Nokia didn’t have any smartphones until late 2011. Only smarter phones. And what’s a smartphone anyway?

After Nokia issued a profit warning last week, I was trying to wrap my head around the steepness of its decline in smartphones. And then I realized that we’ve been looking at this thing the wrong way.

There is no Nokia decline in smartphones, there never was, and there never could have been. Because before the fall of 2011, when they released first Lumia phones, Nokia was never in a smartphone business at all.

What’s a smartphone?

The devices we call smartphones today were invented in 2007. By Apple. The first smartphone ever – was the iPhone. Just like with tablets after the iPad, the category of devices we used to call smartphones before iPhone, seized to be. It should have been folded into a wider “mobile phones” category, where they belonged all along.

“Smartphones” before 2007, were just smarter high-end phones, with apps as another feature among many. Other features included camera, e-mail, limited web browser, wi-fi, GPS, maps, etc;

Before iPhone, there was nothing inherently different between the smartphone and top of the line feature phone. Yes, smartphones could run third-party apps. But so could feature phones. J2ME apps were more limited than native ones, but they still were apps. As were apps on Qualcomm’s BREW platform. The main difference between smartphone and feature phone back then – was the level of access to handset functionality through various APIs. But both of them were still phones. Optimized for their primary purpose – voice calls and SMS messaging.

It’s amazing that for all the talk about smartphones for more than a decade now – nobody came up with a clear definition of what it is. Here’ what Wikipedia has to say about a smartphone today:

A smartphone is a mobile phone built on a mobile computing platform, with more advanced computing ability and connectivity, than a feature phone.

It’s so vague, and, with the emphasis on mobile phone, so wrong – it’s laughable.

In India, Nokia is advertising its S40 Asha phone line as smartphones. Many smartphone aficionados are truly pissed about the whole thing. But if we compare Nokia Asha 303 to the uber smartphone of 2007 – N95 – why exactly Asha is not a smartphone? It has faster CPU, more RAM, same connectivity options, maps, can do e-mail, browse the net, has apps and its own appstore, and a better keyboard. The reason some people are up in arms against labelling Asha a smartphone, is precisely because the smartphone today is a completely different kind of device then it was in 2007.

If I had to define a smartphone now, I’d say:

A smartphone is a pocketable multi-purpose communications and computing device with always on connectivity to cellular networks, rich Internet browsing, voice, messaging and other communication and discovery options, media playback and creation capabilities; expanded via highly developed third-party software application ecosystem.

It is a bit vague – and if you have an idea for a better definition of what is a smartphone today – do share it in comments. One thing I’m sure about -“mobile phone” functionality, while a must have feature of modern smartphone, is certainly not the main or even the most important one. And placing today’s smartphones into some subset of mobile phones – is a mistake.

Nokia’s smarter Symbian phones

Which was exactly the mistake that doomed Nokia back in 2007.

Nokia management saw the coming disruption of a phone becoming a computer in your pocket years before almost anyone else in their industry. And they tried to get ahead of disruption through their NSeries phones. Insisting that NSeries are not mobile phones anymore. They are multimedia computers.

Unfortunately, after the decades of legacy of making phones, and dominating mobile industry for so long – they had no idea how to make anything else, but a phone. With some computing features tacked on top of it. CPU, RAM – those were just cost items on bill of materials (BoM) – up there with camera sensor, Wi-Fi chip or GPS chip.

And software/OS? That was what those guys at Symbian Ltd, and Nokia S60 division did. A thing that is supposed to make all those chips and sensors that Nokia hardware wizards crammed into a device work together, and be presentable to the user. All within a tightly constrained BoM, hardware specs set in stone before the software part is even halfway done, and real computing/processing requirements are understood.

So Nokians looked at the iPhone – and all they saw – was a poor phone with some nice software overlay on top. As a phone – the original iPhone and even iPhone 3G were so far behind the devices Nokia made – it didn’t seem like a threat at all.

How hard can it be to add touch, bigger screen and write a few (thousands) lines of code, to make the successor to N95 behave like iPhone, and kill it on overall specs? Especially when Nokia could hire a bunch of third party contractors and throw them at the problem, if they needed to.

