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Nokia's iPhone Response Revisited: How A Market Leader Fell

When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007 Nokia was the world leader in phone technology and sales. Its smartphones ran versions of Symbian which, when combined, gave it first place in the smartphone market too. Nokia was the world number one in mobile communications everywhere outside the US.

Apple effectively gave Nokia a year's grace to respond to the iPhone. As previously discussed, that first device was horribly flawed and, as a bonus for Nokia, wasn't even available outside of the United States for most of its lifecycle.

How did Nokia respond to the iPhone so badly? Why did they fail to respond for so long? Nokia's iPhone competitor didn't arrive until October 2008 - 22 months after the iPhone launched and three months after Apple released the historically significant second generation iPhone, the 3G.

First of all Nokia was guilty of arrogance. Interviewed the day of the iPhone launch Pekka Pohjakallio, head of the company's smartphone division, called it "very exciting for us". Now there's a man who likes his excitement dark.

Presumably Nokia bought itself some iPhones, took them apart, used them and based on the information it gleaned, went out and designed a phone to take on its new challenger.

Then they threw it away and released the N5800 instead. A phone so bad that even the biggest, most loyal fanbase in the world wouldn't buy it. S60 was pretty poor before Nokia tried to graft a touch interface onto it. Afterwards it was abysmal. The phone was less than reliable too.

It was a problem that was to plague Nokia right up until the point it decided to abandon Symbian. Replacement phones, targeted with bringing Apple back down to earth were poorly designed, poorly implemented and unreliable. The damage to Nokia's reputation and competitiveness was marked. When the potentially brilliant N8 was launched as a last gasp effort to save S60, it failed to generate any kind of bounce. It was inevitable that a platform change was coming - the rest is history.

Yet Nokia had a potential competitor to the iPhone warming up in the wings before Apple even released its first device. Maemo, which had until then powered Nokia's internet tablets, had great potential and offered a much higher starting point, given its day one touch first design.

Politics within the company meant that the Maemo group were starved of resources and support within Nokia and as a result the project died having only ever released on phone.

HMD's release of new Android phones bearing the Nokia name at CES and at the upcoming MWC will no doubt garner interest from many quarters - not least the Nokia fans the company left behind as it lurched from one smartphone disaster to the next.

With a much tighter ship, better hardware processes and no input into the OS, this new Nokia seems a lot more likely to succeed than old Nokia ever did.


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