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Why Google Did Android (tbray.org)
551 points by zdw 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 348 comments





Was at Google in 2007 when the launch(es) were happening. The commenter at the bottom of the article is correct, the existential threat Google faced wasn't from Apple, it was from US mobile carriers. Google wanted leverage over the carriers to bring Google products to feature phones more easily. They had no intention of actually releasing Android at the time, and it wasn't close to being ready for release anyway. Apple then released iPhone and beat Google to the punch, and I remember us all thinking "oh shit this is WAY better than the janky, blackberry-esque prototypes we have in development"[1]. So everyone at Google scrambled to get something out the door in response, and the compromise was the HTC G1/Dream on the cheapest carrier at the time (T-mobile). I was using a Nokia N95 at the time, and while the Dream was laughably bad, I did appreciate the bits of the Dream which compared favorably, like mobile web browsing and application development. I still feel Android is mostly a reactive product with many clumsy holdovers from v1, but I digress.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/30/HT...


I loved G1 for its over-engineered "let's throw everything and see what sticks" approach: touchscreen with soft keyboard; and a slider keyboard too; and hey, let's add a trackball as well!

I switched to it from my Palm Treos and held on it for a long, long time ("root and replace the opening animation with a static image to free up 96k of RAM" kind of long time:-)

It reminded me of my first 286 computer when I was 9 or 10, when you had to know what every file did and mess around with ridiculous extended vs expanded memory constructs, just to get new things working on it. My Samsung Note (and to lesser degree, iPhone XR), mostly "just work" and I enjoy them as such... but I can never love them as much as I did that G1:)


As a physical keyboard fan the Dream was awesome. Sure, the trackball was wonky, the multitouch sensor was limited and the screen resolution and RAM was very low by today's standards but it was a great start. And given that it was hackable (in more than one way, remember the hilarious telnetd thing?) and had a keyboard it was 100x better than the iphone. Connectbot was the absolute killer app for me. I also fondly remember the nice tactile navigation buttons, it's been all downhill since then on that front.

I always thought that the BB-like prototype looked pretty neat too, if the keyboard and button bar could have been made more compact to make more space for the screen.

Now all the phones are exactly the same, there is very little experimentation or innovation except for small players like the fxtec pro (waiting for mine to ship)


I got a pair of the G1s the first day they were for sale at T-mobile. One of the most used features of them was the bar code scanner and hangouts. Free messaging (many of the less expensive plans had limited SMS) that was automatically mirrored on your browser (through gmail) was somewhat novel at the time.

Used the hell out of those things, I was REALLY impressed with their physical robustness. My partner dropped their phone ... and ran over it with a bike. There was a tire print across the keyboard AND screen, without no harm done.


I really liked having the keyboard on the G1. Great keyboard on that little thing.

It was only surpassed by the Samsung Sidekick 4G. That had nicely spaced keys for quick typing, and a decent sized screen for the time.

I regret not getting to try out a Motorola Photon Q, which might have been a very nice experience. But it was released only for Sprint. And every expensive at the time.

And now you can't get a decent physical keyboard on anything. I've gotten used to swiping and am decently fast at it after years of practice.


I recall the G1 had cut and paste functionality that iPhones lacked for many new releases to come.

I get a feeling everyone in this thread did not buy the G1 because they liked the G1, but solely because they are google fans that buy anything google throw at them.

If you people really liked the keyboard, you would be praising the two last phones from blackberry.

physical keys, ctrl+a/c/v/z! it even have a gimmick that acts as a touchpad. and bloatware-less android (well, less than a pure-google anyway)

only downside of those phones is nobody managed to get root yet. But that is more an android issue. And some people might actually prefer a phone with no root entry points anyway.


I think that's a take that is obviously wrong for many people. The g1 was fun because of the hardware, and it didn't have an expensive plan, it was easy to write apps for. I liked the keyboard, I could put music on it that I controlled. It was my phone, instead of that mba thing, the blackberry. It was the perfect device for me at the time.

I can only speak for myself but I got it because it looked like an awesome pocket ssh console. And it was. Connectbot was ready to go on launch thanks to the sdk and emulator that was released ahead of time.

Android being open source was a huge factor too but I probably would have stuck with the Treo 680 for a while longer if it wasn't for the keyboard.

