11 Comments

Summary:

In attempting to showcase its rich history of NFC, Nokia has actually managed to outline everything that’s gone wrong with the company over the past few years. Will it ever really understand what’s happened to it?

Nokia Lumia 610 NFC

I just stumbled across this post on Nokia’s Conversations blog, timed to coincide with the launch of the Lumia 610 NFC.

It proudly details the history of Nokia’s near-field services, going back nearly a decade:

If you want to swap data wirelessly, pair an accessory, make a payment or check-in by just tapping your phone against something else, it’s the new technology called NFC that makes that happen. Although, this isn’t actually all that new. Nokia has been working with NFC since the early to mid 2000s.

Nearly a decade!

The company’s obviously proud of its heritage. “Hey,” it says. “This NFC thing you’re hearing about? We’ve been doing it for ages.”

And yet the post had precisely the opposite effect on me than it clearly intended. Far from showcasing Nokia’s heritage of success, it simply made it clear that the company has consistently been unable to turn expensive research into a product that real people want — a malaise it still can’t shake off.

After all, remember that despite this long history of working with NFC, the Lumia 610 is joining a meager parade of Nokia handsets sold with NFC on board.

The point isn’t that NFC itself has failed — though you can argue about the technology will ever make it to the mainstream. It’s that Nokia, despite leading the way in at the research end of this system, has never built NFC into a product people care about. This history ends up feeling more like a catalog of failures, missteps and misunderstandings that simply encapsulates everything that Nokia’s got wrong over the past few years.

And the fact that the company doesn’t even realize this? That’s what’s even more painful.

I remember seeing a demo of almost exactly the same system at the company’s offices in Finland maybe six years ago. By that point, millions had already been spent designing, developing and testing NFC. Spin forward to today, and the amount of cash thrown into this money pit is unimaginable.

It makes me think of a company like Xerox, which was once really at the cutting edge of technology, developing so many things critical in the world of modern computing — the first graphical user interface, ethernet, the modern text editor. Yet while Xerox could look proudly upon its achievements, it was Apple that took the ideas and turned them into real products. Sure, Xerox may be a $10 billion company, but it still sells photocopiers and printers while Apple sells the future.

Sometimes adding another criticism of Nokia just feels cruel — like piling on another layer to a house of cards that will eventually come crashing down. But it’s little moments like this that make me wonder whether the company can ever really understand the problems it has.

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  1. Arthur P. Johnson Friday, April 13, 2012

    Aw come on, Bobbie. You really are just piling on here. The reason that NFC isn’t catching on has nothing to do with Nokia, and if they didn’t put it in that many phones, it’s because they’ve been forced into the low end by the success of the iPhone and Android. YES they should have been earlier to remedy their lack of a decent smart phone OS, but that’s a different story.

  2. Nokia has finical goals, not product goals. They would be more than happy if we would still use feature phones. Some companies have product goals, not finical goals. They tend to push products in the future, financials sometimes follow.

    1. I think if you have financial goals and product goals that are misaligned, both your finances and products suffer. And why spend so much on research if it won’t make it into products?

      And to Arthur, I do think Nokia gets massively and unfairly maligned, and I certainly don’t want to pile on. But I really believe its failure is one caused in no small part by the company’s inability to see itself realistically. Here NFC is just a tiny example of a larger, cultural issue that it’s started getting to grips with — but clearly hasn’t shaken off.

      Whether or not NFC is a success isn’t really the point. Failure is only worthwhile when we learn from it.

      1. This might be of interest to you[1]. The question from a psychological point of view, is it financial incentives (goals) or generalized numerical goals. BTW by product goals I don’t mean numbers of products sold, I mean function(not features), design ….

        Random quote:
        “In-Box Candle Problem Mean Times :
        WITHOUT a financial incentive : 7:41 min
        WITH a financial incentive : 11:08 min
        How could this be? The financial incentive made people slower? It gets worse — the slowness increases with the incentive. The higher the monetary reward, the worse the performance! This result has been repeated many times since the original experiment. ”

        1. http://blogs.nature.com/a_mad_hemorrhage/2012/04/02/ceos-and-the-candle-problem

  3. Bobbie’s just an iFan and hates anything that comes close to competing with an iDevice. Seriously is this journalism? Reporting? No, simply biased opinion based on nothing substantial.
    Nokia and MS haters are becoming more and more transparent.
    What happened to impartial reporting?

  4. Yes, in many ways Nokia is another Xerox. See my 4k2k comment on Engadget.

    I do not have all the answers but if Nokia does not act soon it will be Apple that takes the advantage of the mega-sensor and Nokia will be xeroxed again.

    1. what goes up comes down, Nokia had pretty good run from 1865 with many transformations, let us see how others fair in their 100 year run

  5. Oskari Pétas Friday, April 13, 2012

    And come on, in what sense is Apple selling the future? Apple’s success has always relied on pure user experience based on readily availabe hardware, which would have not been possible shouldn’t it have been for the research in these other companies just like Xerox and Nokia. And finally after getting their actual tech research rolling they’re starting to do the same: LTE networks in the whole world are still quite non-existing but they’re starting to sell devices with LTE support. That means they’re getting to the exact point where they really develop the cutting edge technology, and usually at that point people stop to care since something really new usually doesn’t work the first time.

  6. “Apple sells the future”

    Really? Ew!!! That line made me queasy. Have you completely missed the patent wars they’re engaged in right now? Over patents they didn’t create and never intend to use!

    That should read…

    “Apple is crippling the future”

  7. Andrew Flowers Sunday, April 15, 2012

    Hi Bobbie, I’m with Nokia and pretty heavily involved with NFC from the PR side, so I just wanted to provide an alternative view to what you write in the article. I take your point, but I think it’s important to note that NFC is a victim of an overall chicken-and-egg issue throughout the whole ecosystem. Not only do NFC payments and tickeing require massive investment in infrastructure, but so to do open NFC pairing and sharing type services require commitment from retailers, restaurants, publishers, etc. That’s part of the issue that Nokia and any other NFC-device manufacturer has been up against.

    Thanks to Nokia’s long history in NFC, we’ve in fact made significant strides in the past two years, now that the price of the chips has become more affordable and the ecosystem is finally taking off. In the past 12 months we’ve brought NFC to more than half a dozen smartphones – on three different platforms. Our experience in NFC detailedin the post is what made it possible for us to By bringing NFC to the Windows Phone platform this week with the affordable Lumia 610 NFC, we believe we are in

  8. Andrew Flowers Sunday, April 15, 2012

    (Sorry, accidentally pressed enter…)

    …Our experience in NFC detailed in your post is in fact what made it possible for us to bring the technology to the Windows Phone platform this week with the affordable Lumia 610 NFC.

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