Devices Are No Longer Keys

I read a very interesting and thought re-igniting article yesterday at VilleAho. The basic premise followed that of a few that I’ve read before – what if Nokia did go back to using MeeGo/Symbian from Windows Phone – yet, this specific one left me with a perspective that I had not considered before – no longer can a device or platform be considered a key to all platforms.

Here’s the part that really made me go “ooooh, I get Elop now.”

…MeeGo brings a lot of new innovations or features that might not be new but have been implemented way better in MeeGo than in the competing products. But, and this is a big but, the N9 is a product of the old Nokia. The Nokia that believed in devices – not in overall customer experience. And that is fundamentally what is wrong with the N9. Despite however amazing or life-altering device it might be, it’s not part of any ecosystem. It is not supported by – well – anybody who matters. And if you’re not supported you’re un-plugged from the world and cannot provide the services, apps, accessories that the consumers have grown to expect. In today’s world it isn’t enough if you can provide some of these services, consumers want all of them and more! Building this kind of offering around the N9 is just not something that Nokia (especially in its current state) would be capable of doing…

It is such a “duh” moment that I’m mad at myself for not even seeing it when I wrote this piece on the age of platforms ending. Sheesh, its actually quite obvious – though I don’t think its been spelled out any.

What follows is conjecture and imagination, mixed with probable reality and a dose of nuttiness.

When the Nokia Board took a look at its leadership and said they needed to make a change, they wanted someone who could come in and give an honest and self-revealing assessment of where they were, where they wanted to be, and where they were going. They didn’t just want things to remain as they were, but wanted to be better suited towards the future they’d already pre-stepped before everyone else. So, you get into the interview process for CEO, and Elop comes away as the person who is most connected to what’s happening, but also disconnected enough from Nokia to see the value and the excess weight.

As any good manager does, he takes time to look through the company throughly. And at some point, probably in October, there were signs that Nokia wasn’t failing so much because they missed the innovations, but because their focus for those innovations were in a place that the other market players just weren’t playing in any more. No one was competing with Nokia on devices – they have that locked down in too good a measure. They got to Nokia by vertically integrating components and services in a way that Nokia’s culture understood, but couldn’t respond well enough in a cohesive fashion. 

But, there was Maemo/MeeGo. Surely, this island of organizational change was a place where the company could receive the “truth” and move forward. Yet, this wasn’t the case either. The strengths of Maemo/MeeGo, being PC enough that the specs conversation wouldn’t be lost, being open enough that the developers wouldn’t be lost, kept losing when those two aspects needed the attention of more focused support and partnerships. There was a chance that the connection with Intel would make things happen, but Nokia’s version of (handset) MeeGo was so far along that to change it was a problem – yet there was a bigger problem, Nokia tried to play a Wild in a game of Spades – MeeGo was the wrong card and the other ecosystems were in no means going to let that “key” come in. If they did, that would take the power away from the ecosystems and put it back into the hands of those who could (a) build a open device that spoke easily to those services, and (b) build tools that developers big, small, noticeable, and emerging would rally behind. There was nothing to lose if the device and platform were so strong that the other ecosystems just bent to it. But, that wasn’t the case. 

iPhone, Android, RIM, and to an extent webOS had become characterized not by the devices that connected to them, but what they enabled in the lives of the people and carriers consuming those services. Maemo never made that step, and Ovi was supposed to be that step. Elop saw this, along with the N9 (all three of its models in hand) and knew that while the devices would show forth innovations sorely needed in mobile, that they’d connect to nothing unless hobbyist developers and smaller shops looking for a lower, grassroots approach to entry would take part. Hence the announcement with Windows Phone.

Shame too. The N9 would release looking as if it can and should play nice with anyone’s ecosystem. However, would you (Apple, Android, RIM, webOS, or even Windows Phone), let something so “free” open a door to you (Ovi means door, get the connection)? Nope. Hence, the N9 was dead on arrival. Not because it wasn’t a great product, but because it was a product that was essentially an island.

The name of the next steps in mobile: no person is free to jump between ecosystems, no device is free from an ecosystem, and those that choose otherwise will be outliers and rarely be granted audience in a mainstream world that no longer knows how to look for or use that kind of freedom. Devices could have been keys to open this all up. But that’s no longer the case. That is the revelation that Nokia received as a board, and later in pieces as a company.

Kinda sucks too. Because the “device as a key” argument makes too much sense in these days where folks are cutting off atmospheres left and right.

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