Nokia execs are smack-talking the iPhone's UI and suggesting relying on Android is a bad plan for smartphone makers. Why all this potty mouth? It's because they're in a blind panic about the future of their business.
Nokia's head of design and user experience in the MeeGo division, Peter Skillman, used to be a Palm chap, so it's probably fair to say he's got a lot of expertise in building and promoting anti-Apple technologies. In a recent podcast, Skillman panned the iPhone because of its reliance on the home screen: The UI is "flawed because it forces users to hit the home screen before using a new application." This is a bad model because "people are spatial," Skillman notes. As in "if a user wants to walk from the kitchen to the dining room in her house, she simply walks through. It does not work like that in mobile—you have to go through the front door to get to the kitchen. iPhone has a home button which works like a go-back-to-front-door button."
It's a fascinating statement—not just for its latent sexism, but because of how far Skillman and his colleagues are from understanding the iPhone's success. People are attracted to the iPhone precisely because of its easy-to-use interface that side-swiped Nokia's fiddly old-tech UI. They are attracted by the tens of millions. Also, Skillman clearly hasn't used the new iOS 4.0—which lets you switch to other currently-running apps without returning to the homescreen.
The smack talk from out-going head of smartphones at Nokia, Anssi Vanjoki, put Skillman's words in the shade. In a Financial Times report that accompanied news of his resignation, Vanjoki decried handset makers who are relying on Android to further their smartphone efforts. A glut of Android handsets on the market will push prices down and result in low operating margins, he says, and result only in "temporary relief" for manufacturers. Then he went further, comparing them to Finnish boys who "pee in their pants" for warmth during a cold winter day: It works, but only temporarily, and then you have to spend the rest of the day in smelly trousers. We see his point, but his choice of words is rather unfortunate.
Why all this bad-mouthing? It could be because Nokia's executive team is afraid—very afraid—of the future of their entire business, which is likely to rest on smartphone sales. Nokia has not performed at all well in this key market for at least three years—since the iPhone arrived, in fact. A recent survey shows how Apple now dominates the market segment—not in terms of penetration, where Nokia is still king, but in terms of revenue. The iPhone is simply a better business proposition overall. By sticking with familiar old-school handsets, Nokia is the one that looks more and more like a boy left out in the cold, peeing his pants for warmth.
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