Comments on a Tomi Ahonen delusionology piece

This was supposed to be a comment to an article recently published by Tomi Ahonen at his blog, Deluded? Seriously? Can I really honestly claim that Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop is deluded? Unfortunately.. yes.. Unfortunately the comment wasn’t accepted by the system, probably because it’s too long. 😦 But here it goes.

Hi, Tomi. I love reading your stuff. But man, is this long. I am a blogger myself, and I know sometimes we just want to sit and go typing what’s coming to our heads, then get over with the article after the brain dump. But I have zero importance in the blogosphere… If you could work more on your great texts (get an assistant, whatever!!), making them more concise, all your many readers would benefit a lot, and probably you would too yourself.

I am going to dump here some thoughts I had while reading your text, hope you or any other reader might find some value here. Contains a few disagreements with you.

You are absolutely right about how Nokia is very innovative. I have a Nokia N800, a touchscreen device announced amazingly _one day before_ the iPhone, but immediately available unlike it. It succeeded the 770, and another touchscreen phone. Here is one news article from when it was released, they also released an NFC phone and other cool, “too soon” stuff…
http://www.gsmarena.com/nokia_at_ces__n93i_n76_n800_tablet-news-241.php

But while arriving first matters a lot to technology enthusiasts, academics and “fanboys”, that is not the MAIN CONCERN of business. There money is king. Making more innovation is just a means to the goal of making more money. The main concern is not who is innovating the most, but who is profiting the most. The shareholders want first and foremost to see the profits, and you can’t deny Apple has done a great job regarding profits.

Cristiano Ronaldo once said he was the first, second and third best football players in the world. Nokia may be the first, second and third largest phone seller in the planet. But why on Earth can’t they do that and _profit_ at the same time? Do you remember that when the CEO was replaced, it was said Nokia was artificially keeping the phones very low-priced, sacrificing profits to ensure that incredible sales volume, that big market share?. But that is not what matters. It doesn’t matter to sell more units, it doesn’t matter to have the best technology (as much as it hurts me to say that as an engineer). When you look at the profit, if you are not making money than none of that has any importance, neither the innovation, neither the volume.

And this is what drives the corporate decisions. They simply can’t afford to continue being so great innovators if that is not translating into profits. So maybe their innovations are not as effective as Apple’s, and in that sense they are the true great innovators. Nokia’s Ferraris are being sold by manufacturing cost while Apple sells gold painted Tatas. It certainly sounds like a great innovation going on there, being able to sell Tatas like they were Ferraris.

And of course all of this is always very much focused on the USA… Things are really upside down there, where money is king and carriers are queens. It’s always very awkward for me when I start reading forum discussions or news articles when people start talking things like “oh, I wish so much operators XXX or YYY could pick up this phone”. I actually took a long time to start understanding these things, and I still don’t quite grasp it. I live in this pink world where GSM is everywhere, and you can pretty much buy a phone just like it were a personal computer or a blender. It’s really hard to move from that life into the carrier-serf mindset.

Like you said, Nokia found this strange too, and ended up attracting lots of anger from the queens, shouting “off with their heads!”. Now if Nokia was selling xloads of phones all around the world , and having a great profitable business there, great. But is this really true?… And if you look at the USA market, the California market, and see the profits aPple and other companies are doing there, isn’t it insane, delusional not to think that you must tap that market??

Maybe the board though so, and decided company’s number one priority should not be “be the most innovative”, etc, but __make your stand in the lucrative USA market__. And once you decide that _that_ is the priority, you will start to see that it might involve more than just being innovative. It might involve pleasing carriers, pleasing the media (Engadget I am looking at you), making the consumers feel special, feel smart, feel “number one”. US is a prima donna. They need a company CEO saying they are strategic etc. Other countries will just continue to buy e.g. Symbian phones as long as they are there, they don’t care so much if some CEO announced something in some interviews that could mean the system might not be supported anymore in some years…

It’s not Elop who is delusional. There is a whole delusional society out there. He’s just a player. They are entering the hypocrisy dance hoping to bite again a good portion of that market, that is growing _a lot_, and being a very lucrative business to others, while their sales, even if large, are not growing at all. Neither their profits.

When the iPhone 4 was released, there was a very well known Brazilian reporter who was there at the launch, and was tweeting also, and eventually replying his followers. I was shocked when this reporter got amazed by the demonstration of the video call on the iPhone. He genuinely thought that was a great technological breakthrough! Lots of followers thankfully corrected him right away.

Lots of phone out there had video calls already of course. Amongst them, the 5800, which I consider to be the great Nokia answer to the iPhone. Now I don’t know, why don’t you mention this phone in your article at all? To me it was the obvious attempt of Nokia to answer to the iPhone. It was released one year later, some months before the iPhone 3G, and had a better camera, wi-fi, etc… It only did not have the capacitive multi-touch screen, and the iphone appz, the itunes connectivity, etc. Better than the iPhone in all ways, except that it wasn’t the iPhone!

