Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 25th Jun 2012 08:50 UTC
Microsoft The New York Times further fans the flames of the emerging uneasiness between Microsoft and its hardware partners. As the paper reports, Microsoft decided it needed to get into the hardware game (with Surface) after the utter failure of HP's Slate 500 Windows 7 tablet. "Microsoft worked with other hardware partners to devise products that would be competitive with the iPad, but it ran into disagreements over designs and prices. 'Faith had been lost' at Microsoft in its hardware partners, including by Steven Sinofsky, the powerful president of Microsoft's Windows division, according to [a] former Microsoft executive." The biggest news is not Surface itself. It's the changing industry it represents. Microsoft failed to deliver capable smartphone/tablet software, which pissed off OEMs, who, in turn, turned to Android (and webOS for HP) - which in turn pissed off Microsoft, leading to Surface. Had Microsoft gotten its act together sooner, we'd have had far better OEM products.
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RE[7]: Microsoft's fault?
by Neolander on Thu 28th Jun 2012 16:28 UTC in reply to "RE[6]: Microsoft's fault?"
Neolander
Member since:
2010-03-08

I do not think that solely buying and recommending the products that I like would be enough.

As far as I can tell, a functional tech company works due to a fragile equilibrium between the interests of employees, executives, customers, and shareholders. In the case of Nokia, it seems that due to a problem on the executive side in the Symbian days, financial problems have appeared, which has in turn caused shareholders to go crazy and suddenly decide that their big piles of cash somehow gave them miraculous insight on how to lead a tech company. This in turn led to the arrival of Elop and his pawns, who don't give a crap about Nokia but saw a golden opportunity for Microsoft to finally to get the dedicated OEM that they desperately needed for WP7. So these guys are now desperately trying to make this OS relevant on the phone market by associating it with the name and hardware of a reknown phone company (Nokia) and killing all possible competition inside of that company (Symbian, Maemo, Meego, Meltemi...).

The problem is, this won't work. WP7 tries to compete with iOS and Android without the brand image and centralized control of Apple or the hardware diversity of Android. It is too little and too late, in short it is doomed to fail unless WP8 magically changes the game. If that was not enough, this OS is the worst possible choice for Nokia, a company which based its success on its ability to manufacture phones for everyone's needs instead of half a dozen of lookalike slabs.

Even the management is aware of this, but to keep WP7 in focus, they couldn't find a better idea than to take a simple feature phone OS (s40) and feature-bloat it until it becomes an okay replacement for Symbian. Now, I don't know how s40 works on the inside, but I'm pretty sure that to make it work on super-low-end hardware, some serious security/cleanness compromises had to be made : running everything in kernel mode, putting all processes in a single address space, maybe some cooperative multitasking even... So I expect that at some point, when Nokia tries to bring it into the "app" game, the whole thing will blow up in a spectacular explosion of mobile malware. But only time will tell.

Meanwhile, with that vision of things in mind, it makes no sense to just buy s40 hardware as if nothing happened. This would bring Nokia's revenue up, and thus validate Elop's suicidal strategy. Shareholders would in turn be happy, and gain what looks like factual evidence that their managerial strategy is worth anything. What should happen instead is a financial disaster : shareholders would get an instant lesson of tech company management (never trust Microsoft), fire Elop, and either decide to get some more lessons before forgetting their purely financial role or sink the company further up to the point where employees and management take back Nokia's financial control.

A few years ago, Nokia were indeed a bit resting on their past successes because they could : their low- and mid-end phones were still simply better than everyone else's (I mean, Samsung and LG have never been able to achieve Nokia-like build quality, and only got better than Nokia on the software front thanks to Google's help). But they were still trying to innovate with stuff like Maemo and Qt. By carefully fixing the issues of the Symbian team, they could have succeeded and ended up with something pretty awesome. Now, it's just Windows or nothing, which is hardly exciting.

Edited 2012-06-28 16:32 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[8]: Microsoft's fault?
by zima on Thu 28th Jun 2012 17:41 in reply to "RE[7]: Microsoft's fault?"
zima Member since:
2005-07-06

I do not think that solely buying and recommending the products that I like would be enough.
[...]
Meanwhile, with that vision of things in mind, it makes no sense to just buy s40 hardware as if nothing happened.

Is there anything except product sales to which companies really respond? So, we have here possible difference (in message) between all products faltering, and only some doing so.
What you seem to advocate only leads to a point of no return, me thinks.

Meanwhile, what happened is that S40 is, again, better than ever...


And really, let's not present the negatives in Nokia as coming from Elop (he was brought specifically to execute this WP7 shift) or, especially, as having nothing to do with "fine employees from the bottom of the hierarchy".
At the least there seemed to be a sort of infighting between several divisions, projects at Nokia (in which those fine employees would surely also be involved); slowing progress and likely leading to huge delays in Maemo (hence Meego), probably also Symbian, in a way (it was seen as so nice for so long... maybe not only executive side of Symbian was bad).
Meltemi - yeah, could be nice I guess, but probably the last thing Nokia needs now is more fragmentation of efforts by another internal platform; lower-end WP handsets should be soon where Meltemi would be around its première.

I have sort of the opposite impression of S40 vs Symbian - it seems like the latter became largely unmaintainable some time ago. In contrast, S40 might be a lean codebase, easier to build upon.
And it's NOT "super-low-end hardware" - I mean, the hardware shipping S40 now is often more powerful than quite recent Symbian phones, and not terribly far from lowly WP hardware, so that's not really the overruling consideration (for example http://www.developer.nokia.com/Devices/Device_specifications/Asha_3... 1 GHz and 128 MiB of RAM) - plus j2me apps (oh yeah, there are apps) don't require that much memory, likewise Opera Mini or similar browser.

