Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Chasing Rainbows

I admire Nokia. It is not so much the phones, though I am a real convert to the N95. It is more to do with the power of the corporate and the good sense of their strategy.

For years Nokia has maintained an incredible leadership position in Europe and been far sighted enough to secure sensational market share in the developing world.

More recently, it has read the signs correctly and re-oriented itself (or rather in the process of doing so) into a web company, executing on quite the most awe inspiring internal messaging to keep everybody on message and along for the journey.

It has also exquisitely judged this time - though not in the US and only after prior mistakes - when to launch its own content and media plays to rival and surpass those of the operators.

So, I think they are smart.

Today's announcement on buying out the remainder of Symbian and making it openly available to all is also smart. I'd like to say it is exactly what I would have done if I were Nokia but the truth is I did not see it coming (this time). Despite this long term admiration and applauding this recent move as the right decision I still think it is doomed.

I can see why Nokia has done it (or at least I think I understand some of the reasons) - it is partly in response to Android. Nokia can either promote its preferred platform for all and help embrace external development and interest, or it can watch as the world passes it by and Android and others gather momentum with Nokia forced eventually to pick a winner not-of-its own-choosing and run with it.

The strategy is sound but ultimately I cannot see the catalyst which helps Nokia achieve its goals in this regard. Symbian is still hampered by its complexity - rumours of Nokia being deployed to Siemens to help them launch its Symbian variant were apparently not exaggerated - and, dare I say it, a lack of glamour. Which developer would own up to getting out of bed excited to be developing something for Symbian when he can develop for Google's Android or the iPhone despite the lack of volume. Bragging rights definitely come into the community mentality here. And besides that Symbian (and its Series60 offshoot) is just more complicated - arguably so much so that Nokia needs it to be open source so it can help remove the monopoly it has on any meaningful innovation in the platform.

I am interested to see how Nokia seeks to make this a success. It is the right call with no reasonable alternative but it might just end up chasing rainbows nonetheless.

Updated: A more thorough analysis along the same lines here.

Updated II: Rafe has the definitive guide over on All About Symbian - as you might hope from the title!

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