Why People Buy Nokia

nokia.gifI have been following the news out of Nokia World and have been asking myself why people buy Nokia. My previous criticisms of the Nokia/Microsoft tie-up have been based more on a technical/developer/UI viewpoint. However, most people aren’t like me. What makes people buy Nokia phones?

Firstly, there is actually a technical aspect. For example, people who want a great camera might choose a Nokia. However I suspect such people are in the minority and could be classed at geeks and/or early adopters.

A larger group of users comes from Nokia phones being pushed by network operators. Will network operators want to promote Windows Phone more than say iOS and Android? It’s hard to say. Most operators have already dropped Nokia S60 so it will now be more difficult to get them re-engaged.

Linked to network operators are upgrades. In many countries users get pushed new phones at the end of a fixed term tariff so as to keep customer loyalty. Many Nokia S60 phones were distributed this way with most users not even knowing their new phone was a smartphone. Related to this is the end-user perception that if they select a phone from the same brand it will work in the same way and they won’t have to learn new stuff. Nokia Windows Phone will get some converts this way even if the people end up surprised at what they receive.

People also buy Nokia because of the brand. It’s trusted and actually has some credibility as a fashionable item (ok, not so much as Apple but definitely more than many Android brands). Nokia will definitely get a few sales this way. However, there’s evidence that brand is becoming less important and people are chosing a phone based on the OS. 

The final possibility is marketing. Microsoft will invest a huge amount of money in marketing via its OEMs. This has the possibility to cause a consumer led push for Windows Phone rather than an operator initiated pull. However, will this have any affect on a market that is already awash with iOS and Android and a mass market of consumers that are going through global financial hard times? Again, it’s difficult to say.

The Innovator’s Choice

nokia.gifLast May I wrote about deeper apps and how developers that used to prototype on Nokia S60 have now moved to Android as the prototyping platform of choice. I have seen this trend deepen and now, noone asks for a S60 proof of concept. The innovator’s choice of platform is important because it’s where the new things happen and represents the platform having tomorrow’s greatest apps. 

In moving to Windows Phone, Nokia have crucially lost these experimenting developers and companies. Windows Phone is far less capable for experimentation even if developers could have been persuaded to move across through some sort of loyalty to Nokia. Nokia now have an uphill struggle convincing developers that Windows Phone is the innovator’s choice. 

From the Microsoft side, early developers on WP7, who experienced WP7’s very small market share, also need to be convinced to enhance their apps to take advantage of Mango. It’s all a very hard sell.

Part of the problem is that Nokia and Microsoft are courting big brands rather than garage developers. They think that if the large brands create apps for the platform then people will buy the phones and other developers will also think that development is worthwhile. However, most of the apps created by these brands might as well be on web sites. They are just information. We have a dumbed down Windows Phone OS (compared to S60 and Windows Mobile) and dumbed down apps.

I have previously said that Nokia should be looking beyond the ‘here and now’ and not be trying to play catch up with Android and iOS. Tomorrow’s devices are more important with new input methods and form factors. Tomorrow’s software and developers are also important and Nokia (and Microsoft) should be trying to be the innovator’s choice rather than the big brand’s choice.

Decline of Nokia Not Offset by Others

idc.gifIDC has some interesting figures that show smartphone sales in Western Europe have reached a tipping point. Q2Q11 was the first qurater where smartphones sales exceeded feature phone sales.

The press release says "mobile operators stopped subsidizing feature phones in Europe". It would be nice to know why. Maybe smartphones have reached the stage (features and price) where it’s hard for feature phones to compete? Nevertheless, some feature phones, such as latest ones from Sony Ericsson have touch screens and act like smartphones.

Also of interest is that the whole phone market has seen retraction. 

"smartphone segment was strongly impacted by the sharp decline of Nokia, which was not totally offset by the remaining players, which may indicate that Symbian fans are holding off on their phone replacements until Nokia launches its Windows Phones"

This is the first evidence I have seen that might suggest Nokia’s gamble might pay off. However, I still think Nokia’s choice of taking up Windows Phone will be seen to be a big mistake.

