It truly was what the computers had become. And the real incumbent masters of that game had it all figured out already by then. It did not take for too long before their answers came. Just few days after the black cubical Nokia tent with that provocating statement addressing the audience of CES’07 in Las Vegas, and Apple launched iPhone to claim the true invention of the device for the next era of personal computing. Simultaneously, in Mountain View the Android team at Google was already punching its way towards the industry dominance in the operating system. Something which would see the daylight later on that year. Helsinki, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Silicon Valley - it was all on the maps already then in 2007.
Last ten years for Nokia have been truly an Amazing Race around the planet of computing. Put together the late 90’s smartphone inventions of Silicon Valley startups like Unwired Planet and the visions of Nokia about the Mobile Information Society. Add to that the determined, fast and immense R&D investment and the result was that Silicon Valley was left far behind. By 2005 the billions were starting to chime in. It was Finland-USA 1-0 in the next generation of personal computing.
Nokia’s Symbian smartphone business figures are truly impressive: Hundreds of millions of smartphones sold over the last ten years. This means tens of billions of profit and billions invested. Still, for some of us something seemed wrong under the hood. The productivity and creative dynamics were not quite there. This was not real computing. These were much better phones yes, but was that really the point?
Creative dynamics is about invention and productivity and these are catalyzed by openness. Computing is nothing new but there exists a wealth of methods, technologies and ecosystems out there and true progress has always been attained on the shoulders of the giants, not by do-it-yourself with stone age toolkits. These were the premises on which we started to build the renewal of Nokia smartphone R&D to turn the initial leadership of Symbian smartphones into sustainable one for Nokia. And boy, what an Amazing Race this was too: in 2005 Nokia Internet Tablet with the Maemo open source OS, “Made for Silicon Valley”, hit the Financial Times and San Jose Mercury News alike with zero marketing budget. The race had started already in 2001 with embedded Linux startups of the valley, continued with Netscape and AOL, with founding of a dozen of open source consultancies all around the world, deals with Yahoo, Google, Skype, Microsoft, GNOME, Trolltech, Facebook and so on. Yet the outcome to this date for Nokia remains only around few million Maemo handheld computers sold over the last five yeas. Profit and investment in the same ballpark of few hunderd millions. This is less than 1% compared to Nokia’s Symbian smartphone business. This is NOTHING, right?
Now what? For those of us who are quick to jump into conclusions the Nokia-Microsoft news from yesterday have been saying it all: the sturm und drang of Nokia and Finland in computing seems over, only devastation and depression remaining. I do not think so. Clearly it is time for some serious thinking now, but it is not time to panic. In a moment like this we need to think positively - of all the things achieved, of all the knowhow and technology accumulated, and be on lookout for the new opportunities now opening. From death and decay nature usually sprouts new life and this is no different in the hi-tech ecosystem. The thing now is to hold fast to our remaining assets and trust in the creative force. It is only 1-1, not game over. This game never ends.