Contemplating Nokia’s future – part one

In an insightful post titled "Nokia, a computer company?", consultant Michael Mace ends with these two short paragraphs that gave me much food for thought today. As follows,

Learn to design solutions, not gadgets.
I think this is Nokia’s biggest challenge. The most popular mobile
computing products so far have been integrated hardware-software
systems aimed at a single usage: GameBoy, iPod, BlackBerry, and of
course the mobile phone itself. Nokia hasn’t been notably good at
designing this sort of integrated system. In fact, its most prominent
effort so far, the nGage, was an epic failure on the scale of the Edsel
and the presidential campaign of Michael Dukakis.

But if Nokia
really wants to be a mobile computing company, this is a skill it
absolutely must learn. It is an incredibly hard change for Nokia,
because computing systems design requires a very strong culture of
product managers who understand the customer
and have dictatorial
control over the features and interface of the product. A good
computing system is a product of idiosyncratic vision. Collectivist
Nokia, with its endless conversations and responsibility fragmented
across dozens of teams, is in a terrible situation to pull this off.
Frankly, I’m skeptical that they can do it.

I’ve highlighted my format changes to Mr Mace’s content in blue in order to differentiate from his own bolding of the title. While I cannot but agree wholeheartedly with the italicized statement, that understanding the needs of your customers is imperative, as is user centered design, design planning or design thinking, I must however disagree with his assumption that Nokia does not have the wherewithal to pull this off successfully.

After all, were Nokia’s product managers not aware of the need to closely observe and understand their user’s needs, we wouldn’t have the outstanding exemplar of Jan Chipchase, ethnographer and design researcher extraordinaire. Furthermore, if Nokia wasn’t able to convert those insights into products that would meet these uncovered and unmet needs, would they then have launched a series of phones for the emerging markets specifically designed for shared usage?

Any regular reader of Chipchase’s blog would be aware of his work in uncovering the peculiarities of shared phone usage across the bottom of the pyramid and rural, remote regions across the globe. In fact, Mr Mace’s reference, twice in one short paragraph, to "dictatorial control" and its attendant quality "idiosyncratic vision" reminds one forcibly of Steve Jobs and his omnipotent yet scandal and rumour ridden iPhone. "Collectivist" Nokia, in fact, has recognized the more close knit social and cultural structures of these markets they target – whether a village in Uganda or India, where mayhaps a more ‘individualist’ organization, to use a similar concept, might overlook or not recognize the opportunity for growing market share.

Anyway, I digress from the visions of the future that Mr Mace’s post inspired in me, and shall continue the thought in the next post.

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