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July 17, 2009


Tomi Ahonen

About the back-and-forth between SymbiX and Boro

Hi both. Wow, very interesting discussion. You both do very fair counters and replies.

What can I add to that? I would say about the timing part from Boro "Nokia should have known better" part - that I certainly feel that Nokia has been trying. The handset industry went through the biggest expansion of a technology in ability, than ever seen in the industrial history of mankind. Almost every innovation that happened in phones, was one that the existing experts said cannot possibly succeed (ie camaraphones to sell more than stand alone digital cameras, musicphones to outsell stand alone MP3 players like iPod etc)

The past decade has seen far more dramatic - indeed traumatic - shifts to the handset industry than what happened even in the most heated times of the PC industry in the early 1980s or the hottest evolution of the internet in the 1990s.

With that, I would say, with hindsight it may be that there was some point in time that could have been more optimal to make some types of changes, but I can't fault Nokia for having failed to notice the changes coming, and for pushing for example Symbian to be more for where it saw the industry going and even say the termination of S80 and going S60 for the Communicator series etc.

So Boro you may be right, that an even better moment in time could have been recently, but that Nokia was already aware of it and trying - perhaps not good enough at the time - and also is by no means at all today, 'too late' to get this in pretty good shape.

PS SymbiX - agree with all about E90 - there is example of a near-perfect super-smartphone as can be (as I am fondly looking back to also the N97, another super-smartphone that was so many miles above any other in the market back when it launched in 2006)

Boro, I know you had more comments also directed to me directly, I'll get to those too. This was just about the juicy back-and-forth between Boro and SymbiX

Thank you guys, I am learning so much from the comments also in this thread !

(PS greetings from sunny Bogota Colombia where I today delivered the keynote at the Blackberry Connects with Experts event. Met many good friends from here, and made many new ones, and again got new stuff to blog about. Stay tuned..)

Tomi Ahonen :-)


As a Nokian, i agree about 80% to forbes article. nokia has it's own innovative moments but the platform legacy is dragging it behind. it lacks drive to make the best PC+phone+internet experience and always focus on bottom line. The hardware in latest nokia's smartphone is inferior (in terms of processing power etc..) to the latest HTC/apple ware. By combining that with legacy S60 O/S and lack of sensitivity to the outside world by the service team management, nokia are falling behind.

The current management is aiming for active user nowadays. With current inferior service quality and usability, users will turn away from ovi and then nokia will be in a vicious cycle of downfall. If nokia can drain it's brand power to the last drop in the coming 2 years (to buy time to improve it's game), then it may have a chance to bounce back in the smartphone category.

The big question is whether current management will change vision again for services (e.g. active revenue) next year. With rapid re-organisation to destablize the company over the past 2 years, it adds 20% for me to believe in frobe's article.

Jack Lee

Genuine question: "Does improvement = innovation?"

Jack Lee

Actually, sorry, to elaborate more: "Does improving on something already existing mean innovation?" This is a genuine question that I have...


What a crappy article. This guy is seriously claiming Ovi has 20,000 applications? No, it does not. What Ovi has - when it actually functions (try it, most of the time you will see error messages) - is some crappy ringtones and wallpapers. I would not call these applications, apparently Tomi does.

Hullu Cupertinossa

Seriously, Finns should not be allowed to comment on Apple and its products. Ja tämä kaikella kunnoituksella ja ihan aikuisten oikeesti. The Microsoft/Nokia Kool-aid has just damaged the critical brain functions too severely for Finns to be able to appreciate the innovations that Apple genuinely has brought to its respective industries (computing, music, phones.) Nothing drives Finns crazier than envy, and it's obvious that Finns are nothing but envious of Apple's recent successes in the phone market.

In the typical Finnish herd mentality it's impossible to break out of the MSc / MBA indoctrination that only Nokia and Microsoft can be the true leaders in their industries and that anyone else must be a poser. This is especially true since very few in Finland during their formative years (i.e. during college) could afford Apple products and had to settle for 2nd best, i.e. Windows / Linux. This mediocrity now permeates the Finnish spirit and obviously it's now embarrassing having to admit that Apple II and Macintosh truly were the game changers in the industry (innovations which Microsoft dutifully emulated with much better financial savvy, albeit with an inferior product ) and having been "inspired" by the success of Windows and having created such mediocre products (despite their "innovations"), Nokia engineers now find themselves outplayed and outsmarted by the "niche" computer maker from California. What a pity.

