Nokia boss Stephen Elop: why we dropped MeeGo

Nokia boss Stephen Elop: why we dropped MeeGoIt's a date that's no doubt etched into Nokia fans' minds: February 11, 2011.

That was the day Nokia boss Stephen Elop followed his now-infamous “burning platform” comments of a few days earlier with the announcement that Nokia was shifting its smartphone operations onto Windows Phone 7.

The move caused a lot of bitterness both inside Nokia itself and in the wider world around it, with many not trusting Elop's motives in choosing the mobile platform of his former employer Microsoft as the basis for Nokia's future.

In a fascinating piece in BusinessWeek, however, we get the most detailed look yet at the events leading up to Elop's landmark decision, including the moment the penny dropped that MeeGo – the smartphone OS Nokia was basing so much of its future on – wasn't going to do the business.

Elop was already concerned about the gap between Symbian and the likes of Android and iOS when he joined Nokia in September 2010, as well as the time it was taking to develop MeeGo, and immediately began cautiously sounding out the possibility of partnering with an outside software platform.

However, the real moment of truth came in early January when Nokia chief development officer Kai Oistämö met with Elop to discuss concerns over MeeGo's process, and the pair decided to interview two dozen key employees about the platform.

“Before the first interview, Elop drew out what he knew about the plans for MeeGo on a whiteboard, with a different colour marker for the products being developed, their target date for introduction, and the current levels of bugs in each product,” the BusinessWeek piece reads.

“Soon the whiteboard was filled with colour, and the news was not good: At its current pace, Nokia was on track to introduce only three MeeGo-driven models before 2014 – far too slow to keep the company in the game.

“Elop tried to call Oistämö, but his phone battery was dead. 'He must have been trying an Android phone that day,' says Elop. When they finally spoke late on January 4, 'it was truly an oh-s--t moment – and really, really painful to realize where we were,' says Oistämö.

“Months later, Oistämö still struggles to hold back tears. 'MeeGo had been the collective hope of the company,' he says, 'and we'd come to the conclusion that the emperor had no clothes. It's not a nice thing.'”

Little more than a month later, Elop announced the partnership with Microsoft to adopt Windows Phone 7. The piece also confirms that Elop had first approached Google about adopting Android, but had backed off because Google wasn't prepared to give Nokia preferential treatment over even its smallest partners, which would have left Nokia's 11,600 engineers with little scope for adding their innovations to the base Android platform.

In all, the piece runs to seven pages, but it's well worth the effort for an insight into a story that's still after all in the process of developing.

Read more about: MeeGoWindows Phone

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10 comments

Stelph  Jun. 2, 2011 at 13:21

A lot of people have and will call foul but TBH I mostly agree with what Elop is saying, Nokia was in trouble but unlike what he was saying its not because of a failing of Symbian system when compared to Android/iOS, actually Symbian is a lot stronger than either of those two as demonstrated by its abaility to run on "weaker" hardware and also perform more tasks than either of the big two. The issue Symbian had/has is that its not as "flash" as those two, on initial pick up and play there was never enough of a "wow" factor in comparison and once reviewers got used to how iOS and Android worked they would then critise how Symbian worked because it would do things slightly differently (for example, the whole swiping argument on the N8, many reviewers reported it as a bug a which demonstrated the slow performance of the phone where as actually it was a concious decision by the designers so that if you'd swiped by mistake you could correct it).

Meego could have saved the company, but took too long, but I hoped Nokia would keep working on it as it would be an excellent long term plan to use WP7 in the short term and also develop MeeGo as a Symbian replacemennt.

Undoubtably Nokias biggest mistake last year was not realising earlier that MeeGo was going to take too long to get to maket, and in the meantime buy Palm/WebOS, if they had and they had pushed a phone with the Hardware of the N8 with WebOS they would be raking it in.

JanSt / MOD  Jun. 2, 2011 at 14:01

Good points, stelph.
That wow-f(r)actor seems to apply particularly to a certain breed of 'reviewers' who have embraced Android so firmly that one wonders who's trying to Heimlich who...
There are so many reviews these days that look like specsheet reviews rather than phone reviews, and with many Android devices the specsheets are very similar. I swear I read GS2 reviews where you could simply replace all Samung references with Htc/Sensation, and no one would know the difference. Same applies to 1st-gen WP7 devices.
MAYBE if Nokia had dumped MeeGo sooner, we'd have had Anna for Symbian ^3 before Christmas, and before the dualcore processor hype etc etc...

