If you’re a technology obsessive like me you will not have failed to notice that Nokia announced their tie up with Windows Phone 7 last week. The death knell has sounded for Nokia’s own mobile OS, Symbian, and future handsets will be touting Microsoft’s relatively recently developed software.
I noticed it when said Microsoft OS was revealed. The media (including digital and social) reaction was one of shock and awe that Microsoft had produced something that was actually pretty good. Microsoft were clearly aware that the reaction would be one of surprise, and played off it by enlisting a long term champion of their rivals, Stephen Fry. Previously a mouthpiece for all that is wonderful about Apple, Fry took centre stage to admit that Microsoft had made something that, you know, isn’t bad.
However none of this has stopped the reaction to the Nokia/Windows news from being predictably negative. Apparently Nokia’s shares have dropped 10% and much of the noise on Twitter and the blogosphere is along the lines of ‘why is one dying technology company choosing to partner with another
I cannot be the first person to point out the gross exaggeration going on here. OK, so Nokia’s handset market share dropped in 2010 (by 8.5% to 28.2%), but it is still the biggest global handset manufacturer by some distance – it’s hardly ‘dying’. The partnership is with an up and coming mobile OS developer which everyone was singing the praises of just a few months ago, who also happens to be far and away the biggest desktop software provider in the world. Does that sound like such a bad plan?
It is a symptom of the influencer ecosystem in the tech industry. Tech influencers are implicitly heavy users of social and digital media, and by nature are pretty obsessive about their tech. Where other people have a faint preference for a supermarket or brand of toilet roll, tech obsessives are likely to have a strong alliance to certain tech brands. The difference with the tech sphere though, is that these often fairly biased and unfounded personal alliances manifest themselves far more frequently online, and even reach mainstream media. Automated Twitter accounts are set up specifically to retweet the vitriol against certain browsers, phone manufacturers or search providers, whilst whole blogs are dedicated to it. Even national journalists will be completely open about whether they are a Mac or a PC.
There’s an element of elitism here too. A tech blogger may think “I am more knowledgeable about this, therefore my opinion is more valid”. Without stopping to consider why products like the iPhone are so popular (simple usability) they state technical specifications of hardware or a browser’s incompatibility with the latest web language – things that are obscure and unimportant to consumers at large.
What if you transferred the same kind of attitudes to another industry? If Sainsbury’s dipped below Asda to number 3 in the top UK retailers, I’m fairly certain this would not provoke legions of Twitterers and mainstream media to start applying the descriptors ‘dying’ or ‘has been’ with every mention of the supermarket. In technology any kind of provider that has existed for more than five years and is no longer in the number one slot is a dinosaur.
When it comes to software, digital media, mobile etc we seem to see find the possibility of a comeback unlikely because none of this technology has existed long enough for us to see many examples of a company thriving, then dipping, then thriving again. We don’t expect it, which is very odd considering that in this techno-religion of newness and number one the current deity – Apple – did just that.
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