A few years ago, Nokia were indeed a bit resting on their past successes because they could : their low- and mid-end phones were still simply better than everyone else's (I mean, Samsung and LG have never been able to achieve Nokia-like build quality, and only got better than Nokia on the software front thanks to Google's help)

I don't know... SE "feature phones" tended to offer more for the price (didn't help them BTW). The quality of LG or Samsung also doesn't seem to be that much of an issue for a while (I mean, Samsung probably wouldn't surpass Nokia in low-end phones otherwise - people getting them care about durability; this shift in their buying preference was probably based on observations that Samsung is OK after all, for those few who got them earlier)

And you still overlook how "a few years ago" LG Cookie and Samsung Star or Corby (their own software BTW) took large part of the traditional S40 market by storm - to which Nokia basically failed to respond. From what I saw at my place, many people were either enticed by and upgrading mostly to such nice inexpensive touchscreen novelties ...or not bothering to upgrade (what for, when the new S40 is just like the old S40? And as for the Symbian option, I actually witnessed how an operator salesman was recommending against it to somebody who, he surmised, would be lost in it; and he was right)

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[9]: Microsoft's fault?
by Neolander on Thu 28th Jun 2012 19:16 in reply to "RE[8]: Microsoft's fault?"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

Re S40 and Symbian :

Three years ago, I have bought a nice razor-thin phone running S40 for around 40€ (unsubsided). That was about half the price of the next cheapest phone in the shop, and more generally of most phones in France. The hardware specs of that thing looked, as could be expected, like something from a decade ago. That's what I was thinking of when saying that s40 scales down to the ultra-low-end.

I strongly doubt that Nokia managed to make an OS that runs well on this kind of chip without facing some serious performance vs cleanness design compromise. As far as I know, S40 does not even need an MMU to run, which means that all S40 software works in a single address space, like in the C64 and Amiga days. So although Nokia can run this OS on modern phones if they want, they will need to rewrite it in depth if they want to make it on par with modern phone OSs. This is not impossible, after all Symbian's kernel successfully underwent such a rewrite once, but it is tricky to achieve in a period of financial difficulties.

Meanwhile, Symbian has been designed for fast phones from the ground up. It relies on such abstractions and functionality as user mode software, MMUs, and processes, to bring all the security and reliability that one would expect from a modern OS. Its microkernel internals and socket abstractions follow one of the cleanest structures of the last century, while still optimizing for such mobile-specific concerns as power management. It had capability-based security back when most OSs were still letting all software throw random stuff at serial ports... And so on.

As far as I know, there were no issues with Symbian's core design. It had nothing to envy from its Unix and WinCE-based rivals. The problems rather used to stem, from what I could gather here and there, from two major issues : one technical one (some higher-level layers sucked, in particular the UI ones, which had to be rewritten in order to support touch, and the obscure API, but this later problem was solved with Qt), and one human one (due to bad management, the Symbian team was apparently left free to do what it want, instead of having a clear-cut schedule focusing on the company's priorities, and even harmed the work of other team such as the Maemo one).

Re Nokia competitors:

Indeed, I've also seen and heard lots of good things about SE phones during those days. My current phone is from them, and I can also say that it's pretty good. At the time, their handsets mostly had the reputation of being less robust, but having a better feature set for the price. I guess it's a Nordic thing to build quality phones at low price ;)

WRT Samsung and LG... I honestly don't know why people buy their lower-end stuff. Judging from my experience of their phones and that of others around me, it seems that they make a living of implementing "cool" features that look great on a spec list (capacitive keys, touchscreens...) at a very low price by compromising on build quality or software polish. I've seen lots of praise about their high-end stuff, so it's not that they do not have skilled engineers or something, just that they have a really bad sense of priorities (quantity over quality)...

These Cookie and Corby phones that you mention were, in my opinion, perfectly illustrative of how these guys make phones. Screens were horribly unresponsive and constantly lost calibration, you had to apply something like 10 bars of pressure with your finger before scrolling would work semi-properly, everything was laggy... It was just an example of how bad touchscreens could get on phones, before the capacitive generation revealed their more subtle issues...

I can also recommend LG's KS360 as a perfect example of how bad LG's stuff can get when they try to make it cheap. As always with LG and Samsung, it sounded awesome on paper : full qwerty slider, capacitive touchscreen, unbeatable pricing... And then you own the phone, and you realize that the touchscreen is only used for dialing phone numbers, that everything is laggy (see a pattern there ?), and that the software is so buggy that the phone can even fail to properly empty its SMS inbox when asked to do so.

In my opinion, the fact that S40 phone owners didn't constantly upgrade their phones may simply be an illustration of their quality : when your stuff works well and when you do not care about the latest shiny spec before implementation is stabilized, you don't feel a need to constantly switch from one model to another and undergo the pain of learning over and over again.

Reply Parent Score: 1

RE[9]: Microsoft's fault?
by Neolander on Thu 28th Jun 2012 19:54 in reply to "RE[8]: Microsoft's fault?"
Neolander Member since:
2010-03-08

P.S : Do not hesitate to point out if you think that I'm missing some important points in your posts, as you did before. My main computer is currently undergoing hardware repairs, so I'm writing these replies on a cellphone, which takes much patience and asks a lot from my memorization skills. It is all too easy to miss out stuff when you can't see everything at the same time.

Reply Parent Score: 1