly misinformed, Symbian in the mobile phone architecture had very little to do with anything mentioned above other than battery life. Symbian didn't have a phone stack and it wasn't in any way responsible for call quality or reliability.

All these were the job of the device manufacturers custom or off-the-shelf radio interface devices (radio modems). In the early days these were simply controlled like any other wired modem using AT commands but then moved onto much more comprehensive interfaces as data became more prelevant in mobile devices.

The only correct part of above is that battery life was improved, that was mainly because of the nature of the Symbian (it's heritage from Psion) meant that it actively encouraged application developers to reduce waking CPU events to reduce power consumption.

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Boffin

well said

Well said. I used to work for a large semi company that made the SoCs for the phone companies. The telecom software stack is almost entirely supplied by the semiconductor company (phones using Nokias own custom ICs might be an exception).

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Timeline a little wonky

Thanks for noticing my epic.

You've got the timeline a little wonky. Hitchcock/Alf and the Maemo 5 GTK+ based UI toolkits were both started before the acquisition of Qt. Otherwise this is quite accurate reporting for you.

Oh, and I was actually working at the Symbian Foundation (freelance writing and then contracting before going permanent) before there were any employees at all.

I think it's too early to count Qt out yet within Nokia's strategy, even if it's not on Windows Phone.

Mark

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Oh and just to be clear

"The question as to why Nokia surrendered its independence lies in why it took so long to engineer a competitive UI, and then under new management, decided that it couldn't."

If you read the blog carefully (sorry, it's long) you'll find that Nokia hasn't decided it can't engineer a competitive UI. Indeed it still needs to do that to avoid completely nose-diving in the smartphone market this year. My speculation was that they don't feel they can compete with the likes of Apple & Google alone, their pockets are no longer deep enough.

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Tech for teks...

Just to set the context: I owned a N95 for around 3 months - and I still own a N800; it made an excellent ebook reader for several years.

Nokia's key problem was that they seemed to focus on reproducing the "PC" experience in your pocket, as per the advertising campaign for the N95:

http://igadgetlife.com/gadgets/mobile/film-mag-has-2-full-page-n95-ads/

However, the vast majority of people don't like using a computer: computers are complex and they only use them because they have to. The stroke of genius in Apple's approach was that they effectively threw away the "PC" architecture and switched instead to a set of single-tasking, focused apps which did one thing and did it well. Meanwhile, Nokia was still badly gluing technology together (e.g. after clicking "write a new SMS", you then had to click in the "text" space to launch the virtual keyboard on the N95) and still thinking in terms of the PC UI (e.g. the UI didn't support drag-scrolling; instead, you had to use the stylus to push the narrow scrollbar at the side up and down).

.. and that's why I sold the N95 and after dabbling with a few of the cheaper touch-screen phones (e.g. LG Cookie - a surprisingly good little phone!) I ended up with a HTC Desire, running Android.

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N97 surely

You must be talking about the N97, the N95 didn't have a touch screen and was actually a quite nice device to use.

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*whistle*

@Shaolin: you're right; I got confused after digging out that old advert.

Now, where's my s/95/97 regex got to?

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Business as usual

"Nokia's culture was steeped in hardware. It thought software happens magically, or in a software factory, or something like that."

Meh. Sounds like most hardware companies to me. I think it's deliberate. Flaky product can be 'fixed' by selling the next model. There's money in that. There ain't much money in rolling out a firmware patch :(

Actually it sounds like a lot of companies full stop. My own isn't much better and we actually are a software house. They give you schedules for specific things to develop but you have to fight like hell for refactoring or process streamlining. Even if you get an acknowledgement or - heaven forbid - an actual project it's still lower priority. If you don't work on marketing's Next Big Thing you get bollocked. If you don't work on an 'engineering project' no-one cares.

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Exactly

You could happily replace the word Nokia with Sony in the quote, and it would still ring true.

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FAIL

and Philips

I was going to make the same point but both Sony and Philips came to mind.- both hardware companies without a clue how to make a good software UX for their devices.

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Grenade

So true

I've had the exactly the same "software factory" phrase in mind. If it's a factory-like effort it totally makes sense to replace expensive engineers with cheap ones, and fragment development teams across multiple sites around the world.

