The Road To Nokia World 2011 Part 1: The Need For A Clear Future

Nokia World 2011 is scheduled for next week in London and it is undoubtedly the most hyped and the most important event in recent Nokia history. Throughout this week, FoneArena will take a look at expectations, realities and myths related to this particular year, in preparation for the big reveals that will come on October 26th and 27th. Join us in this journey, comment, share your thoughts, and feel with us the excitement as the big days approach!

One clear truth that everyone knows, regarding Nokia World 2011, is that it might be the event that makes or breaks Nokia’s future. I say “might” because there are many stories of companies sunk thousands times deeper and gone way beyond salvaging that still managed to reinvent and re-institute themselves. However nowadays, the world, especially the tech world, is less forgiving with each passing day. Hence I say “it might”, understanding the possibility of miracles, yet hoping it won’t come down to that.

The “future” is one big world that we will come back to, quite a lot, in this series of posts. The future, the promise of a bright one specifically, is what makes investors throw money, developers stay awake for nights in a row and employees (be it designers, managers, engineers and everyone beyond) feel excited about creating greatness. So eventually the future is what takes devices from the concept board to reality, and it’s therefore the reason customers can buy these devices.

But first, let’s leave the future and take a walk down memory lane into the recent past. Nokia World 2009 was a disaster in terms of clear plans. There was the N900 on Maemo, the X6 and N97 Mini on S60 5th Edition / Symbian^1, the Nokia Booklet 3G on Windows, and some S40 phones. No one knew where every piece of that puzzle fit, no one understood what the opening of the OVI API meant (not that it mattered) and if I was a developer considering making an application for Nokia, because they sell tons of millions of phones every year and I want a piece of the action, I would have no clue at all where to start. I would eventually go build my application for iOS, because there’s only one iPhone so it’s bound to work on it, and the iPhone sells faster than bread. One year later, Nokia World 2010 was focused and precise, although less innovative and fun. Four Symbian^3 devices were introduced, and some S40 phones. If I was a developer then, I would know that Qt was the tool to use moving forward and that if I made a Symbian^3 application, I have at least 4 devices that will ship to support it.

Nokia World 2011’s biggest pitfall is that it carries the weight of the 2009 awkwardness. There’s Symbian, Meego, and now Windows Phone in the picture. There’s also the ghost of another OS that Nokia might be developing behind closed doors to tackle its market share erosion by Android in the low-end segment. Nokia has to explain clearly how at least the first three fit together in the puzzle and show us a clear strategy. Visions are great, plans are better. Visions are what Maemo was made of, what WebOS was full off, and we all know what came of those. Plans, on the other hard, are what transform visions into realities. Ever since 2008, Nokia has been flipping through slides and slides of different visions. Between Ovi, openness and the Symbian foundation, Maemo, Meego, Qt, Windows Phone, partnerships with Yahoo! and Microsoft and Intel, countless company reorganizations, they made every head following them spin faster than the wheels on a Formula1 car. It’s almost a miracle that any tech journalist even bothers to listen to what they have to say anymore. They shouldn’t take for granted that everyone has given their own time to come hear them one more time, because it “might” be the last time anyone bothers. No one will believe visions anymore, they want clear, concrete, plans.

So although Nokia has taken a break from pressure in the past few months, since everyone knew that a major strategy change was being put in place, now eight months have passed since the Microsoft partnership announcement. Both companies have had plenty of time to iron the details and see how they are going to move forward with this partnership. Therefore, vague statements like “Windows Phone will be our main platform” and “Symbian will be phased out gradually” won’t cut it anymore. We will need numbers, dates, percentages,… that kind of clearness. I do realize that Nokia World is historically not the time to discuss strategy, however, every journalist, every fan, every developer, every investor, should walk out on October 27th with the sense that Nokia finally has got its grips together and has a defined and well-thought path ahead, a promising future.

And I do take into consideration that there will always be people disappointed by the path chosen as there will always be others who are very excited by it, but the important aspect here is for Nokia to HAVE a path. It won’t help deter doubters, nor will it shut haters, but it will at least give hope and faith to everyone else.

At the end of the day, Nokia World 2011 needs to answer this simple question: If I’m an investor considering shelling out $1Million on an accessory specific to Nokia, what platform should my accessory be compatible with, and do I have the assurance that the company won’t bail on me with another radical strategy change a few months later? Simple, yet defining for the fate of one of mobile’s beloved giants.