Or, for the matter, why not buy up a bunch of Internet startups, call it OVI, and become a mobile phone based Google, when all phones become computers? It looked like a no brainer from a phone company point of view. How hard can it be, when Nokia already more or less owned high-end mobile hardware biz?

That’s how a disaster like N97 happened. Why OVI was such a mess and died in the end. And that’s why the transition to Symbian^3 took so long, and ultimately failed. With its obsession on frugal resource use, cheap, underpowered CPUs and with no idea what makes software great, Nokia was still trying to make a better phone.

While failing to see the key thing that made iPhone different and successful. That it was not a phone.

Smartphone disruption

Even though very few were able to grasp the importance of this back in 2007, Steve Jobs tried to hammer in the message that iPhone is not a phone repeatedly on the announcement day. Watch at least the first few minutes of the launch presentation. It’s amazing how right Jobs was 5 years ago:

An iPod, a phone, and an internet communicator” – notice, how “a phone” is just one function squeezed between media player and Internet communicator? The iPhone was not a phone – it had a mobile phone capability – but it wasn’t the only one, and not even the most important one. Internet browsing and communications, media playback – were at least as important as a phone. That was the crucial difference and radical departure from prevailing mobile (smart) phone paradigm.

And Apple labeled its device – a smartphone. I have no idea if it was intentional. Probably not. But by putting an iPhone into the same category as the smart high-end phones of incumbents, Apple played a cruel joke on mobile device vendors in general, and Nokia in particular.

All this time when Nokia thought it was competing in smartphones, building an ecosystem, developing new Symbian touchscreen devices, etc., etc. – it was just making smarter phones. Nokia 5800, N97 and even N8.

To make matters worse, fearing the cannibalization of its Symbian cash cow, Nokia was unintentionally sabotaging the best possible response to iPhone and emerging Android they had – Maemo OS. Drawing up multi- year transition plans, great on paper but impossible to implement within reasonable time limits. Killing the bird in the hand – the best mobile computing device they ever made to date -Linux based N900 with GTK UI/app framework – for a mirage of Qt transition and incomprehensible merger with Intel’s Mobilin.

Nokia top managers were well aware about disruptive innovation theory. From what I heard, Clayton Christensen’s “Innovator’s dillema” was a required reading for Nokia execs. Heck – they even had Clayton Christensen keynoting at one of the last Symbian Summits.

The problem was that, contrary to most known examples in business history – the disruption started at the top this time. Nokia thought they were ahead of it – they were building and dominating smart phones at the time, after all. And nobody told them that they were making the ultimate sustaining technology devices, perfecting the mobile phone features like camera, penta-band antennas, USB-on-the-go and  HDMI/TV-out, few users cared about. While paying too litle attention to the disruptive user experiences enabled by better software on faster CPUs and bigger RAM chips.

So Apple and later Android started replacing Nokia smart phones with new kind of devices – the true smartphones we have today.

It started slow. In 2007-2008 Nokia barely noticed the bite Apple took out of its most lucrative $600+ NSeries smart phones. In 2009 Nokia started feeling the heat, and tried to respond with N97. We all know how that worked out.

By early 2010 Nokia was forced to admit that they do not have a device to compete with iPhone, and abandoned the most lucrative high-end market. Though they were still able to keep their faux market share, by replacing S40 phones with heavily discounted Symbian devices at lower market tiers.

Then, in the second quarter of 2010, upper mass market Android 2.1 smartphones exploded, and took over still pretty profitable $400-600 smarter mobile phone price market. Nokia margins and profits evaporated. And Symbian 3 devices – still more phones than smartphones – were only able to halt the fall for a few months.

In early 2011, acceptable quality Android smartphones got to the $300-400 level and started replacing Symbian phones there. You can see that clearly in Symbian sales crash in the first half of last year.

In 2012 Android went even lower, and now we are witnessing Symbian sales crash in high volume $150-250 mobile device market.

What now?

The good news are that in late 2010 Nokia recognized they do not have their own competitive smartphone platform. And took radical steps by going with Microsoft’s Windows Phone and more or less stopping Symbian and Meego development.

The bad news – Nokia mobile phones are being replaced by Apple’s and Android smartphones at a much higher pace then anyone expected. Furthermore – a theory that there will still be a significant market for old style mobile phones, which will help Nokia during transition – seems to have been wrong.

