You’re keen on telling people how Nokia is the world leader in smartphones by market share. That’s true. At the moment. But since you don’t get to be the head honcho of one of the world’s biggest companies without having your wits about you, we’re pretty sure that you know that’s simply not going to last. The fact is that your market share is flat at the moment and, unless you act today, you’re going to start losing it. We’d like to suggest 10 things you need to do, right now, to avoid that happening.
But first, some introductions. We haven’t met but rest assured that we’re big Nokia fans here at The Prodigal Guide. We absolutely loved our E90. When you released the E71, we hailed it as better than an iPhone. And our old 8800 Scirocco still gets palm time even now. More recently, the E75 and N97 mini have both impressed – albeit with caveats. And we continue to use our trusty N86 which we think is the best camera phone on the market.
So, we’re friends. But sometimes friends have to say things to one another that hurt. It’s because we care. You see, we think you’re heading the wrong way. But we also think there are some fairly straightforward things you could do to remedy the situation. Here then, in the spirit of constructive criticism, we offer you a suggested To-Do list for the day.
- Give your hardware designers a raise: Yes, that’s right, we’re going to start off with something you’re doing right. How your hardware looks is crucial in this game. It has to get noticed on the shelf and – more importantly – people want it to get noticed when they take it down the pub. The good news is that your hardware team is more than pulling their weight, the N97 mini, N900, N86, E71 are all great looking designs that retain a distinctive Nokia flavour. And – the story gets even better – this is an area where you have a clear opportunity to outdo Apple. Not because the iPhone isn’t also a gorgeous design – it is – but because it is now so ubiquitous. A backlash is surely coming; people will want to stand out from the crowd, they’ll soon be looking for great looking devices that don’t have a half eaten apple on the back. And if your hardware guys keep up the good work, you’ll be all set to capitalise on this. Make sure you don’t let them get tempted by job offers from Cupertino though; give them a raise.
- Stop dithering, renew your software now: There are no two ways to say this: touch is the future and S60 5th edition simply isn’t up to the challenge. It’s unintuitive but – worse – completely inconsistent. Forget eye-candy (sure, that would be nice) you need to fix the fundamentals. Let’s take email: in our iPhone we have perfectly rendered HTML email delivered instantly. On our Nokia devices, confusingly, we have two choices: Nokia Messaging which is some half-baked service that – even when it works, which is only sometimes – delivers the last few days worth of email and a tiny selection of our IMAP folders. Oh, and though it claims to render HTML, guess what? It doesn’t. Not accurately anyway. Pictures are often missing and the layout never looks right. Choice number two is your old, built-in email client. In many ways, this works better: all our IMAP folders are available and, after half a dozen clicks we can get to a properly rendered (in your browser) version of our mails. But it’s old, very clunky and requires a lot of button pressing. And that’s just one example. If you want the full run-down, read our recent N97 mini review. Yes, we know, Maemo is on the way. Thank goodness. Renew your efforts and plan to provide it on a broader selection of devices. You can’t compete in the high-end smartphone market with S60 no matter how much you polish it. (You can’t polish a turd, you know that right?). So, pick up the phone right now, call the S60 team and get them to down tools and head on over across the corridor and get working on Maemo with the others. You can’t wait another minute.
- Put an end to penny pinching: Trust us, saving small amounts on memory, processors and screens is a very, very poor economy. Here’s an area where you do need to copy Apple: install plenty of memory in your smartphones; give them high-end processors; add graphics acceleration; and please, please don’t even think about fitting another tacky resistive screen to any of your phones ever again. It’s too late, the cat’s out of the bag: now that Apple, Palm and HTC have shown people how much better interaction with their device can be when phones have these features, they won’t put up with anything less. Not here in the high-end market anyway. If this means your prices go up a little, that’s fine. Don’t worry; people will pay for a better product. So, get that product pipeline and the red marker out of your top drawer right now and up the spec on every single one of the devices on the list. Don’t let another smartphone out the door which isn’t fit for purpose.
- Get on top of your manufacturing quality control: We’ve praised your hardware designers and we stand by that, but you need to get on a plane to China today (Finnair flight AY051 to Beijing leaves at 18:00; get your secretary to book it) and sort out what’s going on with your assembly lines. We loved our E71 and our E75 but both had dust under their screens. And our E75 had one button that simply didn’t work properly – straight out of the box! What’s that you say? Exceptional manufacturing mistakes that happen rarely in any production process? Well, you should know that when we returned our dusty E75 to your flagship store on Regent Street, all six replacement models that your staff offered us suffered the same problem. This is unacceptable in the high-end smartphone market. You need to get on top of this once and for all.
- Get on top of your software quality control too: We’re going to be succinct with this one. The state of the firmware released with recent models like the N97 was a disgrace. You need to take on board one simple fact: your paying customers are not your beta testers. Oh, and while we’re on this topic, when you do release firmware updates to fix the bugs in the existing firmware, it would be great if someone would pick up the devices and test them briefly before you ship the update. Our experience has been that nine times out of ten, you fix one problem but create two more.
