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Nokia’s MeeGo, the Solstice & a New Beginning

Would you buy a smartphone built around a technology that analysts say the manufacturer has sidelined? {complink 3847|Nokia Corp.} is betting that many of its customers will and is moving ahead with plans for its first MeeGo smartphone.

“It seems pointless to launch a phone like the N9 on a platform that has been cut by management,” said RBS analyst Didier Scemama in a research note cited in a BBC report.

Nevertheless, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop believes customers will purchase the MeeGo phones. Yesterday in Singapore, at Nokia Connection 2011, the company presented the Nokia N9 MeeGo smartphone and said it would be on the market by the end of the third quarter.

What could possibly make Nokia believe it can still sell MeeGo smartphones? Might it be that Nokia has finally realized that since Elop took charge there has been mistake after mistake, several resignations as a consequence, and it’s high time the phone maker went back to its original plans? For now, I am not planning on analyzing the potential success or failure of the company’s plans. Instead, I would like to consider possible underlying causes for Nokia’s move by looking at some Finnish cultural and historical events, including how Finland marks the summer solstice, the day Nokia chose to announce the controversial N9 smartphone and other new devices.

The summer solstice is one of the most important Finnish celebrations. The Finnish flag is seen everywhere, it's a bank holiday, and it's celebrated over the weekend. In Finnish tradition, midsummer eve has always been believed to have magical qualities.

In business, it marks the beginning of new opportunities and hopes for a better future. It is not a coincidence that Nokia chose the summer solstice as the time to make its announcement in Singapore. Juhannus , as the solstice is called in Finnish, marks the initiation of all Finnish summer activities.

All the most important events are reserved to be celebrated in midsummer. There are long waiting lists for midsummer weddings. The midsummer celebration extends to the whole nightless night — the sun hardly sets — and no one sleeps this day. One of the old midsummer spells says: “When you sleep on midsummer eve, you will be sleepy the whole summer.” Finns take traditions very seriously. As midsummer signals a new beginning, we might see a clear new start for Nokia, just as summer comes to life in the land of the midnight sun.

Another powerful reason that might be behind the timing of Nokia's latest product announcement is something called sisu, an important part of Finnish identity. In 2004, Jorma Ollila, then CEO of Nokia, described his company's “guts” by explaining the word sisu in an interview:

    In times like these, the executives who run Nokia talk up a uniquely Finnish quality called sisu. The translation would be “guts.” But it's also endurance. There is a long-term element to it. You overcome all obstacles. You need quite a lot of sisu to survive in this climate.

When tiny Finland was at war with the powerful Russians from Nov. 30, 1939, to March 13, 1940 — for 105 days — no one thought Finland would have a chance. The war was known as the Winter War. With few soldiers, limited weapons, and aid promised but not delivered by the Western powers, Finland struggled through in extreme weather conditions. However, Finland won the Winter War and its independence. Since then, Finns have said it was the country's sisu that gave them the strength to pull through.

Sisu is part of the Finnish identity, remembered every Independence Day. The Idle Historian tells about the Finns preparing for the Winter War and the Finnish concept of sisu . A reader writes: “The loss of identity is worse than the loss of material things.”

From this more emotional perspective, I wonder if Nokia, betting on the Finnish sisu mentality, will successfully reinvent itself and win in a more modern type of war?

25 comments on “Nokia’s MeeGo, the Solstice & a New Beginning

  1. Ariella
    June 22, 2011

    Thanks for sharing this fascinating bit of history and cultural identity. I wonder why they went with “guts” for a translation; it sound a bit more like determination, resolve, or purpose. Perhaps  “grit” would cover it more than “guts.”

  2. Susan Fourtané
    June 22, 2011

    Ariella,

    You are right in your thinking. Determination, resolve or purpose are better choices. There is no real translation to this Finnish word and “Guts”doesn't describe what Sisu is. 

