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Nokia dilemma about geography and culture

by David M. Smith  |  February 10, 2011  |  Comments Off

Everybody’s weighing in on the big Nokia news expected tomorrow.  This isn’t about the actual choice widely expected to be be that Nokia and Microsoft reach a deal around Windows Phone 7. I actually predicted this when Stephen Elop joined Nokia. So that’s not surprising to me at least. Although the speed at which the change (less than 6 months after joining) is a bit of a surprise. But obviously time is of the essence here.

What has been fascinating is the divide between North American and European perspectives. The reactions to the leaked “Burning Platform” memo by Elop.  Denial and claims that the memo isn’t real and must have been written by an American analyst.  Well, it was written by a (North) American (Elop is actually Canadian).  And it looks real to me.

The point is that geography and culture matter a lot. What I am writing is absolutely influenced by the fact that I am an American.  But an American who has seen technology trends worldwide.  As an American (hopefully not ugly), I survived years of phone envy.  For the longest time, Europe with its GSM standard was years ahead of North America in usage and advanced usage.  I’d go to Europe and want the phones – in fact I had a Bosch worldphone on Omnipoint (the precursor to Voicestream, the precursor to T-Mobile) so I saw what was happening.  But I’m also a web guy.  And despite the advances, the mobile web (e.g. WAP) was still awful even in Europe.  Every year I would go over and expect to see something great because year after year, people were talking about the ‘year of the mobile web’. Every year I was disappointed.  The latest and greatest barely worked.  A shadow of the desktop web. Similar story in Japan.

Well, it finally happened.  In 2007.  With the iphone. The first real mobile web experience. And than apps happened. and then the tides turned and the most advanced use of mobile phones and the new developments were happening in North America, not Europe.  The vendors gaining credibility, share, and power were North American vendors and the North American market (which Nokia had lost even before the iphone) became much more important. So for Nokia, getting a presence in North America (in addition to the technology and UI and other issues) became paramount.  Enter Elop.

So geography matters. and attitude as a result of that geography matters.  Being on top for years leads to complacency, denial and and myopia.  There are obviously lessons to be learned here far beyond just Nokia, smartphones and even the tech industry.

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