Nokia is a forgotten mobile company. Sure, they still control 40% of the market, although that is shrinking, but truthfully, how many out there are mentally queuing up for their next garbled model number to be released? Who is putting their grandmother on the market in order to develop the latest in augmented reality for a Nokia, or, indeed, the latest, smelliest edition of Fart?
I have now had the privilege of seeing Nokia both from the outside, as a developer and user, and from within. Of one thing I am convinced: Symbian needs to go. It needs to enter maintenance mode.
To fully understand the extent of the folly in Nokia's recent reasoning, it is worth considering that the hottest product today, the iPad, arrived on the market almost exactly five years after Nokia's first Internet Tablet, the 770. It was touch based, ran a multitasking UNIX-based OS (like iPhoneOS), had a high resolution screen, did not have a hardware keyboard (again much like the iPhoneOS today), it had a full web browser, and it was capable of installing external applications. Sure, there were bugs and the user interface was a bit clunky, but they have had years to perfect that. Everyone I knew wanted a phone running on it. It was the perfect platform for the future and something developers were eager to experiment with.
Five years onwards and only now does Nokia finally have a phone running on the Maemo OS which powered the 770. Was this lazy engineering? No. It was internal company politics. This fantastic early product was not allowed to become the revolution it could have been, as it was deemed a geeky sideshow, an Internet tablet (hey, only nerds use the Internet, right?), and something that should not have a phone. It was not to be seen as a competitor for Nokia's number 1 platform, Symbian. The 770, and the products following it, were never seriously marketed to anyone. It was like they had this great thing going on within the company, and they had no strategy or idea what to do with it. Things happened despite the company, not because of it. Each product would be another experiment, with incompatibilities, bugs and weaknesses. It had no proper central AppStore, leaving users to find their own way through repositories and developers with no market to target. I ended up using my n800 (the follow-up to the 770) as a glorified sat-nav.
So instead of bringing out something that could change the world, and make a real stand, they continued with their strategy of pushing forwards an OS that everyone was beginning to hate. The old-fashioned and creaking Symbian. The industry was begging for something new, which Apple finally delivered.
Even as recently as the n900 launch I was told, when asking about its relation to the n97, that it was really a geek device whereas the n97 was the consumer device. I balked then. The n97 is a horrific example of how awkward the Symbian approach has become. It is horrendously slow, buggy, difficult to use, has badly managed networking, and has all those Symbian menus we love. There is no way I would pay to own a n97. There is even less chance I would recommend it to someone less techie than myself. On the other hand the n900 was a breath of fresh air. It was the device to prove there might just be light at the end of the tunnel. It looked sexy and had solid, innovative ideas. Why did this not come out two years earlier?
Don't get me wrong, there are still serious problems with the n900, but based on my brief experience with Android 1.6 (yes, I know it is old), I would actually prefer the n900. It is the right direction. Except that, yet again, the developers are going to have to move to a new platform when the next Maemo thing comes out (Qt + MeeGo).
The only way Nokia can hope to once more become the darling of developers, and to get their product focus right, with a stable and enduring platform, is to drop Symbian, at least from the touch devices. It serves no purpose whatsoever. Nobody wants to develop for it. Nobody cares to read about it. People feel embarrassed to use it. With Maemo or MeeGo (I cringe every time I heard that word), Nokia has a small chance of regaining mindshare and relevance. But to do that they have to put their foot down. They have to let developers know, in no uncertain terms, what the platform of the future is going to be. No matter how much marketing they do, that platform is not going to be Symbian.