If there is a price where mobile phones can survive – we haven’t found one yet. From $600+ few years ago to $150 today – whenever Android gets to that level – mobile phones, even the smarter ones with Symbian, get quickly replaced by smartphones.

The question now is whether Windows Phones sales will ramp fast enough to compensate the losses Nokia is suffering in legacy phones.

For all intents and purposes – Nokia today is going through the same transition Motorola and Sony Ericsson went a couple of years ago. Moving from legacy phone business to smartphones. Neither Sony Ericsson nor Motorola survived the transition as an independent company. Whether Nokia will be able to – I don’t know. The signs for now are not too promising.

At this point – Nokia is a complete newbie in smartphones, entering the market with an unproven Windows Phone platform. And with rapidly declining legacy mobile phone business, that is now turning from a modest profit generator into a loss anchor.

Maybe Nokia does have a true killer smartphone on Windows Phone 8 in the works. Maybe the Linux/Qt based Meltemi OS will be a true smartphone OS, able to compete with cheap Androids. And maybe world class logistics, distribution and sales organization Nokia built over the decades, will be able to move those next generation devices in big volumes.

I hope so.

Update: I do not argue the definition of smartphone from the technical point of view. File system, photo, video, tv output, connecting to PC anywhere, the architecture, the efficiency (vastly superior to anything else out there) and so on. For as little as it matters – I do agree on these points. And I even agree that before 2007 – it was right to call N95, N93 and other Symbian devices – a smartphone. Because those devices where phones first and foremost. With other smart functions/capabilities secondary to to the main – phone- functionality.

I would have much preferred that industry and media had came up with some other term/category to put iPhone and Android into. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and these true mobile computing devices, that have a phone function which is equal, if not less important others – have co-opted the term. They are called called smartphones today and ideologically, they are very different from what a Symbian devices is. I tried to tackle this issue here.

There is a crucial difference between Symbian’s – mobile phone first, and Android/iOS – mobile phone just another app in a connected pocketable computer – approach. It results in a very real business consequences. Different trade-offs are made when designing the devices, different features are prioritized, and users start choosing the devices for different reasons to do different things.

If anything – today’s Nokia Q1 results, and the fact that Android is equally easy taking over both Symbian and S40 devices, when it reaches the same price level – is another indication that Symbian is much closer to S40 then it is to iOS or Android.

For more detailed story about how Nokia was disrupted check here

My early thoughts about the smartphone/true mobile computing devices – are here.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • shrek

    Good writeup. I always shake my head when die-hard Elop critics  blame his February 11 announcement as the cause of Nokia’s downfall. They fail to realize that the writing has been on the wall for several months that Symbian cannot compete on the high-end with iOS/Android, and on the low-end with Android. 

    Nokia could have decided to go with Android. But it chose the Windows Phone platform. It won’t regain lost share overnight.      

  • Simon8784

    I think you kinda missed the nokia n9 that i think fits right in your smartphone category that iphone is and what andriod devices are now.

  • Staska

    Nope. Didn’t miss it. Simply ignored it. 

    Yes – N9 certainly fits with my new definition of smartphone. But since Nokia decided to abandon Maemo/Meego development – N9 is a dead end device and does not add much to the argument I make , one way or the other. 

    Getting into what coulda/woulda/shoulda been if Nokia continued with Meego, or if they have not merged Maemo with Mobilin and went on to make Maemo 6/Qt device, or if they did not go Qt way, and just continued to work on  Maemo 5 with GTK for apps – is an intersting topic. But’s its water under the bridge and has little relevance this post. 

    At 2K+ words the post is too long as it is :)

  • Anonymous

    As usual you get the overall arch so right, it pains to see how Nokia didn’t. My friends and I at Nokia were trying to hammer some of the early versions of these points in as early as 2006, even before iPhone officially shipped.

    Did it help?


    Were we the smartest pencils on the desk? Hell no.

    It just goes to show that people who have built the past, will fail the future.

    And this is Nokia’s failing, still, to this day.

    There is still too much dead weight, still too many old hats who can’t think differently, even at Elop’s Nokia.

    And Nokia is so slow, it hurts my brain. They seriously need to redesign their whole product process cycle. It’s way too slow. Amongst the slowest in the industry.

    That works well, if you are an innovator and 3-5 cycles ahead of the competition.

