Angry Birds and Nokia's Perception Problem

Today Nokia announced the availability of Angry Birds on the Ovi Store for Symbian. That Nokia saw this as news worth recounting is one thing. After all, the game made its bones on the iPhone and is only available on Ovi, iTunes, and the Palm Store. Heck: it’s the #1 game in Moldova and the only thing I know about Moldova is that they make nice wine.

What’s more, Nokia didn’t just announce the game but they announced a paid add-on – the mighty freaking eagle.

The Nokia story never played well in the US. The phones were – and are – great and the OS was once ahead of its time. Sadly, however, the company has fallen into a perception whirlpool that few tech companies escape from. Nokia is a juggernaut running out of steam and only a massive turnaround can save them.

Granted, Nokia is no 80-pound weakling. They’re a giant. Nokia sells 260,000 smartphones around the world per day. That’s a butt-load of smartphones. But I suspect a minority of those are going to the US and that the number arriving in Western Europe is also falling. Nokia owns Europe and the emerging markets but in a tech culture where status has become conflated with your phone OS, they’re on shaky ground.

They will, in short, need a mighty eagle to get them out of these perception doldrums.

Nokia is about as sexy as Microsoft these days. Their phones are tools and little more and their OS is complex, strange, and inelegant compared to most competitors. That doesn’t mean Nokia doesn’t make good phones – on the contrary. In fact, I’d say that Nokia makes a better, more durable phone than Palm and Apple and is neck-and-neck with RIM.

What does Nokia have to do to unleash the mighty eagle on perception? First, they need to burn their playbook when it comes to smartphones. Pull a Microsoft – kill development on Symbian and make something new. It shouldn’t be too hard. After all, Google did it and they’re a search company. Throwing money at a problem should work in this case, especially since Nokia already has a critical mass of telecom programmers on staff. As I’ve said before, the world doesn’t need another mobile OS but I think the world would love one from Nokia.

Second, they need to pull a Droid. The Motorola Droid single-handedly pulled Motorola out of the doldrums. That one phone with its gold edging and black case, turned Motorola into the manufacturer of the old and buster RAZR and into the manufacturer of the new hotness.

Finally, they need to stop taking shots at competitors. They don’t need to. They’re Nokia. The Ovi Store doesn’t need Angry Birds to become competitive, it needs geeks. And geeks go where the coolness is. And Nokia ain’t cool.