Nokia R&D and Symbian

nokia.gifAccording to my web logs, my post yesterday on Nokia MeeGo and Belle was very popular. Some people agreed with me on Twitter. However, a tweet by Sebastian Brannstrom made me look at it from another angle. He said "I think an important factor is the staggering cost of Nokia R&D. They can’t develop at reasonable cost".

This is true. According to Bernstein Research, Nokia spent $3.9 billion, almost three times the average of its rivals’, in 2010. About a third of this was on Symbian.


While there were, no doubt, savings to be made in company inefficiencies, a lot of blame has been centred on Symbian. When I worked at Symbian in London in 2006/7, I was amazed that the people there were hit by the same problems as 3rd party developers. I had somehow thought that the difficult APIs and ideoms might have been mastered by the people creating the OS. Instead, a mindset persisted that things were difficult because they needed to be, to provide for an efficient OS. Things took much longer to do than, for example, on Windows Mobile on which I also had deep experience.

As I mentioned as long ago as 2005, and again more recently, all Symbian needed was something more friendly (e.g. dev libraries and UI) on top of Symbian. In fact, this is what Windows Phone became – a new UI and APIs on top of Windows CE. Nokia could have done the same thing (but much better with native rather than managed code) on top of Symbian. Nokia tried something similar with Qt but had problems agreeing a new UI and Qt mobility (device APIs) arrived too little, too late. Adapting the Qt dev environment acquired from Trolltech proved too difficult. A simpler native c++ dev library that both internal and 3rd party developers could use, and new Belle-style UI might have been all that was required.

Canalys Q2 2011

newcanalys.gifCanalys released their worldwide smartphone statistics for Q2 2011 yesterday. An amazing 107.7 million units shipped in the second quarter of 2011. Only a few years ago I was saying the smartphone market was small compared to the market for all phones. Today, smartphones are ubiquitous and mobile development is no longer experimental but mainstream.

Here’s a graph I have created from the numbers…

Canalys omitted the Symbian percentage from their press release but we know it’s between 12% and 19% as they said Symbian is now in third place. I have been kind and given Symbian 18%.

Canalys said "demand for its Symbian-based smart phones has dissipated very rapidly" and "Fewer than 1.5 million Microsoft-based smart phones shipped during the quarter, equating to a mere 1% share of the global market, down 52% against shipments a year ago". These figures don’t bode well for Nokia’s forthcoming Windows Phone devices.

Android is now shipping over twice as many phones as iOS and had the strongest growth in Q2 2011. However, I think the end game will be more interesting. 

Nokia Museum

nokia.gifIf you have ever done development on Nokia phones or even owned a Nokia phone, you should find nokiamuseum.com interesting. It contains just about every one of Nokia’s phones and currently lists 801 models. The early phone names are very entertaining … ‘Talkman’, ‘Actionman’ and ‘Cityman’. Just think if they used these names today.

Nokia and Qt

nokia.gifNokia reached a significant milestone today. However, more recent events at Nokia have turned something that would have been very significant into something very few people will care about.

What I am talking about is the release version of Qt SDK 1.1 and more importantly the possiblity to publish applications on Ovi that make use of Mobility 1.1 (i.e. significant useful device APIs). As long ago as December 2009, I was declaring Qt not fit for commercial use. Since then, there have been so many promises, announcements and tech previews but no way to publish a Qt app that uses significant device APIs. Today is the day that Qt becomes technically viable for many projects. What’s more, it now includes a release version of QML that provides a much easier Javascript-esque Qt development environment rather than having to use c++. Unfortunately, all this is less exciting now due to Nokia’s new strategy.

What can we all learn from this (Qt)? Release less, but more often. Analyse the technical aspects deeply before assuming ‘buying in’ a solution will dovetail with your needs. Think about timing. Particularly think about dependencies. Qt depended on future UIs that theselves were uncertain. If you fail, be flexible and think how things might be re-purposed.

Distimo April Report

distmo.gifDistimo have a new report that compares the various App stores. 

Extrapolating current numbers, Distimo predicts the Google Android Market "to have only 40,000 applications less than the Apple App Store for iPhone by the end of June 2011, and will close the remaining gap before the end of July 2011."