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Nokia has gone from one extreme to the other

Nokia seems to be have been run on the concept of internal conflict - that each group would be semi-autonomous and almost in a state of perpetual war with other groups, and that somehow this would cause the best products to fight their way to the top. It didn't work for the Nazis and it didn't work for Nokia. Instead it allowed rivals with a singular vision to design compelling smart phone OSes while Nokia dithered and fought itself.

Something had to change. But they have not done themselves any favours by selling out to their enemy Microsoft. They've destroyed their R&D capability and they will suffer hugely in the long term, just another OEM churning out Windows branded phones. And if Windows fails to catch on then woe betide them. Other manufacturers like LG, HTC, Samsung have their fingers in many pies and will find it far easier to jump ship than Nokia will.

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Megaphone

fingers in the pie

A very excellent point.

It may not be a bad idea to drop the software idea and go with the best hardware you can slap together. But, focusing upon an incomplete and inferior software solutions is pure nuts. And it will likely ruin the company for all time.

Six months from now Nokia may realize its mistake but it may be too late. Changes are the branches will be trimmed such that six or eight months down the way they will not have the staff to even consider going with the Android market as well.

And there will never be any differentiation with the Microsoft phones. Microsoft will not allow it.

Taking some money now and paying high license fees later is going to doom Nokia. It will never be competitive with Android devices. Not in price. Not in technology. And not in hardware either. Just look at the Atrix, Zoom and others.

Yes, there is going to be a lot of competition in the Android space but going with Microsoft does nothing to help Nokia compete. The Microsoft platform today is inferior in many ways. And Microsoft will preclude the kind of products Nokia may need in order to compete.

I can just imagine the trouble Nokia is going to have once the Android tablets get going in 2011. Not to mention Android phones, etc. Nokia will have one phone model constrained by Microsoft. And it will cost too much. Microsoft will insist upon getting a license fee for each unit sold. And Nokia will be limited in flexibility and strapped by high license costs.

If you design and develop hardware you compete against the likes of HTC, Motorola, etc. Elop thinks he must compete against Google. Google is not the competition at all. Handset makers are the competition. And all of those competitors have Microsoft too if they want it. And they can drop and run with Android if that makes sense at the moment. Nokia is strapped. Even if the Microsoft OS is successful Nokia still can not win.

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Tablets

Yeah I think tablets will really set the cat amongst the pigeons. Microsoft aren't even talking of tablets until 2012. In the meantime, Nokia & WP7 will be competing against iOS devices of various sizes and Android devices of various sizes.

I don't think WP7 seems like a bad phone OS from a technical standpoint. Maybe it's a little immature but nothing a point release or two wouldn't fix. The problem for Nokia is that it's not their OS and they have extremely limited opportunity to customize the experience, change the direction of development. It's not their OS, they're hardware is a slave to the OS. If they had gone with Android (for example), they could have skinned the hardware & software six ways to sunday, thrown in a QT platform, thrown in Ovi and come out with a distinctive phone offering. As it is they'll just be another WP7 OEM, up against an enormous ecosystems based around more popular phone OSes.

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True, but..

As much as I think a "losers' alliance" like this makes little sense, I have to say Nokia's user experience has been pretty weak for a long time.

I remember people talking up the Nokia UX (though not with those terms;-) ) back in the 90's. By 2005 blackberry was the dominant smartphone and UX had a lot to do with it. Then of course RIM too lost out as the iPhone pushed expectations to a higher level still.

By now, they are so far behind the curve, that there may be little value lost in sacrificing their ability to customize the UI. I also doubt the other phone manufacturers will persist with their custom UI's over Android, now that Google has hired an interface design team.

What Nokia really lost was their in-house development strenghts which could have been directed toward producing apps for their phones, had they chosen Android (which given their linux skills, they might have been better positioned to support).

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Also Microsoft..

"Nokia seems to be have been run on the concept of internal conflict - that each group would be semi-autonomous and almost in a state of perpetual war with other groups, and that somehow this would cause the best products "

Microsoft has been like that for years, especially with regard to database, indexing and search technologies, but application frameworks also come to mind. It's just as much a headache for internal Microsoft product groups to navigate these warring factions as for customers, as those groups may sink or swim based on their technology choice.

That said, the biggest competitors that Microsoft often has (NB I didn't say "always") are internal, so by the time it squeezes something out the door, it can have faced down some pretty tough alternates.

