Nokia's Burning Platform

In February 2011, Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, issued the “burning platform” memo (via @cdixon). In it, one paragraph particularly struck me:

The first iPhone shipped in 2007, and we still don’t have a product that is close to their experience. Android came on the scene just over 2 years ago, and this week they took our leadership position in smartphone volumes. Unbelievable.

And on February 11, Elop announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft in which all their mid- to high-end phones would run on Windows Phone 7. 

Despite good reviews, Windows Phone has yet to gain significant market share, sitting at ~5%, and not all of those handsets are Nokia.

Nokia is in the midst of a major restructuring since its debt has been downgraded to junk status. It sold Vertu, and today announced it is cutting 10,000 jobs and shaking up parts of the management team.

In his original memo, Elop says that Nokia has to make a choice:

we’re going to have to decide how we either build, catalyse or join an ecosystem.

Did Elop make the wrong choice by trying to catalyze the WP ecosystem?

I think it’s more likely that his “burning platform” analogy was too close to the truth. Nokia faced either certain death from the flames by continuing their current strategy, or almost certain death in the icy waters of the North Atlantic if they were to radically change course.

In either scenario, Nokia is hard pressed to make it out alive.

Mobile Apps and the Web Are Not Mutually Exclusive

According to Amir Nathoo’s recent post on, we’re in an mobile app gold rush right now, and we don’t even know it. The main premise is that while there are  lot of mobile apps now, it pales in comparison to web properties, and with the way mobile is going, it’s going to overtake the web in terms of eyeballs, money, and pretty much any other important statistic. Therefore, get on the train now while the getting is good, and ride the wave up. [1]

The most shocking quote: 

What if I told you that people who right now are developing standard web apps will actually spend most of their next 10 years writing mobile apps?

While this maybe true, it sort of ignores the entire paradigm shift that happened with the web. We moved from native desktop applications to web applications. Why? Because we could get a similar user experience while opening up new capabilities across a variety of platforms. 

The advent of web services to go along with mobile apps have created a class of applications that are web-aware, and interact with the web on a regular basis for their functionality, but take advantage of native User Interface and all the features that mobile offers (geolocation, for one).

But web applications still have a few key advantages: offloading processing onto servers in the cloud, near identical user experiences across platforms, and continuous releases.

Instead of mobile apps going the route of native apps, I think we’ll see the strengthening of HTML5 as a standard for mobile web apps. While Amir might be right that 10 years from now web developers will be developing for mobile, it might be more accurate to say that those developers will be developing mobile web apps.

10 years from now I think we’ll see the distinction between tablets, phones, laptops, and desktops vanish. The web still connects devices and retains the advantages that it had before. The challenge is just making web applications aware of mobile features, and respond based on the device.

[1] Just like all the big web properties of 1997 like: 

1. Geocities
2. Yahoo and Yahooligans, Yahoo Sports and My Yahoo
3. Starwave Corporation - Where More People Click
4. Excite, Magellan and City.Net
5. PathFinder, and Time/Warner and CNN sites: Warner Bros., HBO, DC Comics, Extra TV, Babylon5, CNN , CNN Financial Network and AllPolitics
6. AltaVista Search Engine
7. AOL Member Home Pages
8. CNET, Search.Com, News.Com and
9. The New York Times on the Web
10. Ziff Davis and HotFiles