And I do use a BB key2 right now :) At least until I get my fxtec pro1.

BB seems to have stopped selling the Key2 in the US a few months back so I really hope my current one holds out long enough.


Gundotra's comment to Bray was "the iPhone is really good" -- so that conversation had to have happened after the iPhone was announced, and perhaps after it shipped -- by which point, by the commenter's account (and yours), Google's strategy had shifted, and they were using Android as a future product, not just a stalking horse. So, I'm not sure there's a contradiction here.

Correct, after iPhone was released, it became apparently to Google that it wasn't just the carriers which were a roadblock to Google's unfettered monetization of the mobile space, but also Apple. Google leadership had these ridiculous fantasies of strong-arming US wireless carriers into ultra cheap unlimited data plans, and/or buying the 700Mhz spectrum for their own country-wide coverage with no dead zones. Hence the spectrum bid. When Apple released iPhone, it was not only a better product than the internal developing Android devices, but Apple also struck an exclusivity deal w/ AT&T which set the price point for these new devices. Google not only had their leverage yoinked out from under them, but they also started to realize becoming a wireless ISP is harder than they thought, and had no choice but to release what they could. I'm guessing at the time T-mobile needed the business inject the most of the big 4, and made Google the best partnering offer.

I was at google at the time of the spectrum bidding (but not having anything to do with phones) and that was a different situation. Recall that there was some minimum amount of money in the spectrum bid to require that the wireless data use would follow net neutrality rules. I remember they discussed this at TGIF and google was bidding up until it went over that amount. It wasn't a secret, it was openly discussed at tgif.

> ... "the iPhone is really good" -- so that conversation had to have happened after the iPhone was announced, and perhaps after it shipped ...

Not necessarily. Steve Jobs was really pissed with Google after they launched Android because Android copied a lot of features from ios. And they could do so because Apple had given them early access to it to develop apps like YouTube (remember, the first iPhone / ios 1 came with the YouTube app bundled by default). Steve Jobs was also mentoring the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, at that time, and they had unprecedented access to both him and presumably his company. That's why he believed that Android was the "stolen" property of Apple:

> According to Steven Levy's book, Jobs "concluded that he was a victim of deceit." He felt "he had been betrayed by the two young men he had been attempting to mentor. He felt the trust between the two companies had been violated […] Not only did he believe that Google had performed a bait and switch on him, replacing a non-competing phone with one that was very much in the iPhone mode, but he also felt that Google had stolen Apple's intellectual property."

Source: https://gizmodo.com/what-really-made-steve-jobs-so-angry-at-...

(Interestingly, it was after Android that Steve Jobs very rightly claimed that Google's "don't be evil" mantra was plain bullshit).

Edit: Turns out I may have been wrong about the YouTube app part. While I do remember reading elsewhere that Apple did give Google access to early prototypes of ios and iPhone, this article claims that the YouTube app initially bundled with ios 1 to 6 was built by Apple themselves, and not Google - https://mashable.com/2017/06/30/iphone-youtube-app-story/ .


Whenever I hear stuff about Jobs being pissed about stuff being "stolen" from Apple, it's just so disappointing. Jobs was a master at stealing ideas from others. Not saying he didn't have any original ideas (he certainly did!), but they weren't all his.

And I think all this "it was my idea and you copied it!" is just kinda dumb anyway. I mean, imagine you're an Android UI/UX designer from before the iPhone came out. You're doing your thing, and it's looking a bit like WinCE and a bit like BB, and who knows what else. Then you get wind of the iPhone, and you see how completely different the UX is, and it hits you: "wow, this is amazing and so much better than what we're doing". So what are you going to do? Sit back? "Well, shucks, I didn't come up with this idea, it's all Apple's... I guess they win and Android will ship as-is." No, of course not, that's insane. You step back, throw out the ideas of yours that weren't good, and adopt the new ideas that are better.

And frankly I still think there's a lot to the main launcher / home screen paradigm that Android has better. I love that I have an alphabetized app drawer listing all my apps, and then I get to make various home screens with just the subset of apps there that I want. I never understood why all apps on the iPhone live on one of the main screens and have to be organized, manually; it just felt like more work than I wanted to do. Android might be heavily heavily influenced by the iPhone, but it's not like they just copied it screen for screen, interaction for interaction, and called it a day.