    However, if you are the copy-cat, trying to catch up in a reactionary mode, then it’s just plain suicide.

    This is something that I have not yet seen Nokia react to seriously.

    And if they don’t, those and the bill-of-material-bean-counters will be the death of Nokia through committee meetings, endless powerpoint presentations and corporate bureaucracy, while the innovative people move elsewhere (mostly have already, years ago).

    Nokia doesn’t just need a killer OS, a killer phone and a killer ecosystem. It needs a killer new Nokia. From inside out. That’s what is missing.

  • Lowell Denzel Orlando Richmond

    if you ignored it than this article is pure BS then….plus it’s coming from the US >.> another reason to push down symbian and raise awareness of WP7…shame…..thinking and being different doesn’t mean using the same OS as everyone else  like what elop is doing…that doesn’t look any different than everyone else on the market….they needed to push symbian and Meego,cause WP7 is a waste of money and time and Microsoft is forcing it’s head in claiming they have the 3rd ecosystem which is just fabricated  

  • Hollie

    This world is really developed and i really think that this could been the really an appreciate work by Nokia ..

  • Anonymous

    Phones don’t get any smarter than they do with Symbian.

    Any OS that offers third party native applications, multitasking, internet connectivity, several different kind of e-mail protocols,.. is a smartphone.

    Not to mention the wide range of local connectivity that Symbian supports:

    7 different development frameworks
    Qt (qml)Web RuntimeJavaSymbian C++FlashpythonOpen C/C++

    and look at the list of APIs ..

    so.. I think you should rewrite your article

  • Anonymous

    If you ask me, a smartphone should be able to access the file system, to have apps optimized for it and to multitask properly. So iOS or WP phones are not real smartphones as they don’t have access to the file system, they are some type of limited smartphones. Symbian still has a lot more “smart” features then those two platforms (real multitasking, file access, cards, etc).

  • RVM

    <- It was me :) Wrong nickname by mistake.. 

  • Huea

    I have N8 and Lumia 800 and i consider N8 to be much more “smartphone” than Lumia. After all, it perfectly suits author’s own smartphone definition. The whole article appears to me like an answer for “why Nokia is in trouble” question. However, it’s completely wrong. We may blame Symbian for lagging in UI, but that has nothing to do with phone or smartphone definition. For example, im now using both Lumia 800 and N8. And it is Lumia which is used as a phone (and internet) and N8 which is used as a main multimedia device (photo, video, tv output, connecting to PC anywhere i need – i can’t install Zune in my work computer…, much more space for my files – 48 GB). 

    I can see both strong and weak points of WP and Symbian. And im not saying that move to WP was bad thing (i was really dissapointed about the way it was done though – burning memo platform – which is the cause of stronger Symbian downfall in last months), but calling Symbian not a smartphone platform is just dumb explanation of Nokia’s troubles. 

  • RVM

    Obviously name/mail dialog window is not working correctly. It uses the name from email address all the time.

  • Kimble Young

    The author of this article is obviously trolling for page views. If Symbian phones aren’t smart phones  then the iphone is a piece of wood. Its like saying the palm wasn’t a PDA, or Boeing don’t make jumbo jets.

    Given there is nothing that gets anywhere near Symbian in terms of power in the phone arena and the fact that current Nokia management are trying their best to kill it I am going to have to stock up on at least ten of the 808 so I have a half decent phone to use for the next ten years or so until somebody actually innovates in the area.

  • Anonymous

    “There is no Nokia decline in smartphones, there never was, and there never could have been. Because before the fall of 2011…Nokia was never in a smartphone business at all.”

    I see what you’re saying. The definition of smartphone is, as you also mentioned, laughably vague at best. It’s sad to see that no-one has really ever questioned this. Maybe it has been working out so well for the others that they have just sticked with it. Nokia should have handled this better. I agree with what you’re saying but still on the other hand I also agree that: “Phones don’t get any smarter than they do with Symbian.” It’s not so much about the technology. It has more to do with the fact that until Lumia Nokia has not been able to offer a product in the same product category where Android devices and iPhones are seen to be. It’s a matter of perception and Nokia should have been telling a more compelling story.

