Nokia Could’ve Had A Smartphone in the 90s But Fiddled It Away

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

There’s an old saying … if you snooze, you lose.  There’s another saying … strike, while iron is hot.  Nokia learned the first saying the hard way by ignoring the second.  How?  Engineers from the once dominant cellphone company, presented executives with a smartphone prototype with many of the same features as a modern iPhone.  It had a color touch screen set above a single button, could play games, had apps, and it could even made a restaurant reservation via the Internet.  And yet, Nokia didn’t know what to do with it … sound familiar?  Xerox did the same thing with an OS that was the inspiration Apple’s Macintosh OS in the 80s.  And both times, Cupertino was the ultimate benefactor.  But it gets worse…

“’I was heartbroken when Apple got the jump on this concept, said Frank Nuovo, the former chief designer at Nokia Corp. “”When people say the iPhone as a concept, a piece of hardware, is unique, that upsets me.  We had it completely nailed.”

Not only did Nokia have a smartphone prototype, but Nuovo claims that they also had a similar design for a tablet computer, which had a wireless internet connection, and all the same touch screen options as their smartphone prototype.  All a full seven years before Apple released the iPhone, and later the iPad.  And yet, Nokia just sat for months, even years, trying to decide what to do with it.
That same lament was echoed by Nokia partner Qualcomm, who’s CEO expressed it with frustration:
“We would present Nokia with a new technology that to us would seem as a big opportunity. Instead of just diving into this opportunity, Nokia would spend a long time, maybe six to nine months, just assessing the opportunity. And by that time the opportunity often just went away.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Nuovo said that was typical of Nokia, which he said has a “landscape of unpolished gems,” technology that could change the world in the laboratory, but for some reason, never made it to the marketplace.
“In part, you have to listen to consumers, meet and exceed their needs, but also, you have to have the courage to do something different and demonstrate a new user experience that customers didn’t even know they wanted.”
But Nokia missed the wave in part to a trifecta of bad timing; a failure to understand the threat due to a growing complacence; and, reports which stated such a smartphone would be “too expensive to manufacture.”  In short, bad leadership.  And as such, they ceded their dominance in the cellphone industry to both Apple and Android, who displayed that courage and reaped the benefits.  Course, Apple also had a CEO who had a natural capability of seeing the potential in a product before anyone else could and going with it.
And now with their all-in relationship with Microsoft to create Windows Phone handsets, one can’t help but wonder if it’s all too little too late.  And so far, they’re shotgun marriage with Microsoft is producing mixed results.  Sales are flat and users are hesitant to buy a product since Redmond CEO Steve Ballmer has already said there will be no upgrade path for Windows Phone 7 handsets to Windows Phone 8.  How stupid is that?!
Nokia is now on the ropes, and is looking to likely sell some of the early patents (Nokia has some 30,000 total) totaling nearly $6 Billion in order to stave off a cash crunch which is preventing them from even trying to keep up with the “Jobses.”  And as companies like Polaroid, Kodak, and even RIM can attest, when you reach the point that you’re selling the golden eggs from the Goose, it won’t be too long before you end up killing that Goose.  And by then, it’s all too late.  Hopefully, Nokia will be able to capture the imagination of smartphone users with some great new innovations like the large censor PureView camera technology that Nuovo mentions for Nokia smartphones, for instance.
But for Nokia, the clock is ticking… and Wall Street isn’t very patient.
Source: WSJ
About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.