Android and IPhone both stole from various less popular phones/tablets that had better screens, icon based launchers, and app stores. Motorola had a few (not popular in the USA) and Nokia has the n770 (800 x 480). I went to OLS (Ottawa Linux Symposium) in summer and 2006 and begged the substantial number of Nokia folks to add a WAN chip to their Nokia 770.

The n770 had a better screen than the first iphone (800x480), actually ran apps (the first iphone was web only), and had an app store. In particular Maemo mapper was crazy better than anything apple offered for many years.


The 770 and N800/N810 were amazing, and obviously the N900 was a real powerhouse at the time, but they just didn't have the marketing panache of Apple for widespread adoption.

I remember following the development of the N950 and being thoroughly disappointed when Nokia killed it off and went all in on Windows Phone instead of sticking with Linux-based systems.


We did the same on our internal employee demo shows, but that was seen as an attack to Symbian based devices, so...

Exactly. Wasn't Jobs proud to say, "Good artists copy, great artists steal"?

Jobs made amazing things happen, but he also had a Reality Distortion Field with the best of them.


You are missing the point - sure, everyone copies great ideas from their competitors. What Steve Jobs was mad about was they copied the ideas without letting him know they were working on a competing product. This helped them deliver a competing product much, much sooner and did cause Apple some business loss.

So from that perspective, he is right to be pissed and they did "steal" Apple's "innovations".

If Google did not have the early access to the prototypes from Apple, an ios like Android wouldn't have come so soon after iPhone's success became apparent. Apparently, ios like Android was launched within a year of the first iPhone. If Google had no idea about ios, they wouldn't even have devoted so much resource to Android (which they had bought to put pressure on the carriers and use as a negotiating tactic). And if they had started developing Android after the iPhone, Android OS would have taken more time to develop and launch. And who knows, by that time, another mobile OS (blackberry or Windows) could have become the number 2 mobile OS.


Android copied iOS design screen for screen, gesture for gesture, form factor, hardware and app design. It was not a 'well shucks' type move, it was 'copy everything and undercut them to get mobile market share at all costs'. They knew the lawsuits were inevitable. Samsung lost a 500M judgment and Google bought Motorola for 12.5 Billion to use their patent portfolio as leverage against Apple.

No it didn't. If it was copying iOS screen for screen then surely it'd have started with the home screen, which was entirely different. The Android home screen was much more desktop-like with draggable icons, home folders, wallpapers etc, long before iOS did these things.

The Android top bar was also totally different. The Android bar was a full UI widget you could drag down to reveal a sophisticated notifications system. iOS barely had a notifications system at all when it launched.

There were really quite a lot of differences. That's why Apple was reduced to arguing nonsense like "we own rounded rectangles" and "grids of icons are iOS IP".


This wasn't 'nonsense'... Google spent 12 billion on Motorola's mobile patent portfolio and Samsung lost half a billion in legal judgements. If they spent half that money innovating and improving mobile design instead of copying everything to the point of confusion from the popular market leader.. we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Apple sure had a lot of innovations, like rectangles with rounded corners. Skipping that ridiculous argument, of course apple had real innovation too, more than form factor. Reality is that other vendors and device makers were innovative. Apple could have had even more of the market if they had been just a little bit less controlling, in my opinion.

The number of people I've recomended Dealers of Lightning to and have come to this same conclusion is close to 100%.

Damn Shane about Xerox, they really we're sitting on a gold mine.


I remember the "reboot" bug on the HTC G1...

Apparently everything you typed was executed in a terminal, so if you typed "reboot" anywhere, including in a chat window, it would reboot your device.


Wait, how did this work? Surely not every typed word was issued as a command.

That was indeed the case. A better use for it was running "telnetd" which was how we got root access to the device initially.

I think it was more like every keystroke was sent to a virtual terminal as well as the GUI, so <enter>reboot<enter> would reboot.

Every typed word between two CRs.

Source? I could understand (!) `reboot` (with backticks) evaluated by mistake inside a shell script; but still reboot needs high privileges.

Yeah, it ran everything you typed as root.

So open up a chat app, type return, reboot, return. Tada.

I can't find some original sources, but there is a summary I found on Slashdot. https://mobile.slashdot.org/story/08/11/08/1720246/bug-in-an...