To call Nokia an "innovator" for such obvious things as integrating the latest technological advancements in its field into its products (camera, keyboard, browser, WiFi, video, GPS, …) is laughable. This is nothing more but product refinement by virtue of necessity. If that is the norm for calling something an "innovation", then Apple invented CD-ROM, FireWire, USB and 802.11 as it was the first computer manufacturer to ubiquitously deploy these technologies on its platform. Not Dell, HP, Digital, IBM, …, but Apple. Therefore if Nokia is an innovator, then so must be Apple, if the same rules are to be applied to both companies.

Where Finns get it always wrong is their mistaken belief that a superior feature list always trumps a product with an inferior feature list, as Finns have no appreciation for usability and human interaction as a feature. That's understandable since usability / CHI is intangible and unquantifiable and it's easier to sell a new 5MP CCD over the previous 3MP CCD than selling a "this product is easier to use than the previous one" feature. Apple did exactly that with the iPhone and that seems to be what the market was asking for. Just like with the Macintosh in the world of PCs (btw, Apple II created the PC industry…), and with iPod in the world of MP3 players.

Something that Finns will never understand since they've been tainted with Windows as the baseline user experience, versus students in the US who could actually afford (well, their parents could…) Apple's products during their formative years. I'm sure the engineers at Motorola thought of Microsoft as a leading light as well.

Petra Söderling

Hi Tomi,

I worked in the MIA unit in 2001, and before that in the unit where I believe you also were: the Multimedia and Wireless Solutions (MWS) within Nokia Networks. The MWS was established in the 1990s, so an even earlier sign of Nokia understanding how multimedia is part of the mobile experience. Also the fact that these units were in Nokia Networks, and not in Nokia Mobile Phones (NMP) is a proof that Nokia understood the role of the "cloúd" even before the word was invented.

Nokia Mobile Phones also had a unit at those times that was called the Digital Convergence Unit (DCU). They worked on converging the enterprise, multimedia, IT and mobile domains into one single device.

I'd like to add one point to Nokia's innovativeness, and that's open standards. Standards are often seen as anti-innovation, something that is restricting creation rather than enhancing it. But this is really not the case. When Nokia formed the Open Mobile Alliance in 2001, their idea was to be writing mobile service enabler specifications openly with others, so that the industry will bloom and we'll have a bigger cake for everyone. And this is what happened.

Nokia's work at the OMA, DLNA, 3GPP, 3GPP2, W3C, Liberty Alliance, OASIS etc. ensured that companies like Facebook, Twitter etc will have a technical innovation platform that they can start building on. If it wasn't Nokia driving and writing all those specs, we wouldn't have the interoperable services running smoothly in different technical environments, that we have today.


It was a fantastic article Tomi and needed to be said. Many, if not all, of the negative replies are likely NA (USA) specific users. So it is somewhat forgivable that they tend to be a little short-sighted on this issue.

Anyone who has been living with mobile as a reality since the late 90's intrinsically knows what you are talking about. Facts are facts and many people get defensive with facts contradict personal belief.

Even in terms of usability, Nokia is getting better. I just bought a Nokia E71 2 days ago and out of the box, I was able to do everything I've ever done on my E90. It took me 10 seconds to connect to 3G/Wifi. When network operators don't mess with the actual device, Nokias work beautifully out of the box. email, wifi, 3g, web browsing, camera, multimedia, Notes/QuickOffice, File Browser... these were all present on the "today" screen. 1 click access. For a deeper invovelment, you delve deeper into the system. Most simply won't have to. My reading of US market is that many people complain about the cripple-ware and whatever else is imposed upon devices by the operators. I wonder just how much that contributes to Nokia's being "unasable" in the NA market perception.

In Singapore, our devices, even ones bought from operators, are full featured, non crippled, non-interfered by the operators. The only thing I noted was that the devices only recently came pre-set for 3G access over their networks, which cuts down internet setup time to nothing. And even if it wasn't preset, we can have an sms sent to us which will auto-configure our devices. It takes 10 seconds and a user just clicking "accept 3G/internet configuration" completes the only setup a user could really ever need.

Just how much different is it from how these devices are being deployed in the NA markets. It would be an interesting thing to find out.