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@hitmouse

The thing with MS is that even they know when enough is enough. Look at the minor war that erupted between Kin and Windows Phone 7. Someone whipped out the axe and killed Kin dead. In an ideal company they wouldn't have gotten so far along as they did, but when it came to it, MS acted and acted decisively.

I do think there is a need for competition between groups and competing techs but when they become important enough to be of strategic importance, someone has to be able to make a decision to back one and kill the other.

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Anonymous Coward

So they made the right decision to outsource the o/s to WinPhone7

Clearly, Nokia was a hardware shop at heart. Able to make tin, but not able to make a simple, cosf effective, useful o/s.

They had years to get it right and repeated attempts failed to fix it.

So in a bold move, they put all their shit o/s versions in the bin and backed a major o/s player and pocketed $1 BILLION in the process.

I think they will look back on this as a good decision.

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Gates Horns

The gripping hand of it is ...

they should actually have opted for a simple, cost effective and useful o/s.

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Boffin

Re: So they made the right decision to outsource the o/s to WinPhone7

Maybe your analysis would get you an MBA or whatever, but the point is that you can't just point to some software as an interchangeable box in an architecture diagram on a PowerPoint slide. And what Nokia's execs have just done is an extension of the "delegate it to someone and maybe they'll come up with the goods" strategy failure described in the article where "Windows Phone" has now replaced the text in that box in the diagrams, and the execs are looking smug about their supreme PowerPoint skills.

The real solution to Nokia's problems would have been to give control and influence to the people actually delivering the goods and to stop other people sniping away at those goods, insisting that only they can deliver products because they were traditionally the people tasked to do so. Pruning some of the "skunkworks" (more like "makeworks") projects would also have done some good.

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Stop

picking a slow horse looses the race

A decision to focus upon hardware may be valid. But, picking just one OS to run with is a huge mistake.

Nokia's competitors are HTC, Motorola, etc. Focusing only upon Microsoft is a huge mistake. That horse is slow out of the gate and may never catch up. And even if it does, Nokia looses out on the entire Android marketplace.

When you have no idea who your competitors are, you are bound to lose. Google is not a Nokia competitor. They do not make handsets. And now Nokia does not make software. Basing a decision on trying to find competition for Google is a huge mistake.

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Gates Halo

It's always fun to knock MS...

...but not always the right thing to do. Right now, MS are busy buying apps for their platform at a terrific rate- paying developers and companies to build versions of apps for their new platform. At the very least I can see this leading to WP7 taking a lead position in the business market. If they can get into the hands of the businessmen then they'll propagate from their to normal people.

Don't forget that MS was slow into the PC market (and not the best) but they eventually managed to dominate.

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as i was saying

Fyunch !

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Bronze badge

Good to see...

..some people still read Larry Niven.

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WTF?

What the?

"Don't forget that MS was slow into the PC market (and not the best) but they eventually managed to dominate."

I'm having trouble understanding what you mean by this statement because Microsoft was there at the inception of the "PC market".

If you are including what came before (apple ][, Commodore, CP/M etc) in your definition of "PC market" then you have to realise that MS were not even attempting to do operating systems back then. They had no intention of doing any such thing. They wrote a version of BASIC for CP/M and later copied VisiCalc with their MultiPlan spreadsheet and that was about it.

They fell into the operating system market by accident when the IBM PC was launched and have completely dominated that area since day 1 (and not through technical superiority I hasten to add).

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WTF?

You cannot be serious!!

"At the very least I can see this leading to WP7 taking a lead position in the business market."

Where I work, the people who are given mobile devices for business are currently ALL given Blackberries. The previous phones were all iPhone 3GS units. Nokia & Android not even in the running. I think when it comes to business, RIM have got a very solid product that gets the basics right *for business* - not as a toy, and they will not surrender that position easily - if at all. I think pressure from employees may give a reasonable share of the business market to the iPhone, but I don't think Microsoft will be able to make much impact.

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Boffin

Weird sensation ....

being 44, but young at heart I'm getting more and more of these moments, where people in their 20s tell me (wrongly) "how it happened" ... I know - I was there.

There are many examples in history (some within living memory) where products have eclipsed the market, despite being technically inferior to their rivals. The reasons are myriad, but usually revolved around the fact that the purveyours of the more advanced product didn't see how they could fail.