> while the Dream was laughably bad, I did appreciate the bits of the Dream which compared favorably, like mobile web browsing and application development

Aren't those The Thing though? I was in the peripheral Nokia/Symbian world at the time, had been working on smartphones for a few years, and... the G1 was amazing. Straightforward SDK vs. the insane embedded toolchains prevalent at the time (remember: there was no iOS SDK at all yet!), hardware specs similar to the iPhone... I mean, this thing was a breath of fresh air.

Obviously things got better, and in hindsight the hardware keyboard and trackball were silly dead ends. But none of that seems to have been obvious at the time.

Now, it's true that in terms of market share the G1 itself didn't do very much: it wasn't until Samsung launched all the Galaxy S variants ~2 years later running Eclair that Android took off as a platform. But I don't see much of that as an indictment of the G1.


> Obviously things got better, and in hindsight the hardware keyboard and trackball were silly dead ends.

Not dead ends, just a bit too expensive for the cut-throat competitive market. I loved the keyboard and trackball and I still miss them in modern phones.


It was obvious at the time. G1 used a hw keyboard because Android was under incredible pressure to ship to meet the iPhone head on, but it had been originally designed for a Blackberry form factor. When the decision was made to switch to a full screen smartphone form factor there wasn't enough resourcing or time to develop a soft keyboard (which is a somewhat complex project), so they went with HW. It was just a scheduling and prioritisation issue.

> laughably bad

While not Dream-bad, the first iPhone was really bad, but with a better interface than every other phone. It didn't have an app store, so the interesting things were maps and a web browser, but with only 2.5G internet, they were mostly unusable.


> the first iPhone was really bad

I couldn't disagree more. Sure looking back at what we have today it is easy to laugh at it but it was literally the only product of its kind for perhaps the first 9 months of its life. It delivered on pretty much everything IMHO. It was reliable and it performed well. It really did replace an iPod, phone and PDA with one device.

Honestly the only thing it lacked was copy and paste which I agree was dumb but never did I think it was "really bad" because of this omission.

People can rag on Apple for a lot of stuff but man they really killed it with completely new gen 1 device. Not even the iPod was as good a gen 1 device as it lacked PC compatibility, a physical wheel that could/would break, etc.

It took at minimum a year for any other phone maker to bring something even 50% as good as the iPhone to the market and it took them several years to match (and exceed) it.

I'm not saying the first iPhone was perfect, obviously it was not. There is still not perfect smartphone. However it was a great product and I feel calling it "really bad" is very unjust.


Well, the OP's full line was "very bad but with a good user interface", which IMO is an important caveat.

In every category except user interface the first iPhone was behind the times. Devices like the Nokia N95 could do everything the iPhone could do, plus a lot more, with great (for the time!) performance.

But it's also a demonstration of why UI matters so much. I was using a Symbian smartphone and loved it but none of my friends did because it wasn't as intuitive as the dumb phones of the time. iPhones were as intuitive as a dumb phone and had a whole raft of new features... but only when compared to those dumb phones.


One thing the N95 and almost every other phone back then didn't have was a decent 3D accelerator like the PowerVR chipsets in the first iPhones.

So ya, it's UI, but most other phones were physically incapable of translating touch events into 60fps graphics like the smooth scrolling lists or mobile Safari's zooming interface.

Phones that did have PowerVR or something equivalent at the time didn't have a 3D accelerated double buffered GUI baked into the OS like what Apple had already developed for OS X.


Fair point however as someone moving from a Nokia N95 to the original iPhone I recall things very differently. While it is true the N95 could do a lot more than the first iPhone I hated using the N95 and iOS, while more limiting, was a breath of fresh air compared to the horrible S60 operating system on the N95.

I have vivid memories of getting frustrated with all Symbian smartphones, the N95 included. It was clunky and horrible to work with.

To me that shows just how good the first iPhone, and iOS, was. Even though it had no third party apps and was missing some common features it was so much more enjoyable to use that it made up for those short comings.

I tried for years to find a good "smartphone" (for the time). Palm, BlackBerry, Sony Ericsson, etc. I tried using a dedicated PDA (Palm Tungsten, etc) with GPRS(!) over bluetooth to a reliable phone (Nokia 6310i) and all that but it was still a horrible experience. Not because of the some what hacky ways you had to get things to work properly (that was a get it working and you were done one off) but because it never felt like good to actually use. Inputting data was awkward with a stylus, the UIs were poorly designed with no real thought put into users workflow for common tasks. Switching between apps was slow and you lose context or worse would lose what you had already input!

