Nokia to adopt Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, scuttling Symbian
A company that once stood atop the mobile-phone market is throwing in its lot with ... another company that once stood atop the mobile-phone market. Nokia announced this morning that it will adopt Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software in place of its homegrown Symbian. In the bargain, Nokia will contribute some of its own software and hardware, such as mapping technologies, to the smartphone operating system Microsoft launched last year to replace the failed Windows Mobile.
But the document you should read first is the memo Elop sent to Nokia employees earlier, which Engadget obtained and posted on Tuesday. In it, Elop tells his employees -- in language rarely used by executives anxious to keep their jobs -- that they've been Doing It Wrong for too many years. Sample quotes:
We fell behind, we missed big trends, and we lost time. At that time, we thought we were making the right decisions; but, with the benefit of hindsight, we now find ourselves years behind.
The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don't have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.
I believe we have lacked accountability and leadership to align and direct the company through these disruptive times. We had a series of misses. We haven't been delivering innovation fast enough. We're not collaborating internally.
The memo -- which opened with a cheery anecdote about a North Sea oil-rig worker who had to choose between burning to death as a fire swept across his rig's platform or jumping into the freezing ocean almost 100 feet below -- concluded "Nokia, our platform is burning."
In this case, Nokia is jumping -- leaving its Symbian platform to sink. A second software system, the Linux-based MeeGo it's been developing with Intel for use on tablets and other gadgets, looks to become a side project at best.
At a briefing in London, Elop told reporters that Nokia also considered Google's Android but didn't feel it could differentiate its own phones from all the other Android hardware in the market and on the way. Elop suggested that Nokia's arrangement with Microsoft gives it more latitude to customize Windows Phone 7 than other vendors and said that Nokia will be shipping a variety of WP7 phones by next year.
It is a devastating comedown for Nokia. This company pioneered numerous innovative technologies but kept fumbling its usability, often thanks to poor software-design choices. To name three Nokia products I've tried: In retrospect its N770 tablet could be an iPad prototype; its Symbian-based E62 smartphone, with its array of add-on programs and capable Web browser, outlines ideas that Apple and Google developed to fruition; the high-resolution camera on its N93 phone suggested that phones could take "real" pictures long before iPhone users began posting their shots to Flickr and other picture-sharing sites.
Nokia also knew that it had to try to sell its story directly to consumers, investing in some of the most expensive real estate in America to open a flagship store on 57th Street in midtown Manhattan. That retail palace was a piece of work -- complete with a VIP-esque level on the top devoted to Nokia's pricey, blinged-out Vertu line of phones.
Now, nobody remembers Vertu and that store itself is history, having been closed last May.
Nokia promises better things. But if it couldn't integrate its own software with its own hardware in a way that surprised and delighted customers, can it do any better with Microsoft's operating system? And can it also catch up with the experienced, more successful phone vendors -- the likes of HTC and Samsung -- that have already brought their talents to Windows Phone 7? Nokia may have escaped immolation, but dog paddling in the frigid North Sea is not a great place to be either.
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