How did you start your day, on September 3rd? Mine began as normally as any other, for the first ten minutes. I got out of bed, used the loo, fed the cats, switched on the TV and tuned into BBC World News. I have to do that here in the States as the word “news” on any other terrestrial TV channel seems to mean “entertainment and maybe some facts”.
As my first spoonful of Cheerios made its way to my mouth, it suddenly made its way back down to the bowl. My mouth was still open though. It was open in shock, because I was staring wide-eyed at the TV screen, seeing the message “Microsoft buys Nokia” and hearing the beginning of the report being read by the newsman. Needless to say, fifteen minutes later my Cheerios were soggy and unappealing, left ignored as I scoured the web on my laptop for more information on what seemed to be almost impossible news.
But it wasn’t impossible news. This has been on the cards since February 11th 2011, when Steve Ballmer and Stephen Elop stood on a stage in front of a huge blue backdrop with the words “Nokia” and “Microsoft” telling the world that these two companies were now in bed together.
And now, after a relatively short marriage, they have divorced. Except Microsoft got the car, the house and most of the kids.
The acquisition of Nokia’s devices & services division indeed spells the end for Nokia making phones. They had a good run, but any Nokia fan will tell you, the last few years have been a bit tough, and it started long before Mr. Elop showed up in September 2010 as the new CEO.
Nokia had a run of bad decisions, which I’m not going to go into detail here, but the inefficiency within the company was its ultimate downfall. The bickering between the Symbian and Maemo/MeeGo teams, the penny-pinching decisions to put measly hardware components in so-called flagship devices (think: N97) while Apple were throwing their new iPhone at anyone who could catch, and Android was a newly-rolled snowball, quickly gaining speed down the mountain, becoming bigger and more menacing as each quarter passed by. Before long Nokia, who were still not working quickly enough with their software innovation, fell behind.
Think about this: since the launch of Symbian^3 in September 2010, only one major US carrier stocked a Nokia phone running this OS which was T-Mobile with the C7 “Astound”. No N8s anywhere, no E7s. To Americans anyway, Nokia quickly became synonymous with the types of phones your parents had in the late 1990s – weighty grey bricks that could only play Snake. The two mega-giants, iPhones and Androids, rose up and towered over Nokia, and hardly anyone was interested in them anymore. Enter Stephen Elop, and February 11th 2011 was bound to happen.
Since then Nokia have managed to win the hearts and minds back of many tech writers, bloggers, tech fans and even iPhone and Android users. The Nokia Lumia range of smartphones is now an admirable line-up, from superb cheaper options like the Lumia 620, to the stunningly attractive 925, to the outstanding 1020 with its PureView 41MP camera sensor. Windows Phone 8 still has some holes to fill, but overall it is an appealing and easy to use OS. And let’s not forget the head-turning Nokia 808 PureView from last year, and the innovative design language and UI of the Nokia N9 in 2011. Windows Phone has come along nicely, and today, it’s a very pleasant experience.
For me, that doesn’t change now that Nokia has sold itself off to Microsoft. My Lumia 920 is still a Nokia Lumia 920, and it was designed and built by Nokia employees at a Nokia facility. It contains Nokia created apps such as HERE Maps and HERE Drive, and it even has the classic Nokia ringtone for crying out loud! It is a Nokia phone, which is why I enjoy using it. It may not be as “Nokia-y” as my 808 PureView or my N9, but it has enough pure Nokia craftsmanship to make me have an emotional attachment to it.
But now things have changed. While it is very possible that Nokia will still be a visible name on the next couple of Lumia releases, it is inevitable that Microsoft will remove the Nokia brand and replace it with their own. Perhaps we will see the “Surface 1620” next year, if not the “Microsoft Lumia 1620”. Either way, it won’t say “Nokia” on the box anywhere, even if ex-employees of the Finnish company are the ones who sat at the drawing board and designed the thing.
My personal thoughts on all this are twofold: practical and emotional. Firstly, it makes good sense for Microsoft from a business viewpoint to allocate enormous funds to acquire such a superb hardware department it can call its own. I get that, and I’m kind of happy they chose Nokia over, say HTC, because you know they’ve chosen well. I’m also happy that Nokia are not completely dead; Nokia will remain Nokia the company, it’ll just be a much smaller tech entity, specialising in HERE mapping solutions, networks, and other “advanced” technologies that will benefit the greater mobile device landscape in years to come. They still remain “Nokia” as a company, and the CTO office stays unchanged. They also, and most importantly I think, keep control of their patents, which might be worth something to them as a company in the future. As I understand it, Nokia cannot use the name “Nokia” on any mobile phone product for the next 30 months, so one can speculate that after that time, and with that pile of patents locked up in the Nokia vault, it’s conceivable that a Nokia smartphone is an possibility in 2016. Right?
I can’t ignore the other massive elephant in my room: Jolla. Ex-Nokians who designed the MeeGo-powered Nokia N9 who left to start their own smartphone company, and who have scheduled a release of their first Jolla phone for the end of this year, have been drumming up excitement all throughout 2013, and I for one am excited. Yes there’s the Nokia connection, but after watching the Jolla demos, I’m genuinely intrigued and fired-up by the Sailfish OS and interface. I was an early-adopter and put my 100€ deposit down the day they announced that pre-order program, so I’m already personally invested in that new company to some extent, and I continue to follow their progress on Twitter and their website. If Nokia and Microsoft hadn’t happened yesterday, I would still be looking forward to my Jolla phone.
The news on the 3rd was a shock and I was initially saddened by it. Throughout the day I could not shake off the depressing thought of not seeing another Nokia phone being released ever again. I also couldn’t help thinking that the end of Nokia as a device producer means that there’ll be no more Nokia accessories. I’ll miss the other stuff too: their websites, videos, launches, demos, parties (!) and one can’t help but think about all the thousands of Nokia employees who will be transferred to Microsoft and all that entails. I wish them the best of luck and hope that no one actually loses their job because of this.
For me right now, I’ll continue to thoroughly enjoy my Nokia phones, which I am now more glad than ever to own. My 808 PureView has given me so much pleasure with its camera, and it will continue to do so for years to come. My E7 with its superb sliding qwerty keyboard and my E6 with its fixed qwerty keyboard are both distinctive and fine pieces of kit, different in their own way, but excellent at what they are able to do. My N900 will always be the one that turned me into a phone geek, with the never ending possibilities that Maemo allows even today, and that qwerty is still my favourite keyboard to date. My N9 holds a special place in my heart as the MeeGo-Harmattan interface kept me away from almost everything else for over a year, and it’s still an exceptional, beautiful device.
Most recently I acquired a Nokia Lumia 920, the cyan version. To me the physical design is so reminiscent of my N9, it’s almost like having a bigger N9! But the WP8 interface has many advantages over the aging MeeGo (and Symbian) and I’m enjoying the easy to use apps and the sheer speed and fluidity of the 920, it’s hard to put it down. And it clearly says “NOKIA” in the upper-right corner.
Will it be my last Nokia purchase? Most likely. I understand the reasons behind the surprising news but I am not inclined to enjoy what will be coming down the line in the near future. My emotional attachment to Nokia (as I mentioned in my last post about reaching the OS crossroads) is strong, and it’s the main reason I’ve shunned iPhones and Samsungs and HTCs the past few years. I know Nokia are still around and will be around as a Finnish company doing their good works. But are they ‘Finnished’? Not really, but as far as phones go, unfortunately, yes. If Jolla is where true Nokia talent is going to be, then that’s where I’ll head next.
And if Nokia want to join forces with Jolla in 2016…I’ll be even happier.