  • dallaboo

    Ye, your definition of smartphones suck. 
    Calling a device with no file manager on it a smartphone is stupid. 
    Its more of a touchscreen toy with internet connection with locked down ecosystem.
    Real smartphones dont care where you download, what you install,what you use, they just work. 

    Being a someones bitch and still be happy about it takes alot of a man.
    Say hello to Kim Jong Il from me.

  • Anonymous

    I’m an industry analyst who’s been researching this whole subject of what a smartphone is for some time, so you’re right to bring it up. Ironically however you’ve gone in the wrong direction with your thinking.

    As others here have implied, of all OSes out there, Symbian is the smartest of the lot by a considerable way (still, to this day). That is very easily provable when you look at the featureset (more full than anything else – i.e. more smart), the quality of implementation of features that it shares with other OSes (almost always superior in Symbian’s case, often by miles), the architecture, the efficiency (vastly superior to anything else out there) and so on. Not to mention the hardware it typically runs on.

    No, on the contrary to this article, the REAL definition of smartphone should be ANY phone AT ALL that can allow the user to do smart things – e.g. browse the full web, download apps, connect to the internet, etc. And that means we go right back to something like the Nokia 3510i, here:
    Check the specs. That is on EXACTLY the same scale as the latest Android and iPhone devices. Obviously it’s at one end and they are at the other, but it’s still definitely the same scale (I will argue this point until the cows come home, because I know it is 100% true).

    The real dividing line between smartphones and non-smartphones should be the boundary between Nokia’s S40 and S30 OSes, the former is fully smart, the latter is only capable of SMS and calls (and few other basic hardwired features but no data access).

    People should really stop confusing a slick UI and a high res screen with anything to do with smartphones, and people should also stop with the revisionist history about Symbian and other mobile OSes, it does those people no favours!

  • Anonymous

    Actually the truth is Elop’s actions indeed directly caused the massive Symbian downfall and S40 drop and Nokia general malaise – share price drop, credit rating drop, sales drop etc. If you actually research analysts that have a clue what they’re talking about, it is VERY obvious. I have been following this for a while and can tell you that this is the case, like it or not.

    Nokia could not have gone Android unless they wanted to be in an even worse position than they are now, with no hope of a future. Nokia can do MUCH MUCH better than be another Android OEM.

  • Anonymous

    > I am going to have to stock up on at least ten of the 808 so I have a half decent phone to use for the next ten years or so until somebody actually innovates in the area.

    Totally agree!

  • Antoine RJ Wright

    I said this in 2009 at Brighthand, and will repeat it here as I think it’s a better firing definition than what you have given, and invalidats your premise about Nokia and Apple both (because if you would use Apple, the LG’s Prada has just as much a claim):

    “Smartphones are mobile devices which utilize cellular and wireless software to enhance the user experience of mobile-enabled services by connecting to those services by direct ties into the operating system and hardware of the mobile device.”

    If it ain’t mobile-enabled, then the device using it cannot be a smartphone. If it is using an emulation layer, then it’s probably not a smartphone (sucks for Android in that light now doesn’t it). If it isn’t cellular-with (not first), then it’s not a smartphone. Lastly, if the input and viewport areas are less than 2.2in or greater than 5in, then its probably not a smartphone.

    Or my best definition of the tech yet, if it doesn’t add time to your day, it’s not smart at all.

  • Anonymous

    Pretty spot on I agree with much that was said but…

    I still believe Nokia could have succeeded with Symbian/Maemo instead of killing it off and putting all their chips on WP they should have made a spread

    its not fair to say that Nokia was counting on legacy devices to stem the tide until WP caught up since Elop announced their premature deaths globally; if you expected those to keep you afloat why would you take the air out of them? (mish mash of analogies lol)

    people have been loving Symbian Belle & FP1 but they’re not the least bit interested anymore because of the Feb 11 announcement

    No point in arguing about that anymore I suppose since what’s done is done but it remains another of Nokias greatest mistakes (how the transition was handled) along with the slow adaptation and stifling of maemo

  • torcida

    Crapy review… Especially this “Smartphones are invented by Apple”
    LOL… Did you ever used Mobiles/Smartphones before Apple launched the iPhone!?

  • Anonymous

    Like exit the phone market?

  • Jimbo

    Although I commend your attempt and your post—-I think tech blogs should offer more well written think pieces than the usual news update dash write up—-I only agree with half of what you wrote.