Then one day I had an iPhone in my hand and it did almost everything I wanted. It had a really good (for the time) mobile web experience, years ahead of any other platform. A great audio player with their iPod platform. The best YouTube and mobile video experience out there. A maps app you could actually use without wanting smart the phone. A solid email, calendar and contacts package.

Adapting to the on screen keyboard is easy for me, sure it felt different but I could never relate to people who kept talking about how they could never give up their BlackBerry with its "proper" keyboard. I hated those tiny physical keyboards. From sending my first SMS on an iPhone I knew I never wanted to use a phone with actual buttons again.

So yes the user experience was incredible on iOS compared to everything else before it however I stand by my reply that OP is being unfair to say it was "very bad but with a good user interface" because to me, and I am confident many others, that user interface is what defined the iPhone as being so good. Every other phone was instantly horrible to me because they didn't have such a good user experience. It didn't matter if some other phone had an hour long battery life or apps or a better camera or copy and paste. Every other phone had a garbage user experience which made it a worse phone.


The killer feature of the iPhone, for me, was the ability to use desktop webpages on the device, instead of getting "mobile-friendly" pages (which meant something pretty different back then).

I still think I'd rather zoom into a desktop page than deal with responsive designs, personally.


The "browse regular websites" was the killer feature of the original iPhone.

Up until that point, browsing on a mobile device was either horribly limited or various kinds of impossible.

The iPhone showed what was possible, and legions of people started to take mobile devices more seriously as full-fledged compute devices.


I know someone who is still using an iPhone 1 and seems happy with it.

My parents still watched DVDs over composite cables on their 4K TV until this past Christmas when I got them a Bluray player, but that doesn't inherently say anything positive about the quality of that setup.

I disagree, it means they prefer the content way more than the resolution. Like most people.

That's interesting. I wonder why? I would figure the security problems, lack of a lot of extras, and probable slowness because of increased OS complexity (to the point it was supported) would make it less useful than many of the simple half-dumb phones out there.

The security problems would trump most other considerations for my for a modern era smartphone of that vintage.


I have one that I use occasionally. It's currently charging in the kitchen.

Though most of the stock apps on it don't work anymore, it's fine as an actual telephone, address book, very basic camera, and a few other things. A lot of the apps on it are no longer available, and since the App Store app is so slow as to be unusable, they don't get removed.

Safari works, but most sites look like they've had their CSS disabled. So it's kind of like WAP days.

It's a good phone for banging around with in uncertain areas, or where you need a phone that you don't mind getting wrecked.

In my opinion, the form factor is still unsurpassed. And it feels good in the hand -- weighty and assuring, but small enough to not get in the way.

The thing I use it for most, though, is the music player. Somehow it sounds better than the newer iPhones. But then, I also think the Shuffles sound better than the newer iPhones.


I understand it can be used for those things, it just seems like it comes with a fairly hefty downside also. You can get a Moto E5 prepaid for $40-$50 if you get it from an AT&T store and sign up for a $15-$20 a month prepaid service (likely cheaper than adding it to a plan anyway), and that's a fairly modern phone and includes a FM radio.

It's not free, which I understand, but it's also not nearly as likely to be immediately exploited by some of the various problems older phones have had (SMS hacks, browser exploit hacks, etc).


Staying one or two generations behind the latest "spiffyness" is usually a good idea.

That's why I still use my trusty 1080p LCD TV and 1080p AV receiver. They were less than $85 total a couple of years ago second hand, and do exactly what they need to do with a cheap HTPC hooked up to them.


I remember showing off my Blackberry to friends with a shiny new iPhone. The Blackberry had GPS and 3G, but its web browser was admittedly much worse than the iPhone’s.

Also, the Blackberry was actually useful as a phone. IIRC the iPhones could barely make phone calls until the iPhone 4.


> Also, the Blackberry was actually useful as a phone. IIRC the iPhones could barely make phone calls until the iPhone 4.

I used mine from a couple months after release until the 4S came out and have no experience supporting that - it was equivalent quality to any other phone I used during that period (pre-VoLTE). The main source of problems was AT&T's network but that affected all phones since it was do to them having massively underprovisioned their network.


