With each major variant in the Maemo Device line, Nokia enjoyed incrementally increasing success. Its conservative “test the waters cautiously with a toe tip” approach cultivated a small but determined community eager to demonstrate that mobility and open source were a match made in electronic heaven.
This is okay for skunkworks and limited release projects. Not so much for paradigm-shattering advents.
The relatively tiny Maemo citizenry found themselves strongly challenged by the Apple iPhone and its committed evangelists. Few in the burgeoning Apple ecosystem have been overly concerned with the default restrictions (that grow steadily stricter), including developers.
You see, commercial developers are largely concerned with one thing:
The sort of phenomenal sales the iPhone has enjoyed tempt application developers with an offer they can’t refuse: they can lower their app retail prices to ridiculous levels knowing that they’ll make more money selling a million $1 apps versus several thousand $50 ones.
Outlets like the App Store potentially level the playing field. The trick is to make your clever game or utility stand out against thousands of its peers. But the bar to entry into iPhone app sales nirvana is fairly low, leaving developers with essentially just the need to produce something attractive and wrap a compelling viral campaign around it. And if you as a developer come to the attention of the right players, you’ll find them very willing to get you the necessary exposure.
Mobile device blogger Jeb Brilliant appropriately takes Nokia to task for falling behind in the App Wars and suggests the company get busy coding. This isn’t so difficult to accomplish in the Symbian world, where Nokia still maintains a commanding global lead in mobile operating systems and user interfaces. The hope is that Symbian^4 will ensure that this dominance continues. But before Jeb”s entreaty can truly resonate in the Maemo realm, the sort of applications he yearns for require conveyance.
Nokia had hedged its bets with parallel albeit slower development of linux-based Maemo. With Nokia now joining forces with Intel to transition Maemo resources to MeeGo, some skepticism over a linux operating system’s prospects in the mobile space has abated. And the promise of the Qt multi-platform development tool can only help.
Still, Qt can only carry so much. Without sales numbers to justify a move, the many commercial developers committed to iPhone and now Android will be naturally reluctant to abandon those platforms or spread themselves thinner… no matter how much easier and cooler MeeGo coding may get.
Since Nokia will be releasing the first MeeGo device, this is an appeal to that company alone for now: forget your usual conservative-or-quirky approaches to marketing. It’s time to blitz, and blitz big as we say in American football. Dispensing 300 seed devices at the 2009 Maemo Summit was a good idea, and one I believe you should continue. But cute little campaigns like “online as it happens” aren’t going to cut it. Think big. Beyond Superbowl big. Shrink-wrapped logos and photos on the space shuttle big.
If you can’t persuade major carriers around the globe to promote the first MeeGo device, you’re going to have to ramp up your game. Hire the talent. Open the wallet. Do what it takes to make that inaugural MeeGo mobile computer the must-buy device of second half 2010.
If you sell it, developers will come.