Flinging Angry Birds at the Nokia House

What Country is the home of the largest manufacturer of mobile phones?  A clue, the same country that is home to the company with three of the top ten paid apps on iTunes.  Give up?  Finland.  Yes I said Finland.  As I like to say, “Nokia is a river in Finland not a company in Japan.”  So while planning a personal trip to Finland it gets me thinking how can there be such a strong concentration in mobile technology yet very few people know it.  Will this hidden location of knowledge lead to a Machu Picchu type disappearance, much like the lost fact that Belgium once was the global lead in computational linguistic technology.

So is Nokia Mobile Phone History?

First, let’s look at Nokia’s history.  It starts in 1865, that’s even before Finland was a country, and pulp mill.  Yes, Nokia started in the information sharing business by making paper.  And as is usually the case in “old” companies, even older than American old timers Sears (1886) and GE (1892) (oldest company founded in the US?  Tuttle’s Red Barn – 1632 ), it didn’t limit itself to its first industry.  Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, Nokia found itself in the telecommunications industry.  Today Nokia still remains in the top position in the mobile phone vendor market with 32.4% followed by Samsung 21%, LG 8.3%, Apple 4.1%, and RIM 3.6%.

Here in the US we may think that smartphones started with the Blackberry.  But after IBM started the market with the Simon in 1992, it was Nokia that got it market going with the Communicator in 1996.  Over the years Nokia missed the boat that smartphones were not for business but for consumers.  Employees brought their consumer smartphones into the business world to improve their productivity.  It’s only now that enterpirse are looking at how to take advantage of the technology.  But Nokia’s Symbian is 2nd largest mobile OS platform only being beaten by Android and that’s a great position to be in, especially as smartphones only represent a quarter of the total cell market.  And the future looks good as Nokia starts to replace Symbian with Windows Mobile in their future smartphones.  What Nokia is missing is a little shameless self-promotion.

Is Rovio Mobile Apps/ Gaming Future?

Well if you haven’t heard of Angry Birds you must be hiding in a cave somewhere.  As of December, it was reported that Angry Birds had sold over 12 million copies.  At $2 each and even after Apple’s the 30% royalty that’s over $7,200,000.  That’s not bad for a 50 person company who has developed a game that is there, like Solitaire or Minesweeper, to help suck away idle time.

Just a few weeks ago Peter Westerbeke proclaimed at South-by-Southwest, that the end of the gaming console was near.  Multi-month game development cycles of the console could not compete with the fast development cycles of the mobile phone market.  Of course can one claim that Angry Birds is a better game series than Halo?  I think not.  What It does show is that some simple apps can be developed quickly on the mobile platform by a quality team.  But has Rovio seen that.

In a way, maybe.  Rovio announced in February the Rovio Academy.  A six-month training program tied to the Finnish Employment and Economic Administration.  Over the 26 day program Rovio will develop additional talent for the labor pool.  Interestingly the program is limited to those some six million of us that speak Finnish.

So Why Does It Matter?

Over the years I’ve noticed there are little pockets of specific knowledge around the globe.  This goes beyond the large Microsoft following in Seattle.  There’re is a concentration of healthcare software providers around Kansas.  There is the computational linguistics focus in Belgium.  The language translation focus in Argentina.   These go beyond the mix of technologies one finds in Silicon Valley or Boston.

Finland, and by proximity Sweden with Sony Ericsson, have created an interesting niche of mobile technology.  Some of what I see elsewhere today I could do years ago in Finland.  I could buy a soda at the airport with my mobile phone first in Finland.  Paying for parking meters by cellphone is something just being looked at around the US but could be done by SMS in Finland since 1999.  One reason is the small size of the country allows for test scenarios to become easily adopted throughout the country.

And to get back to Machu Picchu.  Today there’s a strange twist.  There are rumors that Nokia may leave Finland.  I would hate to see the world loose this unique incubator that country in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” has to offer.

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