Technology Trends
technology trends travis hessman

The Road to Failure: Nokia, Blackberry and... Apple?

I got the call for my first real writing job out of college back in 2001 on a gray Nokia 5110 cell with a bright yellow snap-on skin.

It was the same phone – minus the yellow – in the pocket of everyone at the table with me when I got that call, and in fact everyone at the café around us. Really, you could assume that just about everyone not in a board meeting on that Wednesday afternoon probably owned the same phone, each with a unique skin snapped on to avoid confusion.

When I started the job the next week, I was handed my first Blackberry as a welcome to the professional world.

That's really all there was then: Nokia (IW 1000/109) made phones cool and fun – a must-have accessory in the social world – and Blackberry (IW 1000/412) made phones useful – a must-have tool in the corporate world.

Together, they were the omnipresent, omnipowerful pioneers of the burgeoning mobile industry. They couldn't be stopped; they couldn't fail. Unless the whole market somehow changed overnight…

nokia 5110
Visions of the Former King: The Nokia 5110 ruled the social world just a decade ago.

And then the iPhone happened.

Now, 12 years later, Nokia has sold itself out of the mobile business and word is Blackberry might do the same.

As I wrote in my Innovation department this month ("Blackberry's Long Fall from the Top"), neither of these companies fell behind in the market because they strayed from their winning strategies or because they abandoned the technologies that helped them capture their dominant market share.

They fell because they didn't stray.

Over the last decade, Nokia has continued every year to make better versions of its best consumer phones and Blackberry has continued to improve its business-class systems. But they did so without regard to the changing market, offering their users ever-better, ever-improved phones that served ever more esoteric needs.  And by the time they made a move back to the mainstream, they had already lost too much.

And so now – without underestimating the threats from competitors like Samsung (IW 1000/14) and Google – Apple (IW 500/4) is the reigning king. The iPhone is everywhere; everyone has one. Fifteen minutes before every meeting here at IW, just about everyone's pocket chirps the same reminder, as they do for every email and retweet that come in as we try to talk.

The iPhone now is the omnipresent, omnipowerful pioneer of the smartphone industry. It can't be stopped; it can't fail. Unless the whole market somehow changes overnight…

And you can see where this is going.

To stay alive, to stay relevant, top companies have to continue to invest in groundbreaking, disruptive technologies – the same investments that got them to the top in the first place – even if that means working against those early wins.

Apple has done this in the past of course – just look at the effect the iPhone has had on iPod sales – and there are plenty of murmurs and rumors about new disruption on the horizon. But headlines like this have me worried: "Apple's iPhone Expected to Star at Event Next Week."

We are now six generations into the iPhone evolution – every generation better, faster, lighter and more powerful than the last, but all of them natural evolutions from the original.

And next week, all of the excitement is around the possibility of the next evolution: shiny new colors.

I hope that's wrong. I hope Apple is hiding something big, something disruptive, something beautiful and powerful that will somehow change the whole market overnight.

I hope it's not just a new yellow phone.

UPDATE 9/10/13:
iphone 5c

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