Michael Mulvey

While I agree that the Forbes article is a mess, you're confusing 'innovation' with 'invention'.

I've responded to this post on my site.


Michael Mulvey,

While I agree with your blog about invention vs innovation, I personally don't think this applies much to the Nokia story. If we're objective about it, HOW has the iPhone made it easier to use functions of the phone vs how easy is it for a person to use the functions of a Nokia phone in the same category?

When I ask that question, and I've used both, it's not that surprising that there's very little if any difference in usability between the two. All of Nokia's basic functions and their more advanced "smart" functions are easily accessible and work straight out of the box. The difference is in 1 being a touchscreen device optimised for 2handed use while Nokia;s devices are typically optimised for 1handed use, with the exception of thier touchscreen devices.

Most of the "innovative" features attributed to the iPhone WERE innovated BY Nokia and implement commercially and used very easily and very heavily to great success by users young and old. In fact, in a lot of ways, Nokia phones are still more usable than an iPhone is. Dedicated buttons to these "innovative" functions (camera, calendar, SMS, eMail, Address Book etc) with a screen that gives you "at a glance" functionality IS usability. iPhone traded hard buttons for soft buttons and flick motions. This doesn't in any way change the fact that the Nokia functions are any less usable. They make it more fun to use, sure, but that can only be applied to certain types of devices for a certain market.

Then on top of that, to be able to use a Mobile device ONE-HANDED in its full functionality and input to said device is the penultimate of usability and innovation in the smartphone market (from the PDA generation) for what a MOBILE device is. Note that iPhone can be used 1handed and even input 1 handed but it's clunky and precarious compared to, say for example, an E90 in standard phone mode (closed position). If nothign else, the iPhone is STILL just an advanced PDA even if it has telephony functionality.

So in the Nokia story you see both invention and innovation, which in Tomi's defence, I think his arguement still stands, because the two are the same in the case of Nokia's contribution to the mobile world. It isn't any more easier to use functions on an iPhone than it is on a nokia. It's flashier and it could give you the illusion of such and it being a touchscreen, it does have its advantages in some applications over a standard candybar, buttoned device, but for the most important parts that matter, Nokia is ahead in some areas of usability or on par in some and deficient in others considering also that in terms of sheer functionality, Nokia's can typically do much, much more.

That's not to say the OS doesn't need a fresh design and direction, just to argue that the innovation that is attributed to the iPhone was already both an invention and an innovation in the market whole by Nokia and some of its peers. For all its vaunted wow factor, iPhone's interface doesn't truly translate into "better" usability and in some cases, is even less usable from a design/usability point of view.


SymbiX, don't worry. Nokia is doing you and all S60 users a favor. Had they tried to revamp the UI while doing the OS, it'd been much harder. We'll get the best of both worlds soon, and at the expense of Apple, RIM, and Android. They have the most to lose, especially Apple. People don't see it, but if Nokia resurges, it'll be largely at Apple's expense.


I just hope Tomi wasn't kidnapped in Bogota...

Tomi Ahonen

Hi everybody

Wow, really good discussion here still going on, thank you all so much.

I had the longest scheduled set of flights of my life at the end of last week, returning from Bogota Colombia via Buenos Aires, London Heathrow to Hong Kong where I spent 49 hours consecutively inside planes and the transit halls of airports

(my previous record was 44 hours; excluding a couple of times of unscheduled delays due to missed connections, broken planes, broken electicity grids in the USA - ha-ha, yes, I was stranded extra 36 hours when the Eastern seaboard electrical grid was shut down a couple of years ago)

So thanks Boro, I was not kidnapped in Bogota, ha-ha, am here, now fully rested and will return to responding to all who commented. I'll take replies a few at a time, but definitely will respond to all.

Tomi Ahonen :-)

Tomi Ahonen

Jouko and Hardeep

Good comments. Jouko, yes, very good point that the past innovations by Nokia were mostly on the hardware but the whole industry is shifting more and more to the software side, and it remains to be seen, can Nokia indeed become an "internet company" as they've been saying they want to do, and what level of innovation can they do in the future.

