Former Nokia Exec Slams Elop And Windows Phone

Former Nokia senior executive says CEO has wrecked the company with his choice to adopt Windows Phone.
Nokia is in terrible trouble, and Lee Williams, Nokia's former SVP of Series 60 software, blames it all on CEO Stephen Elop. The problem, according to Williams, is that the company is bleeding cash, executive talent, and market share at a frightening pace. In a lengthy and far-ranging interview with CNET U.K., Williams vents about Nokia's downward spiral and casts aspersions aplenty at the Finnish firm's leadership.

In a nutshell, here are the problems, as Williams sees them:

No Vision. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has no long-term vision for the company. "Elop hasn't delivered a roadmap. There's no overarching vision for this company. That to me is akin to stepping completely out of the leadership role and running behind the bus now... Before Elop, Nokia would never give up that leadership position and role in the marketplace, [and] would always talk about the future."

[ For more on Nokia's challenges, see Nokia's Lumia 'Not Good Enough' Say Carriers. ]

Ditching Symbian was a bad idea. Symbian was Nokia's bread and butter for a decade or more and is still among the top smartphone platforms in the world as far as installed bases go. Williams believes that Nokia should have continued developing and selling Symbian to maintain its economic footing.

"[Symbian] was Nokia. That was Nokia's brand, we knew we could count on that [to generate handset sales,"] notes Williams. Without Symbian to keep it afloat, Nokia's financial free-fall is no big surprise. (Never mind the fact that Symbian had become a terrible, bloated, fussy OS over the years. It has become obsolete for a reason.)

Adopting Windows Phone was a bad idea. While Williams gives some credit to Microsoft's platform, he believes Nokia's decision to use it as its sole smartphone platform moving forward was the wrong thing to do.

"I did not see a good reason to change course so frantically," he said to CNET. "I don't think Nokia was going in the wrong direction with some of the things it was doing--it was simply executing poorly before Elop got there and they weren't giving it enough time. It might have made sense to introduce a product or two into the portfolio based on Windows Phone. What I do not think they should have done is pretend it is a one-horse race, and that one software system is all you need."

Nokia failed to execute even with Lumia. Sure, Nokia may have sold about one million or so Lumia smartphones to date, but they have major shortcomings that will eventually bite Nokia in the behind.

"Now they have a Windows Phone product, and the differentiators are nonexistent, the battery life is orders of magnitude behind their other products, and the best imaging or camera features are not able to be fully realized leveraging the Windows Phone code. These products will have some success in the marketplace, but not at the scale or level needed. They can fix some of these things over time and with substantial ecosystem support, but the marketplace is a harsh mistress. I don't think they have that kind of time."

Android won't save Nokia, either. Last week, PCMag's John C. Dvorak ran an interesting piece foretelling Nokia's doom if it doesn't drop Windows Phone right away and switch to Google's Android platform for its smartphones. Boy, does Williams disagree with that position.

"Android is a less capable offering than a few options that still exist within Nokia," said Williams. "It's certainly not what I would refer to as an open system. More than that, I think that Nokia has little opportunity to differentiate here in the near term, and the Android platform is so highly fragmented that returns on investment become difficult at best for an ecosystem participant."

Losing Finnish employees is a bad idea. Williams also bemoans the heavy changes within Nokia's leadership ranks. Finns are leaving in epic proportions and are being replaced with North Americans. This is a problem, says Williams, because "Nokia is Finland, and Finland is Nokia."

I can't disagree with this sentiment. One thing I've noted about Nokia's recent press conferences is that Finns never take the stage any more. It's always Americans or British Nokia employees who make the announcements. Nokia is, at its core, a Finnish company, and the penetration of the top ranks with non-Finns isn't the best thing for the company.

Here's the salt lick, caveat, etc. Williams does make some interesting points in his diatribe, but from my perspective he comes off as a jaded ex-employee. The man ran the company's Symbian software division for nearly four years, so what he sees is his baby being dragged out back and shot in the head. It's hard not to feel bitter about such a thing.

Williams in particular seems to believe that devices such as the Meego-powered N9 prove that Nokia can get things right. Perhaps. The N9 was a solid device with decent software, but it took Nokia three or more years to get that software to market--and it's still far from perfect. The usability factor of Meego is nowhere near what it is with Android, iOS, or Windows Phone.

The bottom line is this: Yes, Nokia has made some mistakes and is in a wee bit of trouble. Things are bleak, but not as bleak as some former employees might suggest. It is entirely possible that Nokia can--with Windows Phone--eventually turn itself around. It won't be easy, but it's not an unattainable goal.

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