    Disagree that Symbian isn’t a ‘true’ smart phone OS.

    I do agree that the reason Nokia is at death’s (or major acquisition’s) door, is, their basic phone/feature phone business in emerging market nations, Nokia’s supposed stronghold, is collapsing before their eyes, which few foresaw.   In order to understand fully, this isn’t hyperbole:  Nokia sold *50% fewer* mobile phones overall as they did at the same time last year.

    That, ladies and gents, is your business evaporating before your eyes.  

    I predict the company begins selling off entire divisions and wireless patents, before the end of the year, and slims down to just the smart phone unit, to become a more attractive acquisition target.    

    As they say, ‘It’s over, Johnny’.

  • Ccsvchost

    anyone realised how dumb the iphone is compared to symbian? the iphone cant even multitask properly

  • Anonymous

    Your arguments are Lame at best, Apple DID NOT INVENT smartphones! And believe it or not even Microsoft was selling smartphones before Apple.

    You are playing semantic word games, stop now, before you hurt yourself! 

  • Arun

    Everyone defines smartphones in his/her own way and so does the author. I think this is a good article if one accepts the author’s definition. In my opinion there were two different eras of smartphones. The first triumvirate: Symbian, Windows Mobile and Blackberry and the second triumvirate: iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

  • Jeans

    Please mr. Staska…
    Would You be so kind to explain me the exact reason why You mean that my N8 is Not a Smartphone, while my iPhone 4s is indeed?
    Best regards
    Jens Ole

  • Toveri


    I think you forgot something:

    Nokia had a smartphone in 1996. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have one, the problem was that it was a niche product that became even more niche when what we call “smartphones” today became mainstream.

  • Staska

    To all who have issues with my definition of smartphone in a technical sense. 
    I do not argue the definition of smartphone from the technical point of view. File system, photo, video, tv output, connecting to PC anywhere, the architecture, the efficiency (vastly superior to anything else out there) and so on. For as little as it matters – I do agree on these points. And I even agree that before 2007 – it was right to call N95, N93 and other Symbian devices – a smartphone. Because those devices where phones first and foremost. With other smart functions/capabilities secondary to to the main – phone- functionality.
    I would have much preferred that industry and media had came up with some other term/category to put iPhone and Android into. Unfortunately that didn’t happen and these true mobile computing devices, that have a phone function which is equal, if not less important others – have co-opted the term. They are called called smartphones today and ideologically, they are very different from what a Symbian devices is. I tried to tackle this issue here.
    There is a crucial difference between Symbian’s – mobile phone first, and Android/iOS – mobile phone just another app in a connected pocketable computer – approach. It results in a very real business consequences. Different trade-offs are made when designing the devices, different features are prioritized, and users start choosing the devices for different reasons to do different things.

  • Staska

    Phones don’t get any smarter than they do with Symbian.” 

    And that’s the  key problem. Symbian device is first and foremost – a phone. All else is second to that. 

    iPhone and Android devices – they are connected pocketable computers first, with phone as just another app. And that’s how/why they are winning, having killed Symbian at every price level they got to

  • Staska

    The number smart features on a phone do not matter much anymore. Phone is just another app on a connected pocketable computer. That’s why/how Android and iPhone won this game

  • Staska

    There’s nothing “… near Symbian in terms of power in the phone arena”. The problem is with the “phone” part. Symbian device is first and foremost a mobile phone. With everything else secondary to that.  

    While for iPhone and Android – phone is just another app among many on a true mobile computing (post PC, if you will) device. That’s how Android and iPhone won the game and Nokia couldn’t see it coming 

    I am pretty unhappy industry and media lumped Androids and iPhone into the same smartphone category. I would have much preffered if they came up with another name for them, and kept calling the pre 2007 smart phones – smartphones.  Unfortunately – that’s not what happened. And I am simply pointing out and insist that pre 2007 smart devices and what we call smartphone today are two very different things

  • Staska

    Yes. The whole article and quite a few others I did and that are linked from the main post – IS an attempt to tackle the question “Why Nokia is in trouble?”. 

    Do you have a better answer?  

