Predict or die

On Apple, Nokia, BlackBerry, and Nintendo. 

Initially, I titled this post “Adapt or die,” but I decided “Predict or die” is more appropriate. I’ll get to that in a moment.

There have been a lot of articles written about AppleNintendo, and BlackBerry with a common theme that if the companies don’t adapt to the changing landscape of consumer technology, they will die. You could say Nokia is already there, with their devices unit being bought by Microsoft for $7.2 billion.

People have been calling for Apple’s demise since 1984. For quite awhile, they looked to be correct. Then Steve Jobs.

But maybe the iPhone is losing a bit of its shine. The thought is that if Tim Cook and Co. don’t develop the next big hit soon, someone else will. That’s not unfair thinking. If Apple had stuck with the iPod as their flagship device for another five years, we would probably be talking about them in the same way we talk about Nokia or BlackBerry.

Tuesday morning in Cupertino, Apple will unveil whatever is next in the world of iPhone. Some of the rumors will have been true, while Apple will almost certainly have one or two tricks up its sleeve. It will impress some and disappoint others. Such is life when you’re the most valuable technology company in the world.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t truth in the thinking that Apple needs to change the game it’s playing. Or better yet, take someone else’s game and change it. That’s what Apple does best – the iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player, the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone, and the iPad wasn’t the first tablet. But they all changed the game. Listening to music wasn’t about specs, it was about ease of use. Smartphones weren’t about tiny keyboards that mimicked a desktop interface, they were about a new form of computing in your pocket. And tablets weren’t about styluses

So, that brings me back to the title of this post, “Predict or die.” It’s not simply about adapting. By now, Nokia has adapted in many ways. So has BlackBerry. Yet, both companies are still largely playing the game of yesterday. They’re competing with the 2007 Apple, not the 2013 Apple. By the time the next line of Microsoft Lumia-whatever-they’re-calling-it is released, they’ll be up against the 2014 Apple. (If Apple comes up with the next big hit between now and then, that’s a big problem for many. It’ll be a problem for Apple if someone not only gets there first, but far better.)

From Financial Review, “The Nokia insider who knows why it failed warns Apple it could be next” –

In an honest assessment, he laments Nokia’s missed opportunities. It had working prototypes for 8-inch tablet computers years before the iPad emerged, toyed with touch screens before Apple “invented” them and let its dominance slip by seeking to protect what it had.
“I look back and I think Nokia was just a very big company that started to maintain its position more than innovate for new opportunities,” Nuovo says.
“All of the opportunities were in front of them and Nokia was working on them, but the key word is a sense of urgency. While things were in play there was a real sense of saying ‘we will get to that eventually.’”

He gets it, but he still doesn’t really get it. It doesn’t matter who did it first. If Nokia had made a touchscreen phone in 2006, Steve Jobs wouldn’t have scrapped the plans for the iPhone. The 2006 Nokia touchscreen phone would have sucked. The bottom half would have had a keyboard. You probably would’ve needed a stylus. The software would have been garbage.

You need to see what’s next before anyone else and execute on it. Nokia focus tested it to death. It’s not about one piece of technology, it’s about the entire experience. It’s about making a promise to your users to make The Best Possible Thing™, and delivering on that.

Maybe Microsoft sees that and that’s why they bought Nokia. Maybe it will give them a fighting chance. Or maybe by the time they make any meaningful improvements to Windows Phone and its ecosystem, it’ll already be three or four years too late.

BlackBerry’s tried it. They are already the most Apple-like phone maker, and they couldn’t recapture the market before it was too late. They’re playing the game from 2009, before Android got its stuff together. They’re not really playing to win. They’re playing to be third or fourth at best.

If BlackBerry switches to Android, makes no more than two phone models (BlackBerry Classic and BlackBerry Touch, I’d call them), goes all-in on cross-platform BlackBerry Messenger, and kills (or sells) everything else, could they make it out the other end? Their days of competing with Apple or Samsung are over, but they could knock off HTC and other Android hopefuls. They probably won’t though, because by the time they do anything it’ll be late 2014.

Side note: What if Microsoft bought BlackBerry, put them in charge of Microsoft enterprise mobile and Nokia in charge of Microsoft consumer mobile? Steve Ballmer clearly has no problem paying ridiculous sums for questionable companies.

What does Nintendo have to do with all of this? A lot, actually. They’re next. Nintendo is saying the same thing BlackBerry (RIM at the time) and Nokia said half a decade ago. “We’ve got time. We’ve got money. We’ll figure it out.”

Nintendo should care about Nokia and BlackBerry, because along with the iPhone and its Android counterparts, that’s where people are spending their time. And money. The 3DS does look just fine as a gaming device. But am I going to spend $200 on that or the next iPhone?

MG Siegler writes –

You’re profitable and a healthy business until you’re not. The mistake often made is to think that dramatic shifts in business can’t happen quickly. They can happen very quickly. And Nintendo is in a market that is experiencing such a shift.

Nintendo can do whatever they want to do. The problem is that they aren’t. They’re iterating on hardware from 2004 (Nintendo DS) and 2006 (Nintendo Wii). I mean, come on. It’s 2013. How is the 3DS really different from the DS?

Nintendo is experiencing the same failure to act that Nokia did in 2007. The same thing BlackBerry did in 2009. “We’re fine.”

You don’t have to invent the future. You just have to figure out what consumers really want. Consumers are telling Nintendo exactly what they want. Consumers aren’t buying a 3DS, they’re buying an iPad.

This was Steve Jobs’ genius. He knew what you wanted before you did. Even if you’ve never used an iPhone, if you’re using an Android, Windows Phone, or modern BlackBerry, you’re using something he inspired. No, Steve didn’t invent the touchscreen, or the app, but he correctly predicted what users really wanted out of their phone. Remember the original Android concept?

Nintendo could put their games on iOS. Or they could just as easily make their next handheld a phone. (Please, not the N-Gage.) But they won’t. Not until it’s too late, anyway. Yeah, Mario Kart would sell on an iPhone in 2015 if Nintendo finally decides that’s the right move, but that’s not the point.

Two years from now, if Nintendo still doesn’t have an exciting plan for the future, they’re only about five years late. If they are in a position of giving in and putting their games on iOS as a means to prop up a dwindling console business, it’s the beginning of the end. If they’re proactive by putting their games on iOS while saying, “If you want a premium gaming device, we’ll be over here with the future of mobile,” they could have something.

But why would they do that? The 3DS is selling. They’ve got money. They’re fine.


Andy Newman