[EDIT 9 Feb 2011: A leaked memo from Nokia's CEO admits problems, and confirms several of the points I made in this article. They're making a significant announcement this Friday]
[EDIT: 11 Feb 2011: Nokia have offically announced a tie up with Microsoft to use Windows Phone]
Nokia has had a lead in the worldwide smartphone market for some time. With a range of Symbian devices they had an exceptional amount of market share and held a dominant position. But then it all went wrong, and fundamentally it was because they didn't push the product in the correct directions. I wish it wasn't the case. Here are my top reasons why the Nokia/Symbian combination is declining:
- Binary incompatibility - The change from S60v2 to S60v3 meant that all applications had to be recompiled for the new devices, and that meant that developers had to ship and support two versions of their software to cover all devices. And at the same time mandating signing with a registered key didn't help encourage developers either.
- Screen resolution - My N80 had a resolution of 352x416. The N95 which was the logical successor as the flagship Nokia Symbian device had a resolution of 320x240. I wanted something with at least the resolution of the N80 but Nokia couldn't sell me one - that ultimately lead to me defecting from Nokia at that time for an HTC with a VGA (640x480) display. I even discussed this with an assistant in the Nokia shop - his personal phone was the HTC I was considering...
- Touch screen support - Nokia already had a history in resistive touchscreen technology with the communicator range of devices (Now the Internet Tablet range such as the N810/N900) but they took way too long to put it into their mainstream handsets at a time when touch screens were taking off. Nokia were one of the last manufacturers to get a touch screen into the mass market (the S60v5 based 5800 two years after the iPhone) which they could have got away with if the OS wasn't buggy and it lagged slightly in resolution (640x360)
- The iPhone - lets be honest, Apple came into the market and released something that was end-user focussed. It lacked some, well many, of Nokia's features but packaged them in a way that was slick and just worked. While Nokia were moving from S60v2 to S60v3 with little significant benefit to the end user or developer, Apple captured the mindset of the customer from Nokia in the 'it just works' stakes.
- Applications - ignoring the binary incompatibility issues already mentioned, Nokia never quite managed to market smartphone applications properly. If they had this aspect right they might just have overcame all the other shortfalls. I was an S60 smartphone user for years because of the potential of the devices (6600, 6680, N80), but Nokia and the other S60 providers never quite realised the potential the way I hoped they would.
[EDIT 21 Jan 2011: And they're still not making the effort. They've got some NFC-enabled handsets and have had for a while (although, bizarrely, not the high-end ones) but they haven't pushed the technology. Now it's being hailed as a major exciting feature in the Nexus-S and (probably) the iPhone4. WHERE ARE YOU NOKIA???]
Worldwide Nokia still has the edge in 2010 but in the US it's a different matter with RIM, Apple and Android well clear of Windows and Symbian, and the worldwide picture is sure to see Nokia lose that position in the not too distant future.
Sad, but true. Here's hoping the appointment a few months ago of ex-Microsoft business exec Stephen Elop to replace former CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo (Nokia's first non-Finnish CEO) can have a positive effect on Nokia's rapidly declining smartphone fortunes.
Despite defecting from Nokia after the N80, I am now back again with the excellent N900 Maemo handset. It's the first handset I've ever owned where a year after getting it there still isn't another device I'd rather have, which is quite an achievement. good display, video out (for TVs or projections), hardware keyboard, high quality audio output, Skype/GTalk video calling and VOIP still make it an unparalleled piece of kit.