As many know I was recently privileged to attend the Linux Foundation Collaboration Summit 2010 in San Francisco, California. After running out of juice trying to maintain community enthusiasm at maemo.org while simultaneously whipping it up for MeeGo, I was reinvigorated by the fresh energy permeating the conference. Seeing old acquaintances again, finally greeting others in person for the first time and making new friends always helps… as did the endless talks at various pubs and eateries about MeeGo’s future.
One aspect that renewed my faith was that even though 2009 did not turn out to be the breakthrough for open source that I had hoped, it looks like 2010 is setting the stage for this to be the case in 2011. For one, Nokia and Intel’s MeeGo venture strengthens the possibilities in my opinion. True, proprietary solution drivers are hardening their positions more now than ever, setting the stage for an eventual showdown that’s long overdue– but I expect open source to ultimately prevail and allow us to move past that exhausting argument and into the next awaiting world.
But even with its 5-year Maemo (along with Moblin) legacy, MeeGo still represents a beginning of sorts, and it will indeed be 2011 at least before it truly bears fruit– especially if recent product launches are any example. Meanwhile, what else will Nokia be doing to ensure its continued relevance?
Today’s announcement of yet another reorganization may hold a clue at other developments for next year. But before I go there, some history. While I was still working for Nokia in 2008, we underwent a significant realignment that sliced Nokia into three clear divisions: Software + Services, Devices, and Markets. That may be seen now as a failed experiment in the light of mixed market results for early 2010.
Back to the present and future. Nokia is still doing well overall but continues to struggle in the areas where it needs to exceed, and that’s primarily in cultivation of new business. As third-world markets mature, entry-level phones will be traded up for smartphones or mobile computers, and current trends show competitors like RIM and Apple to have the momentum there.
Perhaps realizing that the last restructuring created functional silos that have hampered Nokia in this race, the new organization brings services together with high-end devices to create Mobile Solutions. Markets seems mostly unchanged, and the new Mobile Phones segment appears to draw a solid line between the high-end and the entry-level– something I have championed for some time now. I’m convinced that’s necessary to overcome the perception, at least in the US, that Nokia is strictly a producer of cheap phones. Beginning July 1 of this year we can start measuring the effect.
Palm’s recent troubles (which may be mitigated by HP’s purchase) are likely just a hint of the fierce competition high-end communications devices will be increasingly facing. RIM has stayed steady and Apple has been relentless while Nokia seemingly dithered over direction.
So what needs to happen now for Nokia to turn things around by next year?
The reorganization looks to be the right step as long as Nokia does not lose key contributors in the process. Same should hold true for the big MeeGo move.
Still, Nokia continues to come up short with high-potential offerings like Ovi, which if done right could be huge for the company. Coupling a more functional Ovi with mobile computers (note: Ovi still only offers pitiable support for the powerful N900) will give Nokia a significant edge over competitors. The recent gift of free navigation to customers is a great selling point, but it’s offset by a shortage of compelling applications. The rapid evolution of acquired development platform Qt should go a long way toward improving that, especially with the upcoming 4.7.
In closing I’ll bring this close to home for me. I wondered about Nokia’s prospects at reclaiming the US market some time ago. Company statements asserting it would happen by now are ringing hollow as share in developed markets slides toward zero. While it’s true Nokia is making its money in developing markets right now, as the US has gone, so too will they eventually. Apple and RIM have shown success with the high end is possible in the US; no real reason Nokia can’t do as it did years ago and unseat the leaders with the right combination of products, software, services and marketing.
Like I said before: launch MeeGo BIG. That will indicate Nokia’s degree of seriousness. And 2011 should reveal the phone giant’s future.