Now why oh why wasn’t that up to the iPhone?? I don’t know! And Engadget, Steve Jobs and the authors of all those books talking about the success of SJ and its geeky gadgets seem to know. Maybe it’s JUST the capacitive multi-touch screen? Perhaps! Just the interference from the mighty carries? Could be too. Things don’t make sense already. Your concern with Elop being delusional sound even silly and unimportant if you look at the bigger picture here… They made a great product, somehow it did not sell as much as it could have. But note: It sold GREAT, it was a HUGE success. But _still_, here is the company not making a profit. It’s really a very hard to understand situation.

USA turned its back to Nokia. Why? No one knows. But now they want Nokia to say that _they_ have been stupid, and that it’s _they_ who turned their backs to USA in the first place. It’s the prima donna attitude! Nokia is pleasing them now… They tried giving them great products and being great professionals first, it didn’t work. They tried the right way, it didn’t work, so now they are only left with trying the wrong way. By the principle of the excluded middle! They _must_ be delusional, because when they were concerning themselves with things like telling the truth, that didn’t sell well, literally! And they can’t afford to trade being profitable for making sense, telling the truth, etc, all these mundane things that scientists and pundits care about so much, but is in a distant third place in the companies priorities: 3 make sense; 2 innovate; 1 be lucrative.

If some millions of delusive Tatas can make you more money than hundreds of millions of Ferraris, then you must go build the Tatas! It’s really a no-brainer choice, but what to do? If people are buying the faster horse instead of the model-T… Let’s work on those mares!

A friend of mine likes to compare the iPhones to the small mirrors they say European colonists used to trade with American natives for their stuff.

Now some other thoughts:

Qt is by no means just a “migration path” strategy. It’s a great development tool, and it was a necessary refreshment to Symbian. Elop said there is a lot of “cruft” in the Symbian code, and I loved him throwing out this lingo. Specially because it’s true and makes sense… Symbian needed lots of updating, on the back-end, and on the front-end. Qt was fighting on this front-end front. It was a nuclear bomb thrown there, to be more specific. The ability to develop both for Symbian and Maemo/MeeGo etc using the same tools is not so much a central point in the Qt strategy, it’s one of the numerous and awesome advantages of it!

To me, this is one of the things that were missing for Symbian. The iPhone, Android and WP7 are all arriving with new and good development tools. Nokia took a long time or finally innovate in that area, but it happened. I only hope it’s not too late. It is certainly not too little.

…It is actually hard to believe it could have been late, because Nokia was heavily advertising the New Deal back in mid 2010 already. I think the bigger problem was the delay in releasing the Symbian^3 phones.

Here’s one cool presentation about Qt this day Nokia finally exchanged its vows with Qt.
http://www.engadget.com/2010/08/05/nokias-app-development-strategy-qt-qt-qt-video/

Funny to read in one slide “It’s all about the apps in Ovi Store for people. Not platforms.” Might as well have said “not ecossystems”. Maybe here is one important though subtle contribution brought by Elop from Microsoft. MSFT is all about “ecossystems”, _closed_ ecossystems designed to be indispensable and irreplaceable, and expensive. Epitomized by their extremely proprietary and incompatible file formats such as DOC and XLS… As a Linux and Qt enthusiast I only hope the MeeGo project doesn’t get contaminated by this thought, and that this ecossystem remains open. Leave the MSFT ideals in the WP7 phones plz…

Now, speaking of that, about the “designing in California” thing. What exactly is being designed there? The hardware shape? The computer electronics? The radio electronics? The software?… Who knows!? Might be just a ploy, again to satisfy affection-deficient Americans and Californians.

And let’s never forget, Nokia has lots of MeeGo developers working in California right now too! I don’t know how much of the development of Jessie’s Girl and other planned Linux devices by Nokia is in their Californian hands, but this is one concrete Nokia team designing a phone in California, with hopes to create some awesome technology, “disrupting” all, as they say, but also hopefully being a lucrative business. The whole problem is that although we certainly would love this, the two things don’t always come at the same time! (i.e. great innovation and great profits)

Closing up:

You repeat many times in your text that Nokia failed in some things because it was “too early”. Couldn’t it be that just an impression given by the fact that someone succeed afterwards? A company tries something and fails. Then another tries and succeeds. No reason is too apparent. So we say “the first was too early”, because it’s the only visible difference. Maybe we are delusional… Actually the second actually did something right where the first did wrong. It was not too early at all, there was in fact a mistake.

And about “Jesusphone”: have you read the news that Apple maniacs share some brain activity patterns associated with religious feelings?? 🙂

And I also loved the reference to the Start Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”, with the bearded Spock. 😀

All that is left to me now is quote the word from that old and wise poet:
“”” And I’m lookin’ in the mirror all the time
Wonderin’ what she don’t see in me
I’ve been funny; I’ve been cool with the lines
Ain’t that the way love’s supposed to be. “””

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