    “Burning platforms” may have had some impact on Nokia’s Q2 2011 Symbian sales crash. But they have stopped it in Q3 2011, and sales even recovered from 16.8M to 18-19 million in Q4. 

    After that recovery – I can’t see how a year old burning platforms memo/Feb 11th can explain an almost 45% decline in sales from Q4 2011 to Q1 2012. If it was about Feb. 11th – we would have seen gradual further decline in Q3, Q4 and Q1. Not this 45% crash

  • Staska

    I’m not arguing technical definition of smartphone here. I’m arguing business case/use definitions, and how ideologically different pre-iPHone and post iPhone devices are. Symbian – phone first, all smart functions – second. iOS/Android – phone – just another app among many on a mobile computing device. And why/how Abdroid/iPhone blindsided Nokia and won the game. And I am not at all happy that industry/media co-opted the smartphone term for iPhone/Android –  I would have preferred some other name/category for them. But the fact of life is – they did, that’s what people call smartphones today. And Android/iOS smartphone are very different kind of devices then Symbian based ones.  (Check the update to the main post). 

    Also – are you saying that iPhone/Android now dominate smartphones because of “slick UI and high res screen”?

  • Staska

    Agreed – Symbian was already heading down fast in late 2010, and this quarter’s almost 45% unit drop from Q4 only reinforces that point. 

    Nokia could have gone Android – and, maybe it would have been the right decision, and WP was a mistake. But that’s water under the bridge. 

    We’ll see one way or the other by this time next year. 

  • Staska

    I to have been watching, thinking and writing about Nokia decline even before Feb 11th. 

    I have read most (public) analysts takes on the issue. And, besides Tomi Ahonen’s obsession with Elop hate, haven’t seen many who agree with him on Elop Effect or the importance/severity of “Burning platforms” to what is happening to Nokia now. 

    Here are a few of my earlier posts on this issue: 

  • Staska

    I did not consider niche/dead end/abandoned devices like Communicator or NGage relevant to this discussion. 

    Nokia had tons of great ideas apps, app store (NOkia download), making phone an Internet centric device – OVI, LIfeBlog, etc; etc; – all bungled and abandoned, and none of them helped NOkia in the end

  • Staska

    Because in its core design philosophy – Symbian is a mobile phone first, all else second. While for iOS/Android – phone is just another app among many on a connected mobile computing device. (Check my update to the main post)

  • Staska

    Agreed. And I am pretty unhappy that they lumped both of these kinds of devices into the same smartphone category. Would have much preferred if they kept smartphone for Symbian, BB and WM and invented another name for Android/iOS/WP/WebOS and Meego. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened – and today its Android/iOS that is called smartphone . Re-categorizing pre-iPhone devices was the best/easiest way to go to make my point  

  • Staska

    Well – I know my smartphone definition is lacking. Though don’t think the original Prada fits into it. Even if it was a full touch big screen device – Prada was the phone first, everything else second. And it didn’t have the ecosystem :)

    As for your definition(s) – it’s cool. But it does not help me much. 
    My main goal of talking about smartphones the way I did – was to point out the key ideological difference between pre-iPhone and post-iPhone smart device design/use. Which blindsided Nokia and, IMO, is one of the main reasons for Nokia decline. 

    Symbian – phone first, all other smart functions second. iOS/Android/Maemo/Meego/WebOS – phone, just another app among many. 

    Have to work this one into my definition somehow :) 

    I also updated the main post – to expand more on this phone first/phone just an app 

  • Staska

    I don’t think its about the story. I’m still working/thinking about how to define a smartphone, and I updated the main post with some additional thoughts/explanations.  But:  “Phones don’t get any smarter than they do with Symbian” – is the main problem, IMO. The “phones” part. For Symbian it’s all about putting/having the phone first. 

    Symbian device is a phone first, with all other “smartness” subordinated to that. While for Android/iOS device – phone is just another app among many. There are some profound business consequences because of these different approaches. 