    Here is an extract from From Finland, With Love by Roman Schatz, a German writer who has been living in Finland for over 20 years:   

    “Sisu means doing things until they're done, not because they're important, but because they neet to get bloody well done and because you just don't bloody leave anything unfinished. It's not about what others might say if you don't do things properly; it's about what you think yourself. 

    Sisu is about being tough, not flexible. It means to never give up, to find more energy as the situation turns more desperate, to become stronger as the odds get worse. It's much like a turbo charger that kicks in when the going gets tough: In order to evoke it, you have to put the Finns against the wall, corner them, put them in a hopeless situation. First they'll go all white and silent, then they'll pump themselves up with that mythological force that enables them to endure the unendurable, bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable.”

  3. Ariella
    June 22, 2011

    Was he able to come up with an apt translation in German, I wonder. German, of course, has its own words that have no possible translation that had to be incorporated  into English, like schadenfreude, sitzfleisch, and weltanschauung. Maybe “sisu” can be incorporated into English, as well.

  4. FLYINGSCOT
    June 22, 2011

    I read your article with interest.  I can't help think that Nokia is on to a loser here.  Smart phones need iteroperability, loas of apps, seamless operation, “general coolness”.  I do not see how this Nokia platform can deliver what others like Apple are doing.  What is the Finnish translation for “foolhardy” or “can't come up with anything better”?

  5. Himanshugupta
    June 22, 2011

    Quite a historical perspective. I truely believe that any organization, no matter how bad circumstances is it in, can come back if they stick to their values and motto. Nokia's motto had been to provide quality mobile phones with excellent hardware. Following others is not the quality of leaders. I was reading an article, i think on economist, which said that Apple, Google and Facebook are companies that can survive for century because each one has one mission associated with them. So, don't loose the battle Nokia yet but prepare for the war!

  6. Ms. Daisy
    June 22, 2011

    I support your analysis of how to be successful and remain successful in bussines.  Having a winning mission is a must, and I will add good leadership that is continually assessing and re-assessing the organization's processess and performance, as well as monitoring and reacting to opportunites and threats to the organizations survival.

    Nokia's mission of providing quality mobile phones with excellent hardware is great, but what happened to the leadership and its continous quality improvement plan? It is on this foundation that a “Sisu or endurance” becomes applicable and relevant. Great for the Finnish celebration of Juhannus, but the folklore also says “you cannot sleep on a summer solstice” The Finnish founding father's message to Nokkia then is – Do not sleep at the post, keep working and innovate!

  7. eemom
    June 22, 2011

    It is great to see Nokia have such great resolve in their product and muscle on forward despite nay sayers.  Having said that, for the product to be successful, Nokia needs more than resolve. It doesn't make much sense to introduce a product that they are abandoning.  This may be the only strategy they have however, the alternative may be not to introduce any product until the new platform is ready.  This would take Nokia out of the consumer eye and that maybe more costly than introducing a product that may not have leading sales.  Perhaps Nokia is banking on the average consumer not knowing that MeeGo would not be supported long term.  Either way, the gamble was made when Nokia switched away from MeeGo.  Now it is damage control.

  8. Anand
    June 22, 2011

    What could possibly make Nokia believe it can still sell MeeGo smartphones?

    Susan,

      MeGoo is going to offer a very powerful platform for developers to create applications. I don't think Google will give their developers the same level of control. Also Nokia is providing some great hardware features like “28mm Carl Zeiss lens for wide angle shots” and  “aperture of f2.2” which will help users to capture high-quality photos. Considering all this i guess Nokia is still hopeful of selling MeeGo smartphones.

  9. DataCrunch
    June 22, 2011

    The upcoming Nokia N9 has been receiving excellent reviews on both its design as well as it functionality.  I wonder how well this particular device will do, since consumers know that Nokia’s focus will not be on MeeGo, but on Microsoft’s mobile platform.  The N9 clearly showcases Nokia’s abilities to release elegant, feature rich devices.  It will be interesting what the Win-Nok partnership produces together. 

    Here’s a PC Magazine article describing the impressive features of the Nokia N9. 