I found that, at least where I was, it would take 45-60 seconds to place a call or fail trying. Yes, this was AT&T, and yes they had problems, but it was also in large part Apple’s fault. I had a chance to sit down with actual network engineers from AT&T’s local network contractor, and the story I got was that the iPhone generated much more signaling traffic than it should have, so it worked much worse than it should have. Certainly my old Blackberry could place calls easily on the same network in the same location.

(IIRC the iPhone issue was hypothesized to be related to an incorrect GSM power management implementation.)


That happened a lot, but also on every other model phone — AT&T had dramatically underprovisioned their network and 2G and 3G were less efficient at connection setup and supported fewer clients as well.

I wouldn't be surprised if they tried to blame the phone hardware but given every other interaction with that company I would default to assuming someone got a bonus for “saving” money on network capacity and then had to play damage control for a couple of years. My previous phone only had sound quality as good as the iPhone because I had unlocked it and enabled the higher-bitrate standard GSM codecs which AT&T's default policy had disabled.


It worked fine so long as you didn't hold it wrong...

I am starting to agree with this sentiment, even for today.

I feel like it takes an iphone release and a set of features for Google to even consider some taken path.

I've been a long supporter of Android, by buying pretty much every released OnePlus phone and a few Nexus phones before that... (before the price exploded).

For my next phone I will be going back to the more expensive iPhone.

Everything built into Android feels like a compromise or an afterthought. The only really well built app is Google Maps. All of the other apps, like ones for messaging, calling, even the google assistant, everything feels buggy for some reason. Maybe it's One Plus? (I don't know?)

Permissions seems to have gone through several crazy iterations, but I can't seem to mute my phone, but not my texts, or mute a specific app, but still get slack updates. I know there are some new break the glass features, but it's extremely confusing.

I wish there were just simply profiles that I could just say - hey I want everything muted except slack and text messages. At other times, like the weekend, I want all apps muted except text messages.

But I can't easily do this stuff, it's just really convoluted. I don't know if my mileage will vary on iphone, but I think that's just to get away from general bugginess, voice recognition issues, "map start issue", bad data drops even when my phone has a signal.

Oh, one last thing on Google Maps - if anyone is listening, Can you please stop routing me to staff parking lots BEHIND the store I'm going to? Use some machine learning if you have to and find the best destination point.


>I feel like it takes an iphone release and a set of features for Google to even consider some taken path.

I feel very grateful to Android for bring the slide down notification bar, easy multitasking, multi-microphone noise cancellation, customizable background image, and more to smartphones. All these features were Android first, and I don't know how many of those iOS would have if it wasn't for Android.


I disagree with you on the profiles aspect. I miss two features from Android: 1. Extremely fine tuned profiles that are afforded by Tasker. 2. the much better digital assistant.

It's more than likely OnePlus uses their own phone app and everything else since their Android is a skinned modified version. I use the Google Pixel simply for the software. Btw can't you simply make a schedule in the do not disturb for the weekend with the apps you want included to not mute?

As a geek, the N95 was very amazing at the time:

1. Multitasking!!

2. Good maps app

3. 3G

4. SIP client

5. All the music you would ever need through Rhapsody

These came years, sometimes many years, to other mobile platforms. The downside with the N95 was the lack or touchscreen and the crappy crappy Symbian UI.

But in 2007, I could stream music from a subscription service while using mapping to navigate, then take a SIP call.


The camera was pretty far ahead of everything else at the time also.

Gotta say my Nokia N82 was a slightly better phone.

I read that Google was far more worried about Microsoft at that time. Before the iPhone, it seemed likely that Windows Mobile was going to clean up in the mobile space eventually.

The biggest player at the time (in the US) was RIM. This is why initial Android prototypes were built using the HTC Sooner devices - they wanted to copy the Blackberry and iterate on that layout. Once the iPhone came out, Google had to pivot and copy Apple's glass slab platform instead.

There was also the Sidekick, which at the time seemed to be in the early stages of creating an app ecosystem.

Yes! I think the Sidekick kind of gets forgotten in the story of "next generation smartphones," but it had an on-device app store, an early equivalent to visual voicemail, and arguably one of the better web browsers for its day -- albeit one that worked by having servers somewhere quietly rewriting web sites to work better on the Sidekick's screen. (Hey, it was way better than WML.)

