I wrote in May of last year asking, only partially rhetorically, if this would be a make-or-break year for consumer electronics giant Nokia. And like many other pundits, I’ve offered my previous employer sound survival advice on more than one occasion  . Based on recent financial reports, nobody listened.
All facetiousness aside, here around the halfway point of this year it makes sense to look at the company’s situation again and see if any of Nokia’s remaining strengths can lift it up and turn it around.
Capacity and Reach
The one thing I was constantly impressed by when working for Nokia was the company’s manufacturing and distribution prowess. Its supply chain depth and expertise is second to none. Bottom line, Nokia can build and deliver like nobody’s business.
If that was all it took to put out the world’s most desired and respected consumer products then Nokia has the deal sewn up. But the best logistics in the world don’t make up for shortcomings elsewhere. It just means you can ship more of what nobody wants than anyone else.
Mechanics and Innovation
One of my complaints as an employee was that there didn’t appear to be a clear Nokia product identity. Yes, there were certain shared characteristics within product families but nothing that ever shouted “Nokia!”. I heard colleagues and customers express the same concern but somehow word wasn’t getting where it was needed.
While I’m discouraged by some Nokia moves the past few years, I’m thrilled to see the branding part coming together. I can look at an N8 and E7 and see the relative DNA. I can see Symbian Anna and MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan interfaces and know that, despite significantly different underpinnings, the user interfaces are produced by a design team with a cohesive vision. Love those squircles!
Some other peeves are being addressed, like pentaband capability on high-end models. Combine these progressions with Nokia’s winning camera and display technologies and you have a really compelling offering. In fact as far as I can see Nokia has failed to capitalize on what it does better than most. Yes Symbian was too slow to evolve, and still has some quirks, but customers will ignore some annoyances IF the device does certain, expected things Very Well. Apple proved that with the first iPhone iterations, omitting features that other smartphones already had but creating a highly-compelling user experience that led zealots to not only overlook but even defend iPhone shortcomings.
Nokia needs to cultivate zealots of its own, and actually had a powerful contingent until touchscreen devices became de rigueur. I’ve been harping on the company to improve its outreach efforts, and see promising signs here and there, but still no heavy PR push as is needed. But that may well be largely device-driven; Nokia’s best product, the upcoming N9, doesn’t run the Windows Phone 7 OS on which Nokia has pinned its future. Outreach campaigns may well be waiting, understandably so, for those Microsoft-powered phones.
The analysts, however, are already writing Nokia’s epitaph. Many believe Nokia has already passed that make-or-break point. Tomi Ahonen has been especially critical, which is interesting given his more favorable assessments in the past.
And when you read glowing reviews that pick the N9 over iPhone, you wonder if there isn’t a sort of self-defeating insanity infecting Nokia’s upper ranks– given that CEO Stephen Elop has hinted that the amazing MeeGo-capable N9 will be a one-off product.
But the reality is that no company is dead until it’s, well, completely nonfunctioning. Nokia is hurting now, hunkered down and licking its wounds. It may well not survive long enough to be a power player again, especially if the stock keeps declining. Its prospects certainly haven’t been helped by Elop’s original provocative statements about impending product endings. But… the company still has a wealth of resources, and I believe it can pull itself together and succeed again.
When I was a Nokia employee (2005 through 2009) it was easy to get caught up in unrealistic expectations. Say what you will from the outside, within the company there was an energy, a living spirit of Can-Do that could have led to greater things– had it not been squandered by executive arrogance.
That focus on possibilities served the company well in the past, as it morphed from one distinct industry to another, and can again. A fog of complacency settled over the upper ranks during the late 2000s, and maybe the resulting rapid market loss was necessary to shock them out of it. Some analysts believe that Windows Phone may well be the vehicle to launch it out of the ashes. And there are also interesting things going on with S40!
Assuming Nokia can hold on through the next year or so, it also has some exciting technologies in the wings. Like solar charging and haptics on steroids. I’m cautiously optimistic my favorite employer can fly again! As a stockholder I need to be.