- Change your pathetic customer service model: Were anything to go wrong with our iPhone (ha, as if it would!) we would find ourselves visiting the compelling, welcoming retail experience that is the Apple Store. There, we’d get our hands on all the other Apple products, learn about how to get the most out of them, feel like we’d bought into something that was bigger and more special than simply owning a phone. We’d likely walk out with an iPod nano or something under our arm. Oh, and we almost forgot why we came, the nice guys at the Genius Bar would fix our iPhone for us too. When something goes wrong with our Nokia device (and it has, see above), the experience is rather different. Until recently you had the flagship store in London’s Regent Street at least (good move). But here’s how you messed that up: 1) you’re closing it (ludicrous) and 2) even when it was open, you didn’t use it properly. Here’s what happened to us when we brought our phone back there because it has dust under the screen. We were treated like second class citizens and told that no one could help. Instead, we were sent out into the rain to the nearest Nokia Service Centre. Guess what? The nearest Nokia Service Centre is 10 mins walk away in the basement of a Carphone Warehouse whose staff – quite understandably – had no motivation to help or to show us a good retail experience. Why would they? We weren’t Carphone Warehouse customers, we were Nokia ones. Doing customer service for Nokia was just an after-thought to them. As we stood in the 20 min queue of teenagers waiting to have the covers swapped on their cheap, free-with-contract phones, clutching our 400 pound, SIM-free smartphone, we couldn’t help thinking how much we’d rather be in the Apple Store. No doubt about it, your customer service model sucks. So please, fire up Outlook now, before reading the next paragraph, and send just two emails: one to reopen the flagship stores and another to assign one of your direct reports to overhauling your global customer service model within the next 3 months.
- Focus; have the courage of your convictions: Stop chasing every little niche. How can you possibly produce truly class-leading products and then service them properly when you’re constantly rushing to come up with the next design variation for some sub-niche that Juhani in marketing has just unearthed!? Every device permutation distracts your hardware teams and requires another iteration of your OS. This is crazy. Stop. Focus. Pick five or six form-factors and then deliver the very best in each. Take time to innovate. Take time to think and have the courage of your convictions. You used to have unique designs that no one else made – the Communicator springs to mind – which you’ve since abandoned to chase the iPhone. We have some distressing news for you: you’ll never build a better iPhone than Apple. Never. But did you realise that you can build half a dozen other phones that will be different and yet still best in class. In case you hadn’t noticed the clamshell business phone segment is still yours for the taking. While we’re at it, you could absolutely ‘own’ the quality camera phone segment if you’d just focus on it properly. Your N86 is so close to perfection it hurts. Add a bigger (possibly capacitive touch) screen, a xenon flash and a QWERTY keyboard and you’d have a home run. So, after you’ve got Katariina to book you those Finnair tickets to Beijing, why not head on down to see the E-series team and get them to dust-off those next generation Communicator plans, then track down the N87 product manager and make sure he or she has everything they need to hit it out of the park?
- Keep going with the advertising: Until 22 January this year we would have said you need to fire your advertising agencies. Simply put, they were doing a lousy job of getting your benefits across. The launch of Free Navigation for All was a, eh, turning point (not withstanding that you messed it up by limiting it to a small selection of handsets – where’s the N86 support for example!?) The advertising around that was excellent. That’s how to advertise: identify one unique selling point that none of your competitors can deliver and communicate it clearly, imaginatively and exhaustively. Well done.
- Respect your customers, reward your early-adopters and advocates: You’ve got a loyal fan base out there – The Guide included – and they want nothing more than to sing your praises. Make that easy for them. If you release a device with a bug in it, fix it fast and make sure that fix gets pushed out to all customers straightaway (we’re still waiting for the latest firmware on our N86 four weeks after bloggers in other countries started writing about getting it). And don’t limit your firmware releases to bug fixes, enhance functionality over time. Customers love that and it keeps them loyal. Again, take Apple as your example here. Don’t’ worry, it won’t stop them upgrading; they’re going to do that anyway. All it will do is ensure that, when they do upgrade, they come back to Nokia . Which leads us to your last to-do of the day…
- Give your PR and Word of Mouth agencies a bonus: We’re going to finish with something else you’re doing right. Your PR and WOM agencies are doing a stellar job in keeping interest in your products high. Flying in the face of all the problems we’ve highlighted above and fierce competition from manufacturers who are offering far better, more enticing products right now, they have managed to keep a buoyant community of writers, bloggers and tech-journalists more positive than they really should be about Nokia. Your WOM people deserve a bonus; they’re doing great work.
So, there you have it OPK, your ten-point to do list. We won’t keep you any longer because we know you’ve got a very busy day ahead of you. Just before we go though, we’d like to offer you one last bonus suggestion:
- Hire some clever, opinionated thinkers to give you new insight: We’re not going to stake our own money on this but we’d wager someone else’s that most of your staff have been with you a long time and have a fairly ‘Nokiaesque’ view of the world. That can be an advantage. It isn’t at the moment. You need some outside perspective right now. You need people who are level-headed and, while loving your potential and respecting your past, can tell you what needs fixing for the future, what matters to real users in the real world. Us? No, don’t be silly, we’ve just poured the sum total of our knowledge and ideas into this letter for free. But why not put some real experts – like Steve Litchfield, Rafe Blandford, Ben Smith or Ewan MacLeod – on the payroll? You’ll find them here, here and here. Take an hour today to familiarise yourself with them.
We wish you a productive day and a successful trip to China (don’t forget to pack the Dust Buster.)
Your Friends at The Prodigal Guide
An open letter to Nokia CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo: The 10 things you need to do today to be a contender in the high-end smartphone market again tomorrow
Dear Olli-Pekka You’re keen on telling people how Nokia is the world leader in smartphones by market share. That’s true. At the moment. But since you don’t get to be the head honcho of one of the world’s biggest companies without having your wits about you, we’re pretty sure that you know that’s simply not [...]
Our founder and publisher, the self-proclaimed "greatest wit, raconteur and bon vivant of our age", borders on delusional. Over the years, The Fool has squandered more money on fast cars, Swiss watches and electronic gadgetry of all kinds than he – or his bank manager – cares to remember. Come nightfall, he can invariably be found stumbling out of Dukes mumbling “just one more Martini; I could have handled just one mmmmm… [thud!]”
Contact the author