Oh Nokia…

Nokia 6185, circa 2000

My first cell phone was a Nokia 6185. Heck, my second cell phone was a Nokia too. They both worked really well, always had good reception, rarely dropped a call. But that was 10 years ago. Since then I’ve gone through a couple of Motorola phones, two BlackBerry devices, and one Samsung. I’m currently using an LG phone and am seriously pondering my next move. An Android-based smartphone or HP’s new Pre 3 are the most likely candidates at this point.

Nokia’s Ancaster, Ontario-born CEO, Stephen Elop (his LinkedIn profile), knows full well that Nokia has lost its lustre. He says so in a strikingly honest, if long winded, memo released to Nokia employees three days ago. He speaks of a story about a burning oil platform (Symbian), and a man having to jump into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean in order to save himself. Nokia has leapt… but I fear they have jumped onto another platform that’s about to blow.

When I initially read the memo posted on Engadget, which has been verified as being the real thing, I first thought to myself, “Could they be striking a deal with HP? Wow, a Nokia phone with webOS? That would be a hell of a bombshell.” After watching HP’s press conference the other day where they unveiled the Veer, Pre 3 and TouchPad, I thought, “Wow… HP’s really letting the Palm guys go after it and make a killer product.” webOS looks terrific, the hardware looks great, and early builds of webOS 3.0 (as seen in various hands-on videos on the web) look pretty smooth already. Nokia + HP makes perfect sense. Android? Not so much.

In the memo, Mr. Elop says that Nokia’s employees will know more about the future of the company on February 11. That day was today. Imagine my surprise when I read that Nokia and Microsoft announced today that Nokia would be basing their future on Windows Phone 7. I was surprised, yet unsurprised. Mr. Elop is a former Microsoft executive… how predictable.

As a colleague of mine points out on the official Info-Tech Research Group blog, Windows Phone 7 is not exactly experiencing success. Poor sales, small developer ecosystem, and only five different devices available in Canada – two of which are available from a carrier consumers love to hate.

Nokia 6100, circa 2001

So it looks like Nokia wants to use hardware design credentials with Microsoft’s brand new software design practices (which, again, don’t seem to be winning over a lot of people). But wait… if someone like me – with almost no brand loyalty when it comes to cell phones – hasn’t owned a Nokia phone since I was 18 (with the exception of a 3390 for when I visit family overseas), what hardware design expertise does Nokia plan to leverage that will get people buy Nokia phones again?

Is it the expertise that’s brought us the current schizophrenic line of phones available today? The Nokia N8 is the only device that looks worth owning at this point, especially since all of the phones are based on Symbian (the burning platform). All the other phones look like they’ve been ripped-off inspired by BlackBerry, HTC and Motorola.

Wait… that’s it! People have accused Microsoft of stealing ideas from Apple and Linux for years. Nokia’s phones look like they’re Chinese knock-offs of the real deal. Maybe Microsoft and Nokia were meant to be after all?