Nokia has begun a major reorganisation that will see 1,800 workers laid off, its product range streamlined and its smartphone strategy significantly altered.
The company published its quarterly results on Thursday, showing growth in smartphones but a drop-off in sales of Nokia's lower-end S40 device range due to screen and camera supply constraints. New chief executive Stephen Elop said in an earnings call on Thursday that he saw Nokia as a landscape of "unpolished gems" that would only realise their value through the implementation of a "crisply articulated strategy".
That strategy will see the company drastically change course on the implementation of its Symbian and MeeGo operating systems. For those buying new Nokia phones now, it also means that the version of Symbian running on those devices will be updated with a new user experience, rather than the handsets being entirely superseded by an upcoming, more user-friendly generation.
Many of the planned changes will be made on the development side. All development will now be done through the Qt framework, which makes it possible for coders to build apps for both the Symbian and MeeGo platforms at once, along with desktop OSes such as Windows, Mac and Linux. Although Nokia's focus has been on Qt for some time, this move means that developers will no longer be able to write Symbian apps using, for example, Flash Lite, Python, Java ME or Ruby. Qt has built-in support for HTML 5, and Nokia will make a major push to implement that emerging set of web standards in its mobile browser.
Nokia's strategy of shipping Symbian^3 phones now and then releasing Symbian^4 phones, which were supposed to carry the first major refresh of the operating system's user interface in many years, has now been scrapped. The Symbian^3 (S^3) and Symbian^4 (S^4) monikers are gone, and the platform, which has been totally open source since the release of Symbian^3, will simply be presented as 'Symbian'. The user-experience improvements that were due to appear in S^4 — such as a greater focus on touch-friendliness — will now be rolled out as updates to the current version of the platform.
"I had the opportunity to review the user-experience improvements which were planned in the context of Symbian^4," Elop said in the conference call. "By standardising our development environment and focusing on the S^3 platform, what we're able to do is bring forward a number of those improvements."
Elop suggested that currently shipping devices, which include the S^3-based Nokia N8, C6 and C7, would be updated as user-experience improvements are introduced. He also changed Nokia's policy on its other mobile operating system, MeeGo, by saying that the first handset to be based on that platform would definitely come out in 2011, not this year as originally planned. On 5 October, when MeeGo chief Ari Jaaksi quit, Nokia had insisted that its MeeGo strategy remained "unchanged". Jaaksi was subsequently snapped up by HP to work on the rival Palm WebOS platform.
Analyst Carolina Milanesi, a Gartner vice-president, told ZDNet UK on Thursday that the fact there would not be a generational break in code between S^3 and S^4 was "good news for developers that can get on with their work on the current version, and know they can leverage their work". She also noted that it was "great news for the consumers who are buying an N8 and know that they can upgrade their device".
Elop, who used to head up Microsoft's Office team, said that when he replaced Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo five weeks ago, he "identified the opportunity for streamlining... future hardware portfolios and software development practices", particularly around Symbian. Jobs will be cut in Nokia's devices, services and corporate functions divisions, he said, with focus now being placed on the booming Ovi platform.
In a statement, Nokia human resources chief Juha Äkräs said the company would "support affected employees with alternative solutions, such as helping them find new positions within the company", but overall, 1,800 people will no longer be working for Nokia.
Apart from Kallasvuo and Jaaksi, other major figures to leave Nokia and the Symbian Foundation in recent months include smartphone division chief Anssi Vanjoki, who departed immediately after Elop was hired, and Lee Williams, the chief executive of the Symbian Foundation who vacated his post for 'personal reasons' two days ago.
As no other major smartphone maker still intends to release Symbian devices — Sony Ericsson and Samsung both dropped their support in recent weeks — Nokia now has more of a free hand in controlling the operating system, which it bought out in 2008 before open-sourcing it for use by other manufacturers.