In the eyes of the developers and the startup community, Nokia went from hero to zero in less than 3 years. Despite its still 44% strong market share, the company is losing more and more every day to Apple and Google, both of which had no previous mobile experience.
The company is about to introduce the N8 to a mostly indifferent community. Here is a list of 7 things they can do to win the hearts of app developers and startups again.
The number one reason why small firms and coders are not investing in the Nokia platforms is because they are uncertain. When you develop an app for iOS or Android, you know it will work on every device in offering, with little or no extra work. This ensures you can reach their vast amount of users, without too much overhead.
In comparison, the N900 runs Maemo, the N8 runs Symbian 3, and future phones should run Meego. There was also the widget platform, Widsets. This is too fragmented. Of course, QT is often touted as an alternative, though it sounds more like a band-aid than a way to leverage the power of a specific platform.
Work with startups
The iPhone has iTunes and the largest app store. Android has the tight integration with its very strong service offering (mail, calendar, maps, latitude, goggles). Nokia phones have no killer apps; neither Ovi, Maps, or Nokia Music have managed to deliver functionality superior to its competitors. There is real doubt about whether the company can sustain its own product offering without external help.
The best way to address this issue would be to work with younger companies that excel at one type of product. There is a vast amount of startups that Nokia could either acquire or make exclusive partnerships with. Yet the company has been rather passive on that front, with only the acquisitions of Dopplr and Plazes that stand out. Quite obviously, this pales in comparison with Google, but is also inferior to Zynga.
Nokia phones would be instantly better with exclusive deals with Spotify or Foursquare. Developers would have more incentives to support the platform this would lead to potential partnerships or acquisitions.
Since discarding the N-Gage portal, there have been no efforts to promote gaming on Nokia phones. In their current state, the N900 and N8 are nowhere near being capable of competing with the iOS, Android, or the Nintendo DS.
However, other mobile manufacturers have not particularly excelled at gaming. The iPhone mostly has small casual games, with few big IP games being developed. If the company were to enable easy support for Flash games, it could easily feature a library of thousands of great games comparable to the iOS. This could be easily achieved through a platform such as Kongregate, for example. Also, any company that would offer World of Warcraft or Crysis exclusively on their mobiles would instantly become the major platform for mobile gaming.
Make a better store
According to Jan Ole Suhr, developer of Gravity, the Ovi store is clunky. This, combined with the lower market share, obviously makes sales more difficult, and lowers the possibility of compulsive purchases that often happen on the Apple app store.
In addition, the device fragmentation and general lack of good apps do not make the Ovi store a compelling shopping experience, especially in light of the upcoming Chrome Store, or simply iTunes.
Nokia needs a face. Sony has Kevin Butler. Apple has Steve Jobs. Microsoft has Ray Ozzie.
It appears as if the company has no one who will excite the masses, talk to the crowd and communicate a strong vision.
Apple promises bloggers, designers and hipsters to live in a world of beautiful apps that “just work”. Google offers freedom and openness. Nokia offers no strong differentiation. If it wants to excite the masses again, it will need to find a specific message and image that is compelling enough to attract power users and early adopters. When was the last time an influential bloggers praised a Nokia phone?
With the abandon of the N97, N900, N-Gage (twice) and Widsets, the Nokia ecosystem feels extremely unsafe. This is a very serious problem for app developers, who will refrain from investing time and money in uncertain platforms.
The new flagship phone, N8, runs on Symbian 3, shortly after Nokia announced Meego. It is impossible for an outsider to comprehend those moves, let alone be excited by them.
Be more humble
The company is notorious for being difficult to approach. Earlier this week, when Techcrunch writer Mike Butcher asked to interview Anssi Vanjoki, he received a very cold and corporate treatment repeatedly.
In comparison, Steve Jobs answered emails from Gawker at 2AM. Shouldn’t a company with a decreasing market share make more efforts to be approachable? That’s exactly what Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz did, with very positive results.
The company has lost a lot of credibility in the tech community by repeatedly bashing the capabilities of the others, which could be recovered with more public presence.
With continuous negative momentum over the past 3 years, and the growing threat of cheaper Chinese feature phones that run on Android’s open source platform, Nokia’s fragmented proprietary offering feels tired. This could be remedied with more consistency and openness. What’s at stake is not only the manufacturer’s future, but a sizable chunk of the Finnish economy.