Betamax is the absolutely textbook example - and explains Sonys behaviour from the 1980s to the present day in so many ways.

The IBM PC took off, because:

1) it was "IBM"

2) IBM licensed the bus design, allowing "PC clones" to emerge in no time

3) Supplying an almost bare-bones box allowed *other people* to design, build and market extensability ...

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Anonymous Coward

Different strokes ...

Where *I* work, they have standardised around WP7 devices ...

perhaps we should have a "fight, fight, fight" icon ?

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Gates Horns

Why?

Is there a lot of fighting there in Microsoft?

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Headmaster

and

Jerry Pournelle, don't forget.

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One Nit...

Actually, the original PC bus (eventually designated the Industry Standard Architecture or ISA) dominated precisely because IBM did NOT license it - but rather, didn't sue those who blatantly copied it for free. IBM later changed their mind, and introduced licensing fees to use ISA and their new 16-bit MicroChannel Architecture (MCA) bus - but rather than pay licensing fees, the clone masters created the 16-bit Extended ISA (EISA), became independent of IBM (but not Microsoft), and changed history.

Microsoft was lucky to get an initial ride on ISA, but they ruthlessly killed their competition by every means, fair and unfair, to gain OS dominance. It appears that era is ending...

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700 RIM devices in one day

I spoke with a Nokia shop which I obviously won't name. They say a large company ordered 700 Nokia E72s and switched the order to BB 9xxx series right after that idiot's speech made into bloomberg wire.

If you go to any finance site and compare RIM share graph to Nokia OVJ past 3 months, you will be amazed at verification of this story on global scale.

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Q&A:

=================

Q&A:

Simple reason why Stephen Elop is Trojan Horse Inside Nokia For Microsoft

======================================

http://forum.dailymobile.se/index.php?topic=42289

* a Trojan Horse who wants Nokia to lost his ability of independency ASAP.

* When Nokia discard all it's investment to get 20% market share(already a remarkable number) for WP7. That is extremely great for MS. But not for Nokia.

* People never miss HTC if it is closed, because they just like Android. A Trojan Horse takes advantaged of this.

* It's not partnership for every partner keeps it independency for protecting self interest. NOKIA is conquered but with respect for the current position in mobile world and the weakness of WP7.

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20% share? They are dreaming

Windows phone 7 OS? 20%? Whoever came up with this projection has lost their mind.

The only way to gain 20% on phones is time travelling to 90s taking all the rivals with you. I bet Windows phone guys trust to .NET lockdown (unlike Icaza monkeys claims) but it won't take too long before ms faces the sad reality and ships an equal, genunine .NET portable for android and rim.

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Great write-up

And I'm looking forward to reading Mark Wilcox's blog post.

I hated my last S60 phone (E65) because it was slow, buggy and inconsistent. It was so frustrating that I "downgraded" to S40 for my next phone. It was fast, sleek, lovely to use and the battery lasted for ages. When going to a smartphone I was so tempted by the N8, persuading myself that S^3 was ok really and it will only get better. The battery life and hardware were great too. I almost bought one but I'm glad I didn't. But I've gone with a BB Torch, which means I'm unfashionable and weird, so what do I know ;-).

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Linux

meegotouch

One more UI library not really talked about in the article, in the Linux team libdui was replaced by the meegotouch library (or renamed to that perhaps?) and its use was mandated by the agreement with Intel.

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The curse of MS

Wonderful. Nokia loses the phone market to devices that do everything well except making phone calls, which they, Nokia, excel at. I have one, and it does.

BTW, are you sure that Elop is his real name? It reads better the other way round...

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FAIL

euros and bureaucracy

Reading this about Nokia makes me just shake my head as almost the same story could be told about Infineon (which did personally affect me). Granted lots of other companies in other countries have self destructive bureaucracies (M$ being a prime US example) but continental Europe seems to nuture bureaucracy about as well as anywhere else in the world.

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Other Nokia Niggles

Stupid non-usb-based charging

Preference for ever weird voltage variants of MMC storage instead of SD.

The early tablet devices being "not a phone"

These stopped me buying Nokia devices even when I was thirsting for them - these inexplicable faults were the "dead critter" in the drinking water.

(Rather like HTC's preference for locking the bootloader so that I have to use their software - so even though HTC hardware is the best I never buy it).

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