A few thoughts on Nokia, post-MS announcement.


It’s happened. Former Microsoft exec and current Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has married his future and his past in the holy matrimony of a “strategic alliance.” Windows Phone is becoming Nokia’s “principal smartphone strategy,” but there’s a lot more to this hookup…

Well, I could say I was surprised, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth.

Something had been troubling me for a while now regarding Nokia, and it only just occurred to me what it was yesterday. Don’t get me wrong; I used to really like their phones. I’ve had a 5210, a 3390, and a 3650 in the past. However, for all of their domination in the “dumbphone” market in the United States and abroad, they never seem to go anywhere in the smartphone market. I’ve heard people on Slashdot and other tech sites talk about how much they loved their N900 phones, but when it came to people I knew in person who used smartphones, it was always Blackberry, iPhone, Android, or Windows Mobile. I never knew anyone who used Nokia phones. Then yesterday, in a Slashdot discussion about the merger, I saw a couple of people mention how much they liked Nokia’s E71.

It hit me then. Nokia’s smartphones are very geek-friendly, but ONLY geek friendly.

The reason the E71 made me realize it is more of a personal one. A year or two ago, in an effort to try and save money on smartphones at my old job (as we were handing them out more and more), I did a bit of research and found the most cost-effective one was the Nokia E71x. It had full Exchange support, which was our primary requirement. So, we started handing them out to users.

In the end, we stopped after a few months. Why, you may ask? It’s simple: the users HATED them.

The company I worked for was not a tech firm. It was a company that manufactured oilfield equipment, so the users were much more often than not non-tech savvy. The phone interface was confusing them, and as a result it was extremely difficult for them to get the phones to do what they wanted them to do. It was also extremely confusing for us to troubleshoot, as the menus didn’t make any sort of logical sense to us either, especially when previously dealing with phones like Windows Mobile or Blackberry. We got numerous complaints about the devices, and in the end they were phased out.

Around that same time, my parents went and got new phones, and without consulting me they got E71x devices as well. Mom is (and has been) ambivalent about them; she doesn’t care about the phone one way or another, and probably would like a better interface, but she likes that she can get photos off it via free software on her PC (unlike her old Motorola phone) and she likes the QWERTY keyboard for texting. Dad, on the other hand, LOATHED the phone, to the point where his brother did him a favor and sent him an unlocked RAZR to use instead. Dad can’t get pictures off it easily, but he considers it a small price to pay for not having to deal with the E71x anymore.

I know people around have been saying Symbian et al were very powerful phone OSes, but the problem is that Nokia wasn’t going anywhere in the US in the smartphone market. Everyone I know hated the interface, and while I know the plural of anecdote isn’t data, it would not surprise me if a lot of people across the board felt the same way. It doesn’t matter how powerful or versatile your phone OS is if it’s difficult to use. That’s why I can easily see Nokia having partnered with Microsoft in this venture: say what you want about Windows Phone/Mobile, but it has a much more logical and usable interface than Nokia did. If Nokia wants to be taken seriously in the business world, then they need a much more friendly OS for their phones.

After all, while geeks care about power and versatility, the lay users care more about whether it works easily and efficiently. In the end, it’s the lay users that end up driving the market.