Cell phones take time to develop. The average is about 18 months each from sketches on paper to finish hardware on store shelves. If Nokia had kept its smartphone operations unchanged after deciding to use Microsoft's software, it might have been another year before the first Nokia Windows Phones reach the market.
Nokia doesn't have that kind of time.
Its smartphone business has been so thoroughly crushed by Android and the iPhone that almost all of the company's profits have shifted to its low-margin devices for emerging markets. It needs to revive consumer and enterprise interest in its smartphones. It can only do that if it has smartphones to sell. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has been stressing in recent months that it will be able to deliver by the end of the year. For Elop's sake, it had better.
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Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Nokia's Jo Harlow explained that in order to get its first batch of Windows Phone devices out the door in 10 months, it completely reorganized how it develops smartphones. Harlow spent time studying how Microsoft operates internally and decided to mirror Nokia's behavior after Microsoft's.
Rather than assign each new Nokia phone its own product manager--which was typical Nokia behavior--Harlow created design teams that have more decision-making authority. By negating the single-manager bottleneck, Nokia has been able to trim smartphone development time by 35% to 40%.
But this speed to get the first new devices to market has not come without a price: Nokia's first Windows Phone devices won't be different from the existing crop of Mango phones, at least as far as the software is concerned.
"Our focus has been on getting to market, as opposed to lots of differentiation," said Harlow.
In other words, what Nokia shows off this week at Nokia World will look and feel like a Nokia device, but it will behave like a Microsoft device. Though Microsoft has given Nokia more creative powers to customize Windows Phone than its other OEM partners (Dell, HTC, LG, Samsung), Nokia has not yet been able to exercise that creative muscle. If it had, there would be no new Nokia smartphones on store shelves this holiday shopping season, which Nokia cannot afford to miss.
"It's very clear that if you are three months late, you've missed the market opportunity. So that is the issue we are addressing," said Harlow.
Hopefully Nokia will address the more creative and innovative issues in due time.