Frankly though nothing Elop utter means anything to me, AT ALL.

Shao  Jun. 2, 2011 at 14:20

Whilst Nokia engineers may well be bitter, as far as I am aware, Elop has made all the correct choices especially inlight of now that Google would not give Nokia better status than smaller partners. Nokia cannot compete with Motorola nor HTC in volume manufacturing. Android would have been a race to the bottom on profit margins. Meego is a waste of space. webOS sounds great, but really is nothing special. Having been paid a lump sum from Microsoft to secure the future of the company in the mid-term and retrain their engineers in the software department whilst still excelling at their hardware, Nokia staff have nothing to be bitter about. Had they gone the Android route with low margins and no investment, most of them would have been on the dole queue by now. Ungreatful bar stewards.

Stelph  Jun. 2, 2011 at 14:31

@Janst

Well TBH I have quite a lot of time for Stephen Elop, I could be proven wrong in the future but I doubt he was/is a Microsoft plant as he has done exactly what Nokia needed to do, fair enough he may have gone a little too far in some areas (effectively killing Symbian in one presentation was a bit silly IMO) but I think in the long term his decisions will turn out to have been for the best, like when I see people Prune Trees back, when you see how much they decided to take off you cant believe the tree will ever grow back but it does and even stronger than before

JanSt / MOD  Jun. 2, 2011 at 14:36

Yeah, stelph,
my issue with him is unrelated to the points you are making, and not fit for 'print' on mobot ;)

@shao,
whaddaya know about webOS?

Shao  Jun. 2, 2011 at 17:24

@Jan, enough to know that technically it is strong especially in the areas of multi-tasking, that some things in terms of UI have been simplified and are easier to do. However, to also know why it has been failing and hasn't taken off. That its not really ready and that the APIs are not in place. That its outclassed by iPhone, Android and WP7 in terms of the user experience. That other than multi-tasking, there isn't an area that it actually excels at. That there is a reason why at v3 its still largely unknown because there isn't actually anything to write home about. Have a look and then let me know what you think.

JanSt / MOD  Jun. 2, 2011 at 18:06

"That its outclassed by iPhone, Android and WP7 in terms of the user experience. " => very subjective.

"there isn't an area that it actually excels at" - compared to iOS and Android the webOS email client is superior.

"That there is a reason why at v3 its still largely unknown because there isn't actually anything to write home about" - I'd argue that has more to do with Palm's original idiotic idea to copy the iPhone exclusivity model. The first 2 Pres were ridiculously inferior in build, and O2 didn't give a hoot about it...

Don't get me wrong, shao, it's far from 'great', the hardware, thus far, has been underwhelming, but I find 'nothing to write home about' a tad 'strong'.

Admin  Jun. 2, 2011 at 18:20

Some good points stelph. I agree totally that where Nokia lost the game is not releasing Meego was a lame horse and jumping on WebOS. That would have given them the foundation to get into the game on their own terms with their own software by late 2011/early 2012.

At least that's how it looks from the outside. I think the Windows deal is unfortunately the best hand they had to play at this point as things stand.

Shao  Jun. 2, 2011 at 21:29

@Jan, possibly my statements were a bit strong. But you didn't make the effort to state your views before asking me.

I think reviews like this one:
http://pulse2.com/2009/06/08/the-pros-and-cons-of-the-palm-pre/
pretty much highlight my views on webOS.

Technically, everything is good. Look at all the positives. It's faster, it multitasks etc. But if you look at the user experience which is what's listed in the cons, you get an indication of a lack of maturity in the platform.

I'm not saying its rubbish. I am saying that anyone picking up a webOS phone next to others are unlikely to purchase the webOS phone. So, although I say its nothing to write home about, what I am saying is that there is nothing that stands out enough such that any of your relatives buying a phone will come to you and say they'd prefer that phone over others on the market.

You may feel differently, and that's your choice, but I am glad Nokia made the WM7 decision.

fasfasf  Jun. 10, 2011 at 13:28

I think the title is misleading - it's clear from reading the article that they didn't drop Meego, they just realised it's not moving fast enough. They clearly still plan to keep using it - but just not quite yet. 2012 is when we will see more Meego stuff come out from Nokia.

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