Design-led strategy

My colleague David went to the Symbian Exchange & Exposition, where he picked up a mobile phone top trumps card by mobile tech services firm WDS Global. Shuffling through the cards, a number of recent Nokia models gave me food for thought.

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(You can click on the image to look at the picture on a larger scale.)

Different handsets with very different markets in mind: style, multimedia, budget conscious users and business email clients. But all of them seem to have the same processor running at the same speed and six of the seven devices have the same size of screen. This means that the cheaper handsets are the best value out of all the offerings.

There is an immediately compelling argument for accountants if you have a standardised reference design which is tweaked for different handsets. You can cut much better bargains with your suppliers, this is how Tesco and ASDA | Wal*Mart get much of the cost savings making them cheaper than a local grocery store.

This also means that your margins on your devices with a higher perceived value like the business phone is much greater. Where it gets more interesting is the effect it has on Nokia consumers. They are essentially presented with the same product dressed up half a dozen different ways, so the different phone ranges effectively become commoditised and sales become price focused.

By the nature of this common platform it means that compromises have to be made, if the platform was specc-ed for the power user then the cost of manufacturing budget handsets would be too much, conversely compromise of this nature brings tardy real-world performance of the mid- and top-range phones. I am not saying that hardware specification is the only thing which has adversely affected the top range Nokia mobile phones; the Symbian software on the phone has enough issues:

It looks dated compared to other alternatives:

  • The address book just can’t cope with modern life
  • There is lots of firmware updates to get the product right for the umpteenth time
  • Exchange support was clunky
  • Carrier themes such as T-Mobile’s didn’t do them any favours either

But what if the seeds of Nokia’s own problems is not because of Apple or Research In Motion, but instead their own hardware design decisions left them in a hole. The advent of the iPhone just showed Nokia’s designs up as the mobile electronics version of The Emperor’s New Clothes.