Entelligence is a column by technology strategist and author Michael Gartenberg, a man whose desire for a delicious cup of coffee and a quality New York bagel is dwarfed only by his passion for tech. In these articles, he'll explore where our industry is and where it's going -- on both micro and macro levels -- with the unique wit and insight only he can provide.
It's the largest cell phone maker in the world, with the largest share of any smartphone vendor in the world. Yet I increasingly look at Nokia's products and listen to its strategy wondering if the company can remain relevant in a mobile world that's changed drastically over the last two years. I'm not talking about a Nokia deathwatch, or whether the company will remain in business -- that's foolish. Of course Nokia is going to stick around; it's what it's going to look like that concerns me. A future of selling low-end phones into emerging markets with some minor services might be profitable, but it's not a direction that leads to industry relevance or influence.
First, I'm confused by Nokia's platform strategy. There's been a lot of chatter about Maemo being the future, and while it might be a strategic direction, it's nowhere near ready for primetime now. Chris Ziegler suggested to me the other day that "Maemo 6 (or 7) in an X6 form factor with a more cohesive Ovi strategy could be killer." Perhaps, but right now Maemo feels very immature and unfinished. In fact, it feels like what it is: an OS designed for Nokia's Internet Tablet MIDs. On a phone like the N900 it's just too kludgey for the mainstream market. That leaves Symbian-based S60, which was totally innovative in 2002 but now looks creaky and has fragmented into multiple versions, leaving a very confused developer market. Sure, Nokia supports Flash and Silverlight with Qt somehow tying all this diversity into some unified grand theory, but it's enough complexity to make most developers look elsewhere -- and that's exactly what's happened. Without a clear platform strategy, it's going to be difficult for Nokia to get the developer mindshare required to stay relevant to the mass market.