  • Staska

    Well – that is a problem with incumbents in any industry that is being disrupted. Even if some people inside see it, and even if its among the top management – they still can not react. Their internal cost and power structures are wrong, their incentives are aligned the wrong way, they can not fathom of endangering their current cash cow – so they devise some smart looking transition plans – that are almost always too slow, etc; 

    Talking about possible what ifs – I wonder what would have happened if instead of buying Symbian Ltd., Nokia would have spun off the Maemo group as a 100% owned but independent company, gave them those 264M Euro they spent to buy out Sony Ericsson and Motorola – and tasked them with building the best mobile computing device they could… :)

  • Jeans

    You are totally wrong in Your description af the N8’s core design philisophy as a mobile phone first and all else second.
    It’s the N8 thats is “a connected mobile computing device” as You call it!
    If You look at the N8 You will find that i is first and foremost a mobile computer with a bolted on camera and phone!
    And why is it so: beacuse in Symbian You have direct access to the whole filesystem via the programs/Filemanager, and You can manipulate files on the MicroSD card and external USB-drives via UsbOnTheGo. You can attach an USB mouse or keyboard to the phone, and You can save images to external media as well. You can watch movies on external discs via UsbOnTheGo, or transfer files to or from the phone via BlueTooth from a Mac or PC.
    You can download files via the browser and save them anywhere on the phone, and send pictures to other phones via BlueTooth.

    And most importnant it has TRUE multitasking like a real computer – not the pseudo-multitasking found on iOS!
    Basically You can do all the things You would normally do with a Mac or PC.

    So I don’t buy Your definition of a Symbian phone as “a phone first and all else second”!!!
    Try do do just a fraction of this on a iPhone…
    In my view an iPhone is just as restricted a toy as a Nintendo DSI compared to the Symbian phone… You can upload some games and apps and play with them, but they have no access to the rest of the phone, or to other phones, external media or computers for that sake – just iTunes on ONE computer via a cable!!!. You can browse the web, send sms and mail, play some games and open some apps and nothing more.
    Now I know that the iPhon probebly is the best selling “smartphone” and is the most desired too, but don’t confuse that with beeing the best… just because “the masses” craves it – that’s not the same as saying that it is superior or better… just that it’s selling in large quantities…
    It was the same with Betamax vs VHS… the inferior VHS system won because “the masses” craved it – not because VHS was the best…
    Well I acknowledge that the iPhone is sleek and fantastic to use, but in my view it is “a toy” compared with a Nokia N8, but it’s selling in buckloads, and will probably continue for some time. But if Apple misses to update the software and come up with something totally new (a la MeeGo’s swipe and true multitasking) it could surely end as Nokia in a few years…
    No one will find it inspiring to use a OS that basically consiste of a static homepage with apps in a grid layout on multiple screens, with icons that do absolutly nothing at all, and a OS where every app has to start op from a saved state when you switch between them. Even Symbian can do better than that, and MeeGo is superior in multitasking. If Apple doesn’t get their act tigether I will guess that Android will be the biggest player, and Apple, WinPhone and Symbian will be the loosers.
    If You persists on calling the iPhone a Smartphone, then I would demand that Symbian and Android phones are called mobile computers, because they both have all the characteristics of a true computer like a Windows PC or Mac.

  • Jumail87

    Rubbish article. Have u ever used Symbian phone? I’m still using 2008 make N82 & it’s working fine for me till date. Don’t think ur iphones, androids can compete against features offered by Symbian.

  • Zzz

    Mr something (sorry staska), or whatever they call you. Try to develop software for your smartphone without computer. On symbian you can develop without computer (python). Yes, nokia isn’t making smartphones. Nokia is doing mobile computers. I have been doing everything you have described for smartphones on the old nokia e50 7 years ago. Have you ever heard about maemo? Your definition is stupid and you too.

  • Zzz

    Are you crazy? If I can do everything the same even more in 2007 on the old nokia than iphone, the nokia one isn’t smartphone? “Your are sick and we are doctors” – iron sky.

  • Zzz

    Mr Jeans answer you. If you still don’t understand what is a smartphone that means you should write articles about it. You have never discovered symbian, probably you have been using palmos or something else what was available in US.

  • Aaron Baker


  • Anonymous

    Staska… you have an epic failing in understanding Symbian… Symbain was a PDA OS first, then added a telephony stack…the exact opposite of your phone first “theory”

  • Anonymous
  • Adam Pigg

    Windows Mobile 5 was around in 2005, and exhibited the behaviour you talk about, where the ‘phone’ part is just another App.  I had one myself, and recall thinking of the ‘Phone as an app’.  This pre-dates the iphone by several years.