Smartphone industry: Learning from the failure of Nokia and Palm.


Palm’s Web Operating System, interface-wise should have been the exact thing users were expecting Nokia to deliver
on their Symbian platform when it was launched in 2009. It brought cards which we can see on Android at the pressing
of the multitasking button. The old days spirit had Palm delivering a smartphone in a slide form factor which revealed
a physical keyboard under it. But they had just delivered to the world gestures that took over iPhone ten years later.
Under the screen, there was a touch-sensitive area. Swiping upwards from that zone would trigger desirable happenings on the screen.

Palm with its offering was far ahead. But It didn’t notice. A device in only one form factor wasn’t enough to convince
users to buy it. But they simply refused to allow other makers into the game. Yet they were not advantaged enough to
play the hardware game.

In real life, it takes a smarter understanding of what you have achieved to keep pursuing the path you have chosen and
not give up on it. We usually take notice of the negatives and fail to appreciate the negatives which we can build on to
turn the other failures into pure success.

Nokia, in fact, failed to bring any revolution on the platform. The user interface was not for grannies. It could still take
a user seven steps into the settings to reach a point where she could start to add her email account in 2009 when
Palm’ Web OS was released. Developers on the other hand seemed like thrown to an orphanage, and they needed
Software development toolkits and an abstract AppStore where users could add their cards and buy their apps.
But two years back, that is in 2007, Nokia’s CEO laughed when the iPhone came out sighting its lack of a physical keyboard. He laughed hard.

Nokia logo
Nokia Logo *

He didn’t see it as a threat. After all, Nokia then had a global market share of 60% in the industry. This new threat had a
single button and a vast screen covering slightly more than 50% of the device’s front. Its manufacturer had to partner
with a network service provider in the USA to deliver unique mobile browsing on a phone. This was the world’s first
smartphone, trying to fit well in the world of feature phones.

Rumours had it that the first pre-production iPhones were buggy to such an extent that the one Steve used for the launch was feared to crush. But it didn’t. Only it fired an employee by deleting him from the contact list.

Nokia had to reform. Nokia’s CEO noticed the territoriality of the iPhone and issues it would later have including
connectivity and relaxed in his rocking chair thinking that this was another try that was bound to fail. The company he led, Nokia, was a hardware company. Reforms could have been setting a separate and autonomous software side of it that could develop itself by earnings out of the software side while the parent company reaps from the hardware side. Reforms could have been trying the iPhone model and its form factor and as well a simple user
interface to light up smiles at the faces of grannies.

In 2008, Android launched. And moved on to welcome all, first, by beginning with HTC a company that had a history of
delivering one or two world’s first (including the world’s first touchscreen phone). They decentralised the software.
Allowed developers to have all the components of the software’s source code in their hands and gave all the software
free to anyone and manufacturers of hardware (OEMs) who needed it. They would then add a layer of services that still
exist as the only closed island in the Android ocean and made it compulsory to use. These services, including the
PlayStore became their gateway into reaping a lot out of the advertising industry and attracting more users to their

Apple was a software company as it was a hardware one. Their iPhone would race with Google’s Android in the
services race. And by 2009 reports were that some game developers could turn into millionaires through iPhone’s and Android’s app stores. But three things were apparent in 2009. That Nokia was failing in the services race. Nokia
was failing in the hardware department. Nokia was failing in the software race. Yet they only partnered with the likes of
Intel in bringing MeeGo in 2011 when they were now at 35%, but quickly they ditched MeeGo over Windows Phone.
Their first device in iPhone’s form factor came in 2009 with TFT resistive touchscreen meaning it was an old generation
of touchscreens that couldn’t even find their place on the screen of the first iPhone announced in 2007.

The tech industry’s quick pace at changing its landscape is not as we can expect in the chemical, aviation, mother,
steel and what not industry. We expect that in real life. Things change fast to prove if you are worth staying in the
game. Arrogance and laughing at what’s happening at the next door when we should act can burn down houses.
Don’t look at your past achievements or your current status or that 60% you have as a basis of what to do. Do only what you must do. There is a big difference between what you must do and what you can do. In what you must do there is sacrifice. In what you can do there are your capabilities. We can do a lot. There are only fewer things we must do.

Nokia kept delivering the camera and focusing on that instead of also building on things they haven’t achieved.
When things are meant to change fast. You need to adapt to serve yourself from extinction.