What Was Nokia’s Biggest Mistake in the Mobile Phone Business?

nokia chose symbian as its operating system in the late 1990’s. They were targeting devices like the 9210 communicator and 7650. These were devices with 8 megabytes of ram and 4 megabytes of disk. linux was not suitable for these specifications. There was windows ce but it wasn’t a useful option either. so the only remaining choice for nokia was symbian. what we actually called symbian was psion epoc os.

I had tried to develop applications myself on the 7650 at the time. It was like Chinese torture. because psion was designed for apps running on rom, battery backed ram and black and white screen. For a device like the 7650, it required performance-killing steps for third users to run apps, like switching from flash memory to ram.

Then came the device with a color screen like the n95. Developing an application was still something that was impossible. ie it was possible, but as a platform and api offered by symbian, there was nothing in the middle.

While all this was going on, Apple released the iPhone 1 with much better technical specifications in 2007. 128mb ram, 16gb flash memory, a real cpu and gpu, 18bit color touch screen… and the biggest difference is an operating system designed entirely for this device. as well as fundamentally suitable for application development for third users.

Various speculations have swirled about the initial reaction of Nokia management to the iPhone launch. one of them: the iphone is sent to the board meeting as soon as it comes out. There, all the managers open the package together at the meeting. they conclude that it is not a serious competitor and that its price is too high. therefore they think that it will take a small market share and that nokia will remain the market leader. According to another story, the general manager asks how soon they can bring a similar device to market. In response: The manager of the mobile device department says that a very similar device is already in the prototype stage, and they can release it in a very short time if they want.

In the following years, the gravity of the situation becomes clear step by step, and that great distance superiority quickly disappears and leaves its place to the competition to catch up. especially the operating system issue, it is realized too late that nokia has a much bigger problem than it thinks.

When it became clear that there would be no symbian, they focused on meego, but it also failed to provide a competitive end-user experience. The whole company has been busy for years, constantly thinking that we will solve the problems in the next few months, we will release them.

In short, the operating system or, more broadly, the software was completely underestimated. they failed to develop a necessary and realistic vision.

Many companies still have this mindset. We hire 50-100 software developers, we give them their money, we make them bang their heads. but for example the meego team was working with 2000 people at a certain point. nokia had many possibilities and had successful management and employees who were experienced in technology. However, they could not prevent it. because software, contrary to popular belief, is a field that really requires vision.

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