Sunday, September 26, 2010

Nokia's lost opportunities

A few years before Apple introduced the iPhone in early 2007, the prototype of an Internet-ready, touch-screen handset with a large display made the rounds among upper management at Nokia.

The prototype developed by Nokia’s research centers in Finland was seen as a potential breakthrough by its engineers that would have given the world’s biggest maker of mobile phones a powerful advantage in the fast-growing smartphone market.

“It was very early days, and no one really knew anything about the touch screen’s potential,” said Ari Hakkarainen, a former manager on Nokia’s Symbian Series 60 marketing team, who handled and demonstrated the prototype to business customers at Nokia’s headquarters in Espoo, Finland, in 2004.

“And it was an expensive device to produce so there was more risk involved for Nokia,” he said. “So management did the usual. They killed it.” ...

As Nokia — which has just hired its first non-Finnish chief executive [former Microsoft business software division head Stephen Elop] — attempts to turn its troubled high-end lineup around, the company faces an obstacle almost as formidable, according to three former executives, as its rivals: its stifling bureaucracy. ...

Juhani Risku, a manager who worked on user interface designs for Nokia’s Symbian operating system from 2001 to 2009, said his team had offered 500 proposals during his tenure to improve Symbian’s performance but could not get even one adopted.

Many analysts say Symbian’s shortcomings have hobbled Nokia’s smartphone offering, as developers are unwilling to write applications for the clunky system. ...

In 2004, managers on Nokia’s Series 60 smartphone development team came up with an early design for a Nokia online applications store — an innovation that both Apple, Nokia and other handset makers would eventually adopt three years later in 2007. ...

“We demonstrated it within Nokia and said this is what we needed,” [Hakkarainen] said. “We tried to convince middle and upper management. But there was no way.”
--Kevin O'Brien, NYT, on Nokia's Soviet-style bureaucracy. And Nokia's bringing a Microsoft executive to fix this?

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