Ten Years Later - Was Elop Right?

by @edent | , , , , | 7 comments | Read ~180 times.

A decade ago, Stephen Elop made the announcement that Nokia was adopting Windows Phone 7 as its platform of choice.

Being the mobile nerd that I was, I live Tweeted the press conference.

Let's take a look back to see what Elop and I got right or wrong.

Nokia killed off Meego - their new Linux platform. I was never that enamoured with it - but it could have had a promising future. The Balmer-led Microsoft was not as keen on Linux as the modern MS, so it's hard to see this as anything other than MS "disrupting" mainstream Linux adoption.

Windows Phone 7 didn't last. I was invited to review early version of the platform. And, while I liked the innovative UI, it wasn't close to its rivals at Apple or Google. It was obvious - to me at least - that Android was the superior platform and had the momentum behind it.

If you had a Mac, you could code for both Android and iOS (and others). But Microsoft's short-sighted decision to only allow development WP7 app development on Windows machines didn't encourage developers to code for WP7. You needed a Mac to make iPhone apps. Now MS expected you to buy a Windows laptop to code for their minority platform. That didn't fly.

As far as I recall, they didn't reveal any handsets. They basically told the market "Stop buying Nokia phones. Anything we release now will be unsupported shortly." That didn't encourage developers, customers, or retailers.

I got a Nokia Lumia to review in December that year. It was shit.

The Mobile World Congress show was the day after this announcement. If I remember correctly, the Nokia stand was weird that year. Dozens of phones which had no prospects. It did nothing to build hype in the platform.

There was no momentum. If they could have shown the secret phone that they'd been developing - and announced a launch date - it would have been a "wow" moment. Instead... nothing!

It is hard to launch a new device - especially in secret. But announcing a concept means nothing without something tangible to go with it.

Elop was right. Nokia would have been "just another" Android manufacturer. Instead, it became "just another WP7" manufacturer. I can see the arguments for both, but I would have loved to have seen a heavyweight Nokia as a counterbalance to Google.

And that's what happened. Why would HTC or Samsung or anyone make a WP7 phone if Nokia is Microsoft's preferred partner? Android was free and had fewer restrictions. Small companies like OnePlus would eventually find success with Android, in a way they could never have done with WP7.

I was wrong on this one! At the time, Blackberry was a surprising hit in the European youth market. Elop clearly didn't see them as a threat - and he was right. It was a dwindling platform with an uncertain future.

Blackberry - belatedly - jumped to Android. That wasn't enough to save them. It may not have been enough to save Nokia either.

Again, Elop was right on this. Nokia needed to continue its strategy of connecting people who had never been connected before. But splitting the company's focus between WP7 and "rest of market" wasn't a great plan. To be fair, Symbian probably wasn't the platform for that strategy either - but at least it had proven itself on low power devices. Something WP7 couldn't demonstrate.

Another page out of the MS playbook. And, to be fair, it probably kept Nokia going for a while. The mobile tech patent system was horrible (and probably still is). But did it encourage anyone to work with Nokia or MS? Or did it drive them to platforms with bigger pockets?

It was not. Nokia launched a fairly vanilla WP7 experience. There were a few Nokia touches - but they were crap:

Look, you can read the history of Nokia and see what happened to them. It was a brave an interesting choice to go with WP7. It would have been brilliant to have a three way ecosystem with iOS and Android. To be fair, WP7 could have been a contender. It had big corporate backing and was more future focussed than the ageing Symbian platform. The last few Symbian phones were awful - see my review of the N8. They were on a burning platform and needed to jump.

Could Meego have got anywhere? It was too encumbered by Nokia's desires and processes - it would never have been taken up in the same way Android was.

But, at the time, the smart money was on Android. Not just because Google were cool, but because WP7 had done nothing to disrupt the mobile market. They took the same 30% charge as other mobile platforms - so there was no financial incentive for devs. While Nokia has a huge marketing machine, Windows was a huge drag on the brand. Windows was something you were forced to use and regularly gave you a BSoD. If it had been the "Xbox Phone" that could have been something interesting - but it wasn't.

Was Elop an Microsoft plant sent to destroy Nokia? Probably not. But the board obviously thought that someone with strong links to MS was necessary to Nokia's future.

Nokia basically doesn't exist as a consumer handset brand any more in developed market. It is doing OK with basic phones in developing markets - but even there Android is the desired platform. Nokia is still successful on the radio and R&D - and perhaps that was the plan all along? Get out of the cut-throat handset business and sell big radio hardware to big mobile networks.

Either way, Elop's gamble didn't relaunch Nokia's handset business. And lots of people - including me - are still a bit sad about that.


7 thoughts on “Ten Years Later - Was Elop Right?

  1. Mike says:

    When you say Nokia basically doesn't exist as a consumer handset brand in the developed market, how do you quantify existence? Argos currently sells 23 Nokia phones. https://www.argos.co.uk/browse/technology/mobile-phones-and-accessories/sim-free-phones/c:30147/brands:nokia/ That's a lot less than the number of Samsung and Apple phones, but still enough to make Nokia the fourth highest in the filter-by-brand list which is sorted by number of phones from that brand. There are of course myriad places to buy a phone other than Argos, but Argos is a prominent high street retailer in a developed market.

    There was an interesting documentary about Nokia on BBC Four a year or so ago https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b9kj80 at time of writing it's not available on iPlayer but easily located for those inclined.

    1. @edent says:

      That Argos page shows multiple variants of about 5 models of smart phone - all under £150. Nothing high spec. And a bunch of basic handsets. Similarly, if you go to a network provider's website, you'll see that Nokia are hardly present. Same for CarPhone Warehouse - https://www.carphonewarehouse.com/nokia/mobile-phones.html

      Nokia's market share - in the UK at least - is under 1%. See https://www.statista.com/statistics/487780/market-share-of-mobile-device-vendors-uk/ and https://gs.statcounter.com/vendor-market-share/mobile/united-kingdom

      1. Mike says:

        OK, your stats seem vastly better than mine. 😀

  2. As someone who worked for Nokia for a long time and was on the inside for all of this the way Elop took the company still makes me sad and angry today. 1/2

  3. The answer to that question was immediately obvious. He destroyed Nokia.


  4. Sam Machin says:

    The N9 Meego phone was wonderful, even if as a platform it was basically dead on arrival, I got one and used it as my primary device for a good 6 months, it had everything I needed if memory serves me, it connected to corporate email & calendar, it had a twitter client, the browser was decent, battery life good and I could tether my laptop on the train.
    Ok there wasn't a choice of 5-6 different apps for every purpose but what was there was pretty good quality, I think it kinda benifitted at that point from being a niche enthusiasts platform when android was drowning under a sea of terrible apps thrown together by anyone that could download the SDK!

  5. The smart player in all this looks like it was Ericsson, who spotted the writing on the wall and sold (the rest of) their handset business to Sony at exactly the right time.

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