In consumer electronics launches, there is little way to distinguish between hype and truth. In 2003, when Nokia unveiled the N-Gage gaming mobile device, the press releases bragged how the device will be a game changer, giving mobile device users the ability to play high-quality games. But the device flopped, not least because you had to hold it to your ear sideways.
By 2006, it was withdrawn from the market only to make a re-entry in 2008, when Nokia made it a game platform rather than being hardware-specific. This time it was done in by a lack of titles, clunky hardware and consumers gravitating to stand-alone portable gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS.
Nokia's other service and solution initiatives such as Nokia Maps and the Ovi Store have been great ideas, but the company has dragged its feet on implementation, particularly in India. Two years ago Nokia announced the virtues of "Comes With Music", a service that allows unlimited access to the nearly 9 million tracks Nokia has on its music store, but is yet to introduce it in India and several other markets.
Several other initiatives are in the works and Nokia will work hard and with intense tenacity to make sure they work. Full marks too for its honesty: Nokia Executive Vice-President Anssi Vanjoki admitted a few weeks ago that the N97, billed Nokia's iPhone Killer and launched in mid-2009, was indeed a let-down.
Despite such openness, it is difficult not to conclude that Nokia has the smart people to come up with ideas but not enough of them to implement and build them into big business. Even when they implement an idea, it is often too little, too late to catch up with the market leader. Nokia today moves around a million applications a day from the Ovi Store, onetenth of what Apple users download. And Apple is constantly improving its service as is the rapidly climbing Google and a newly-vitalised Microsoft which recently announced Windows Phone 7, a new mobile operating system.
One way to fight this would be on the legal front. Nokia recently complained against Apple to the US International Trade Commission alleging Apple used Nokia patents without permission. Apple counter-sued. Whatever the result of this legal battle, Nokia will not win the war. The war is for consumers and the prescription there is simple: Delight the customer with new phones or services.
One offering from the Nokia portfolio that has the potential to deliver such delight is Nokia Life Tools, an application that delivers information and entertainment updates on basic handsets. Between India and Indonesia, the company has a million users signed up in less than nine months and the application is ready for transplanting into markets such as China, Africa and South America, where consumers have similar needs.