Is Nokia Irrelevant in the Smart Phone Age?

Generally, people don’t know what they want till they see it. This is the case with our mobile devices. Formerly, we were satisfied to have a simple phone in our pocket. Now we require them to facilitate a broader spectrum of nuance in our communications. If Nokia doesn’t comprehend the needs of users and design their product offering from that perspective, they will become irrelevant.

Problem: Nokia is struggling with a fractured product offering and image.

Solution: a renewed focus on the user’s needs and an immediate re-organization of all consumer-facing projects around this premise.

Irrelevant is a powerful word in a capitalist economy. Irrelevant happens when a company’s products or services don’t meet or exceed the baseline expectations. In the fast paced technology marketplace, if you don’t provide a comparable service you lose market share and become irrelevant in a very short time frame.

Nokia MarkNokia may still be the largest mobile phone manufacturer in the world, but that may not be enough to keep them relevant to the consumer dialogue happening around mobile applications, social networking and location based services. After reviewing their offering and taking an informal survey about their brand, I’ve generated some conclusions expressed in this post.

My observations are that (1) its all about the software; (2) Nokia must match their competitors before they can exceed them; (3) they need to leverage their newly emerging service platform; (4) they need to unify their communications to support one brand; and finally (5) I think they should consolidate their handset lines.

Here are my five thoughts in greater detail:

1. The Software Now Drives the Hardware

Hardware and software are no longer distinct in the eyes of the consumer. They must be as one. The touch screens place the emphasis on the software interaction. This new paradigm provides greater flexibility as the user interface (UI) can evolve over time and change according to an application’s needs. If the software must conform the hardware’s inputs, it is constrained. The hardware must only serve as a container for the software experience.Nokia N97

The fact that the UI drives the car is why Nokia may soon be irrelevant if their new flagship model, the N97, doesn’t create a stir with a satisfying TOTAL user experience. By total I mean the entire physical and screen experience. This includes: how the device sits in your hand; how the buttons feel when pushed; what feedback is provided upon input; how the UI behaves; how intuitive each transaction feels; and even how the whole phone syncs. Simply put, their OS needs to match the iPhone’s OS. That is the gold standard.

2. Match Standards

Nokia is still viewed as a hardware company by most of the world. They make a huge range of phones that serve a variety of audiences. If they are to succeed, their services solution (Ovi) needs to be fully integrated with their media handsets. If they can develop truly smart phones that has a comparable OS to their competitors linked to an expanding application marketplace, then they can match their competitors.

The key will be if they can do something unique with the core software applications (mail, calendar, contacts, media files, etc.). One application that is part of the Ovi offering is mapping. After a thorough review, my opinion can be summed up in two words, “not yet.” They haven’t even incorporated the basic features that we have been taught to expect by Google or Yahoo Maps. Once they can provide the baseline, then they can make incremental improvements.google_latitude

The CEO has publicly declared that they are a “solutions company”. He has also stated that they are placing a greater emphasis on location based services. They will need to match the standard set by a number of others, like Google’s Latitude service, in order to fulfill on that promise. Once that is achieved, then they can start providing innovative solutions.

3. Be an Open API Service Provider

As with all social structures and software initiatives that are fluid, Nokia must harness the power of the community. Communities know what they want. They are quick to reward a product or service that successfully addresses a need.

To stay innovative, Nokia should focus on providing developers with their OS and Ovi Mapping API. If Nokia provides a solid OS and core applications platform, then fully opens (not partially) the APIs, the development community will go nuts. The mapping features can be expanded and touch all the core communiation and social activities. that model simplifies Nokia’s task immensely by placing the burden of innovation upon the community.

So follow the open-source movement. Focus on creating a platform that encourages experimentation, commercial reward and community input. Considering the market share of handsets that Nokia enjoys, they can easily get momentum in their favor.

Nokia N series

4. Unify The Brand

Nokia currently has a number of products and services that utilize different style guides and messages. This provides their marketing and service vendors with a huge opportunity to unify the consumer’s perception of Nokia.

“Comes With Music”, the Ovi Store, the Nokia Store, local and global websites, and .Mobi all appear different and disconnected in the online environment. There is little energy around their traditional marketing. It feels fragmented and unfocused. They need to consolidate their vendors and unify their internal fiefdoms.Nokia Comes With Music It’s a process of change management on a very large scale.

The rewards will be a consistent impression of the company and its services. Remember, a brand is not what YOU say it is. A brand is what THEY say it is. Capture your core audiences loyalty and their friends will follow.

5. Cull The Herd

Lastly, I think they need to bring down the variety of handsets they offer to fewer lines that target specific activities and budgets. Each line should service a particular need in a simple and elegant manner. Nokia Buy 5800 croppedEach phone should always, always sync with their software service, Ovi, so a continuous bond between handset and software services is established. The user must feel that they are taken care of by Ovi and Nokia. If a Nokia phone will be desirable if it allows for immediate ownership of cool apps, then people feel special. Consumer’s are all about how to be special within their tribe.

In a world of options, the consumer needs focus. Nokia needs to provide that focus and direct their audience to the right product. Right now, its too confusing.

In conclusion, if Nokia took just a few of these suggested steps, it would gain mind share again. From a recent survey I took of friends from the U.S. and European markets, I learned that Nokia does not control the conversation about their brand. It is a fractured perception- just like their offering. They are not perceived as relevant to the market forces that are driving the mobile industry.

To their credit, they may be putting in place the tools to reenter that space. They are probably wrapping all of their services into the Ovi Store and beginning to unify their brand. The launch of the N97 will hopefully make a splash. The mobile phone market is moving quickly and the consumer’s expectations of how their “media device” must behave has shifted in a massive way.

It’s time for Nokia to turn up the volume and be relevant to the consumer’s needs. It’s time for user-centered product development approach.

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