I'd say that Nokia at least did not miss this opportunity, they were there long ago saying this was the trend and top management at Nokia has been pushing the organization to shift to more software and services. Its a huge company - twice the size of say Apple, Intel or Cisco - so it will take a lot of time to turn the total ship around, but to me, Nokia is "saying the right things" just like Google was saying the right things about the importance of mobile to the internet. Compare in mobile what Motorola has been saying vs Nokia in software/services/apps/internet; similar to what say Microsoft was saying compared to Google about mobile. So while we don't have a lot of evidence that Nokia will innovate also in this side, I think their initiatives in Ovi, maps, music, etc have been the right steps to take.

Hardeep - thanks, I really appreciate that. But in all honesty, there are plenty of intelligent people with any "fanatical" group and I hope to engage with them. I dont' expect to convert every "Apple fanboy" ha-ha, but I hope to open the eyes to some, and help anyone in our industry make more money out of mobile. We as an industry are far wealthier now that Apple is finally in this industry, than we were before it. It doesn't matter at all, that Apple didn't get everything right about the original iPhone (nobody could have) and regardless, it is still the definitive smartphone, the iconic prodcut that changed an industry. We are better for it. I think we can extend some latitude to Apple fans on this blog, I'm just happy they are leaving commnents and engaging with us.

Tomi Ahonen :-)


my mobile phone has supreme usability!
in fact, it's the best mobile phone ever!
it's name?
nokia 6310i


I'm neither a Apple fanboy or Nokia fanboy. I don't own apple iphone but I do have a ipod. I have several Nokia phones that some I hate and some I love.

IMHO, Innovation could be both in the OS/UI as well as hardware. Nokia has not been a great innovator for a long time. For example, Samsung beats Nokia in terms of the figures on hardware like AMOLED screen, 8 (or was it 12) megapixel camera. Hardware-wise, Nokia is a follower, BUT a very good and very cautious follower. Nokia makes very good and reliable phones (to those who claim bad quality of Nokia, have you used other brands? They are worst). To those who claim Nokia is weak in doing this and that, keep in mind the scale of Nokia vs Apple. Apple has essentially one product. Nokia has a wide variety of products catering to all kinds of people. Touchscreen smartphone is just one segment.

However, I do feel that Nokia need to be less complacent and try to innovate more in terms of the OS (UI). N97 is a good effort and should be replicated and further improved. I feel Nokia will be able to do it.

Apple is an innovator when it comes to OS. The iphone captured so much interest because the UI is so userfriendly and pretty. So much so that people can forgive the poorer phone functions and hardware. I have to admire Apple that only they could do it so. If it was another brand (say Nokia) that offered a phone that couldn't forward SMS, does not support MMS, cannot copy-paste etc etc, it would be shot by the public. Does it mean, Apple is better than Nokia? Not necessarily. Again, bear in mind Apple had one (phone) product and is on a smaller scale. However, I feel Apple is admirable in terms of the OS and innovation, and it has help in fact to push the industry to innovate.


It is interesting that some "analysts" have seen Nokia as looser in US, even it's market share there has been quite low already quite many years. The real looser has been Motorola as US consumers (or more correctly US telecom operators) have switched to Apple and RIM.
Even more interesting is that Forbes publishes an article that is clearly deliberately targeted against Nokia, why? Is this some kind of revenge on the fact that US mobile market and industry has been underdevelopped for so long?


Just found on the web, read this!

Apple bigger than Nokia with only one phone!


hallelujah finaly another one who getz it. What apple is good at is buzz and hype. Btw the accelerator was not copied either the same chip that sit in a wii controler is also in the n95 from back in 2006.

Also you forgot to mention that you can hook up a bt multimedia keyboard to the n95. And even run a webserver on it.

Oh and you can actualy do basic video editing on it.

Or how about the context project where u use your phone to register and share yoour wearabouts and more automaticaly using wifi gsm tower blutooth gps and more as sensors. Project developed by docomo for a few nokia handsets.

Btw thanx for pointing out the misconception many has about what is called the gphone. Google dosent make phones as you say and the os dpsent even carry googles name it is a opensource project called android headed by googlee.


It's been a while since the world has been as excited about a Nokia product as they are about the N900. The fact that it runs on the Maemo 5 OS instead of Nokia's old (lackluster) standby, Symbian, is reason enough alone to be giddy. We know this phone will be hitting the T-Mobile network this October and, if Boy Genius is correct, it'll be hitting the AT&T and Rogers wireless networks in fairly short order.Visit for more details.

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