    Nokia N9 smartphone 640

  10. eemom
    June 22, 2011

    Anandvy

    Why would developers take time to develop product on a platform that Nokia is not supporting long term.  The phone may have a lot of features, but, personally I wouldn't buy it unless I knew that its one in a long line of phones that Nokia will release.

  11. Mr. Roques
    June 22, 2011

    Nokia probably thought that if they waited a few more months to get their product in line with MSFT's OS, they would continue to lose the battle. I agree with them, they needed to react quickly and present something that customers would like and make them remember why Nokia is the biggest mobile phone manufacturer.

    I'm not sure the sisu is enough though. 

  12. Anand
    June 23, 2011

    @eemom,

    Looks like MeeGo will support Android apps. MeeGo like Android, is an open sourced operating system based on the Linux kernel. So it shouldn’t be too surprising to see Android apps running seamlessly on the N9. If this happens we don't need developers  to develop apps specifically for MeeGo. Moreover lets not forget MeeGo is supported  by Intel.

     

  13. Anand
    June 23, 2011

    @eemom,

      Android will only be a subset of the app environment on meego. On meego, you can program in QT/QML, C++ and most any language available on linux. So it is likely, at least in theory that with a richer dev platform, it is likely to attract more developers to it long term.

  14. Houngbo_Hospice
    June 23, 2011

    Whether Nokia will sell its new smartphone or not will depend on the quality of the product and not on superstitions. I do agree that it is good for Nokia to carry on launching new products on a regular basis. My question though is, whether Nokia is willing to offer phones with different OSs or it will have to stick to MSFT's OS in the future? 

  15. Susan Fourtané
    June 23, 2011

    Ariella, 

    There is no translation for the word sisu. Whoever wants to adopt it, first has to check how it is used and all what it describes, and then use it in the original Finnish just as we use the words in German and French when they have no translation. 

    -Susan 

  16. Susan Fourtané
    June 23, 2011

    Thanks, Flyingscot, for your interest.

    As for the phones and general coolness, well, as for the N9 reviews and for what I have seen in the demo it looks pretty cool. Have you seen the demo? If not, I recommend you to watch it immediately –it can be in the next half an hour, too, 😉 — and then come back here and tell me what you think of it. Just go and follow the link I posted for the Nokia Connection event.

    -Susan 

     

     

  17. t.alex
    June 24, 2011

    I have talked to some analysts and most of them believe the N9 is just a stepping stone before any Windows phone coming out. Why would user choose meego anyway?

  18. Anand
    June 25, 2011

     

    Because, not only is MeeGo an excellent system with great features, great performance and great usability, but it is also Open Source.And it is not only about MeeGo, with QT it is easy and fun to develop great apps for MeeGo and many other systems.

  19. t.alex
    June 26, 2011

    For these Android is a heavyweight. Hopefully Nokia is really serious with Meego. Where are all the apps?

  20. Anand
    June 26, 2011

    @t.alex,

    Its being said that MeeGo like Android, is an open sourced operating system based on the Linux kernel. So MeeGo might support Android apps.

  21. Susan Fourtané
    July 5, 2011

    t.alex, 

    Wouldn't the first question be why Nokia chose MeeGo? Followed by why Nokia thinks users will choose MeeGo?

    -Susan

  22. Susan Fourtané
    July 5, 2011

    Hospice, 

    Would you agree it could be smarter, indeed, to offer phones with different OSs, as many users were not quite happy with the deal with MSFT and its OS?

    -Susan

     

  23. Clairvoyant
    July 5, 2011

    It's good to see Nokia getting into the smartphone market. Previously I had thought they would need to get into this market to continue being successful.

  24. Mr. Roques
    July 18, 2011

    Well, I certainly hope that the deal with MSFT isn't exclusive. Who knows more details about the deal?

  25. t.alex
    October 22, 2011

    Recently i tried Nokia E6 and quite like it. Maybe nokia should not ditch Symbian so soon.

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