By Kevin Meyer
So the year is 2002. A team of designers and engineers shows their executives "a phone with a color touch screen set above a single button. The device was shown locating a restaurant, playing a racing game and ordering lipstick." It was based off of another idea worked on a few years earlier – a "secretly developed alluring product: a tablet computer with a wireless connection and touch screen."
Apple is amazing, right? Yes, but this was Nokia, seven years before Apple launched the iPhone.
"Oh my God," [Nokia Chief Designer] Mr. Frank Nuovo says as he clicks through his old slides. "We had it completely nailed."
I may have given Apple considerable grief over the last few weeks with regard to their supposed manufacturing and supply chain prowess, but I will give the company kudos here. The company has incredible focus and they execute.
Consumers never saw either device. The gadgets were casualties of a corporate culture that lavished funds on research but squandered opportunities to bring the innovations it produced to market. Nokia is losing ground despite spending $40 billion on research and development over the past decade—nearly four times what Apple spent in the same period. And Nokia clearly saw where the industry it dominated was heading. But its research effort was fragmented by internal rivalries and disconnected from the operations that actually brought phones to market.
Whereas RIM lacked the right product, Nokia actually developed the sorts of devices that consumers are gobbling up today. It just didn't bring them to market.
Well ideas alone do have a little inherent value.
Instead of producing hit devices or software, the binge of spending has left the company with at least two abandoned operating systems and a pile of patents that analysts now say are worth around $6 billion, the bulk of the value of the entire company.
So Nokia has about $6 billion, and Apple is sitting on $100 billion actually in the bank plus an incoming tide of high margin sales.
Right there, my friends, is the value of focus and execution.
Nokia had great ideas, great design, and even solid lean manufacturing initiatives. But they also had – and perhaps still have – a culture that focused efforts and funding on the front end of the product realization process and often changed direction on the back end.
Apple had Steve Jobs, who for all his tyrannical faults set a direction, made quick decisions, stretched his teams (sometimes in a questionable manner), and drove incredible focus on the target: a superior product actually in the market.
Ideas are just ideas. To be successful those ideas have to be turned into products – faster and better than anyone else.