Over the past months, the conversation around mobile has been characterized in respect to those whom are moving up (Apple, Google, Verizon, etc.) and those who are moving down (Nokia, SE, AT&T, etc.). Within all of these viewpoints, analysts and companies alike have been asking why the successes have been super-successful, and why the disappointments have been overly magnified, though also of alarming notice.
I’ve come to believe that mobile – at least as it has evolved over the past decade (which is pretty much my term of use) – has plateaued in respect to how far consumers, customers (carriers), service providers, and manufacturers want to move forward. If you will, that Henry Ford quote comes alive again, “…ask people what they want and they will tell you faster horses.”
I don’t think it has to be like that. And in reading many assessments of the mobile industry, I’ve begun putting together scraps of my own thoughts towards things. Given my bent with mobile, you could say that I’m very much influenced by divine analogies. That said, I think that a certain verse in the Bible fits very well, and one company in particular could go for a reawakening of sorts.
The Activity of Having Clear Vision
A recommended reading is the four part series that Tomi Ahonen has put together talking about Nokia and how it has gotten into its market position. In summary, Nokia once had 40% of the mobile market. Since 2006, that marketshare has dropped. Granted, some of this has been due to an increased number of more nimble and advantageous competitors. But also, there are noted missteps that Nokia has had in regards to making services and products that just work, have a clear benefit over the competition, or even just get to the point of being released on time.
The first part of of Proverbs 28:18 says, “where there is no vision, people perish…” This is such an important and prophetical saying in the context of Nokia that its actually not funny. Nokia’s lack of being able to clarify and execute on what it is that the want to do with devices and services (not that there isn’t a vision, but that its not been met consistently) has caused shareholders money, executives and managers their jobs, and the pruning of countless industries which are propped up by Nokia’s lessons in research, engineering, and logistics. In a sense, this is a company that is dying for lack of clarity.
What Could Clear Vision Look Like?
Tomi expounded in part four of his series towards some recommendations that Nokia could follow which would (in about two years time) stabilize their image, make more efficient their offerings, and better position them to survive in the upcoming (not present) global mobile/web market. I recommend reading the post in its enterity, but I want to pull out something that Tomi said that I think can be easily missed but speaks to just the kind of vision for mobile that Nokia needs to run with.
Here’s the quoted part of his article that I want to focus on:
…Nokia can easily, easily allow the widest choice of colors of original casings of new phones – and then offer full casings of replacement/variation colors. Not just some highlights like on some models. Full casings. Front, back and sides! In plastic, in brushed aluminum, in flat steel, in carbon fibre why not, if that is the fashion of the day…
…This, color variation, is something only Nokia can do easily, across its whole product line. It is never ‘not profitable’. Nokia just needs to price the replacement covers to make a profit. Some retailers won’t stock it – no problem, sell the accessories online as well…
…But I really mean a vast range from cheap plastic pink to brushed brass and mirror-finish aluminum and yes, try carbon fibre too. Let consumers celebrate their Nokia phones, do things no other phones can do. Have a reason to take the phone out of the pocket and show it to friends! And with new covers to older phone model lines – drive visitors to stores, make existing Nokia owners of 1 and 2 year old models, feel they can re-generate the older model, make it fresh and new, make them fall in love with Nokia again…
The vision that Nokia once had, that could work for them given their manufacturing and logistical skill, is that of personalization.
Nokia Has Done Personalization Before
We all take steps to personalize our device. Many people start off with the simple to do features: add a case, download a few backgrounds, and then change the ring/ring-back tones. Some take that a step further and add specific applications, spend money on a set of cases/accessories to match clothing and moods. And some go further still, crafting their own applications, or mashing up certain kinds of applications to make their mobile even more adapt to their needs. In a very real sense, a mobile device becomes an extension of us that we literally shape and mold once we get that “factory box” in our grubby mitts.
Nokia used to poke at this kind of future with mobile. Several models had been released in the past where you could change the face-plates. I remember back when I was a VoiceStream customer and I specifically selected a Nokia mobile because I could have both a green and an orange face-plate (colors of my personal logo). They moved from that to devices like the N79 which had these rear battery covers that could be changed, and it would change the theme on the screen to match it. And then there was the Morph Concept device – having a feature where you could take a picture of anything, and the entire device would change its color scheme to match what you took a picture of.
Beyond looks, Nokia’s also been playing with the idea of artificial intelligence (AI) within mobile devices. A few of their research/beta projects now look at how a mobile device can learn from its owner and then programmability or automatically adapt to the owner and their environment. Nokia Feel looks to associate your emotions with certain applications and device appearances. Nokia Bots learns how you use your device and then offers suggestions towards frequently used applications, changing profile/sound settings automatically, and silencing your mobile during periods of noted inactivity like sleeping. And then there’s Nokia Situations, which is an application that the owner can program rules that govern how the mobile will respond based on location, time of day, and several other parameters.
If you will, its there in bits and pieces, but its not really come together. For a company that’s faced the passing by of the market that it had a heavy hand in guiding and creating, that’s a bit of a downer.
A Clear Vision for the Original Visionary
When Nokia looked to build buzz for the N97 – a model that everyone except your’s truly has seemed to pan – they used L.L. Cool J.’s Mama Said Knock You Out as part of the musical buzz. The tagline was well directed, “don’t call it a comeback, I’ve been here for years.” And that’s true, they really have been at this personalization thing for years. What they haven’t been at for years is making it part of that “Nokian DNA” that would effectively identify them from the crowd of “me-too” devices by other platform makers.
But, that has to go beyond just devices. Nokia has rightly been moving into the direction of a services company. And Ovi is just as needed to get onto the personalization bandwagon as their devices are. Nokia has already enacted a user account that works ok across devices, but they need to tighten up the experience. Its not just that we need to see the apps that are attached our account (Ovi Store) or the landmarks that we’ve saved (Maps), there’s also got to be a means to quickly get a device up and running, find a device that’s lost/stolen, and be able to – without taking the mobile from your pocket and while sitting at a public computing terminal – download an application and have it install and be setup according to your profile which already notes how you like your applications served to you. Nokia has that ability, they need to rally behind that vision to make it happen.
Not the Only Vision
Going the route of personalization isn’t the only vision that Nokia (or any mobile company) could rally behind. I only chose that one because of the obvious connections between the vision that has come frequently from Nokia, and the attempts and missteps taking with these kinds of efforts.
I will say, their efforts with Ovi and the three Beta Labs applications are far and away some of the best work they’ve done. But, Nokia needs something that people can rally around – much like how the N95 was a place where fans and shareholders alike could proudly pull out or pull up that device and know that meeting their dream wasn’t that far away.
A vision that does that gives life to a company. And to mobile, its the kind of impact that only a few companies can claim that they execute well one.