The Rembau Times wishes all its readers Happy Nokia 3310 day, which fell on 01 st September.
It is right of passage for every Gen X’er to have had a Nokia 3310 at some stage in their lives. We do remember the time we had our Nokia 3310 and could recharge the phone only once in several days. At that time we were working in Ampang, Kuala Lumpur in the IT business. At that time, Nokia, Siemens and Ericsson were battling it out in the halls of power in an around Maxis Tower and KLCC to see who could get the plump juicy contracts to supply Malaysia’s telcos with their base stations and other gadgetry.
On 3310 day, we should take some time to reflect on certain things. There is 1 reflection point that we would like to share our thoughts on.
How could the King of Smartphones be dethroned so massively
The most obvious reflection has to do with the manufacturer of the 3310, the Nokia corporation, could get dethroned so massively by Apple. In an around 2007, Nokia sneered dismissively at Apple, thinking that there was no way that this American company could dethrone the undisputed king of mobile phone technology. After all, many had tried to take down Nokia, including Motorola, Siemens, Samsung, Sony, Kyocera, Blackberry* and Ericsson and Nokia had beaten them all. Nokia also had a massive competitive advantage in navigating around the GSM technology stack, which was largely a European led endeavor and the worst case scenario was that at most, the iPhone would be an American product. Nokia also had virtually figured out the entire Mobile Phone segment, and had a product placed at every single pricing point, from entry level to high end level, in a myriad of different permutations. Nokia’s spending on R&D was in the billions of euros a year, multiple times that of any other competitor. The idea that Apple could take down Nokia was laughable.
*Blackberry is manufactured by RIM.
However, Nokia overlooked the might of Apple in several regards.
The first was the power of the Apple iOS operating system, largely built from Apple’s Mac OS. iOS was basically going to be the centre of the Apple product and GSM would be a periphery and not taking the lead role. The power of iOS as compared to Nokia’s Symbian platform was that iOS just looked way, way better. Comparing an Apple iPhone to the top of the line Nokia product at that time was comparing an A++ assignment with a B+ assignment. Outside Nokia’s snazzy billion dollar marketing, which we found staid, boring and focused on perpetuating certain stereotypes, the Nokia phones did not offer anything revolutionary at all.
The second was MultiTouch. For many years, companies had offered touch display handphones which all suffered from the inability to actually make its product truly keypad free. The touch screens just did not make it. Apple solved this problem through its patented MultiTouch display that ensured touch screens worked well.
The third had to do with Apple’s internal organization. Nokia was a traditional successful conglomerate at that time, rife with internal politics and arrogance. The management structure looked boring without clear differentiation between the various components of what makes a great product. Non-engineers, non-designers – basically the “politicky folk” who have had ZERO technical skill whatsoever, whether it is was in hardware, software or product design held powerful positions in the firm. All these folk were good at is sounding mediocre and figuring how to get more stock options.
Compare this to Apple’s organization structure where it was flat and stuffed with technical people who reported directly to the CEO, Steve Jobs. One top management personnel to report on iPhone Hardware engineering, one top management personnel to report on iPhone software, one top management personnel to report on design, the list goes on.
What this means is that the Apple top management were extremely clued on the minute details of the product, the challenges it faced and where the company was headed. This flat structure places a great deal on the ability of the CEO to see everything from how the product will be designed, developed, marketed and shipped. This is not a structure for the boring ZERO value add management structures favoured by many European and Asian companies.
So in conclusion, when we celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Nokia 3310 day, we are not celebrating a breakthrough product or technology. Rather we are commemorating the demise of Nokia, a once global giant to a pathetic shell of itself due to hubris and mediocre talent.