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!
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.