Nokia's Handset Mindset

Reading Daring Fireball’s recent coverage of Nokia’s reactions to/reflections on the iPhone, I have to wonder how much is cluelessness and how much is humiliation. Compare Nokia’s statements to then Palm CEO Ed Colligan’s comments in 2006, not long before the iPhone was introduced, that “PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They’re not going to just walk in.”

Remember from about 2004 to 2007 when, from time to time, people would say, “what if Apple made a cell phone?” There were some pretty good regular cellphones on the market, but no one had gotten it right in the smartphone arena. The funny thing was, usually this sort of talk wasn’t just musing. It wasn’t just us speculating that since Apple had recently made a good MP3 player, wouldn’t it be interesting if they tried making a telephone? There was also an implied idea that only Apple would be able to figure out how to make a good smartphone. It was like the market was looking to Apple saying, “save us, Apple! You’re our only hope!”

I think this was humiliating for the cell phone makers of the time. Palm and Nokia were trying things out and we were brushing them off say, “well, that’s okay, but Apple would have done a better job, if only it made cellphones.”

Former Nokia executive Tomi Ahonen:

Which trend has Nokia missed. Name even ONE! Touch screens? Before iPhone! Internet phones? Nokia did the world’s first. Consumer smartphones? Nokia invented that. Gaming phones? Nokia had years before the iPhone ever heard of Angry Birds.

And so on. I guess it’s possible that Nokia’s people were just swimming around in piles of funny-colored Scandinavian money while intentionally not pushing the envelope, but probably they were trying to make better phones but just didn’t see what the market wanted. But that’s capitalism. There’s always a chance that someone will “walk in” and beat you at your own game, and as businessmen they knew that, but it still must have been terribly embarrassing for them, especially coming from an outsider that had never made a phone before.

(I’ve seen a little bit of this in Steve Ballmer’s reaction to the iPad, too. Microsoft has been making tablets for years.)