It’s incredible how many companies in this space snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Microsoft, Sidekick, BlackBerry, Nokia...

You forgot Palm!

Palm screwed up by failing to replace their ageing OS in time. IIRC they bought the remains of BeOS, built a next-gen PalmOS on top, then panicked in the face of short term cash-flow, sold the development group, tried something else -- failed -- tried to buy it back again, and had to pulled out from under them. At which point the only way out was to buy someone else's OS. They gambled on Windows Mobile (in whatever incarnation it was at the time) then hit the buffers when a frankly rubbish OS running on the Treo phones (which were nice, for thumb-keyboard devices) ran headfirst into the iPhone.

(PalmOS 4+ was a moderately mac-like -- classic original MacOS, not OSX -- handheld operating system. Mac-like and crashed like a 68K Mac too, alas. But if they'd been able to build on their GUI/user interface chops with a modern OS they might have been able to get on board with the touchscreen trend.)


Similarly Psion has a pretty nice device. The psion 5 had a nice keyboard and limiting OS. It supports apps/app stores, but required windows and memberships to be a developer. I pushed them to open up a bit to get more apps, they thought it was a bad idea.

Speaking of which, there is a modern incarnation of that form factor in the shape of the Cosmo Communicator (and it's 1st gen predecessor, the Gemini PDA):

https://www.www3.planetcom.co.uk/cosmo-communicator

(I have both. Runs Android; desktop Linux port is promised: Sailfish also landed on the Gemini. If you want a modernized Psion 5 this is the biz, although caveat emptor: it's from a very small company and has rough edges on the software side.)

As for the Psion 5, its descendants only recently went away: Symbian (in all its flavours) was developed from the EPOC/32 operating system that it ran, after Psion hit the buffers and Symbian was spun out.


I think a lesson to learn from Google's experience with Android circa 2007 is...

If you have the main strategy right, and execute well eventually, you can succeed despites a lot of despites.

Those early androids were pretty poor value phones. But... the overall approach/concept was right. The strategy was very right.

There would eventually be plenty of good OEMs. The market needed a msft. Apple was never going to supply the whole world with phones.


The true lesson is: if you have a lot of money to throw at a relevant problem, you can succeed even if your initial iteration is terrible.

Those "MSFT" were Blackberry, Nokia and Sony.

"Google wanted leverage over the carriers to bring Google products to feature phones more easily."

"Google products" is not how another knowledgeable HN commenter recently put it in another thread.

He said Google created Android to make Google the default search engine on phones.

A commenter on the tbray.com page says the same thing.

Given Google's line of business, online ad services, the cumulaitive search traffic sent to google.tld as a result of being the default search engine easily outweighs whatever value could be generated from other "products". The OS might be loaded with interesting things for users and industry commentators to "review", however nothing could be more important to the company's bottom line than search traffic to google.com. If that traffic were to die down, the company would be in crisis mode.

An entire OS created just to be the default search engine. Was this the first time this was ever done.


search is a google product.

I loved my G1. I didn't think it was that bad.

> Apple then released iPhone and beat Google to the punch, and I remember us all thinking "oh shit this is WAY better than the janky, blackberry-esque prototypes we have in development"[1]. So everyone at Google scrambled to get something out the door in response,... I still feel Android is mostly a reactive product

This is amazing.


Not entirely convinced that Apple would own the mobile space without Android. There were lot of mobile handset incumbents when IPhone came out. It was the one-two punch of IPhone AND Android that destroyed the handset dominance of the likes of Nokia and Blackberry.

Had there not been an Android, I'm pretty sure one of those incumbents would have come up with something.

Nokia, for example, had lots of nice Linux handheld devices before IPhone. They were encumbered by a degraded engineering culture and Symbian.

People don't remember but, what actually killed Nokia handsets in one stroke was one memo by their then CEO Stehphen Elop where he basically stated their platform as it is was dead in the water. Until then they had had a fairly good portion of the market, but that single statement just killed it. People who did not like IPhone moved from Nokia phones to Android after that.

Now, without Android, there might have not been such an obvious migration path, and Nokia might have kept some of it's customers. Nokia managed to get some great handsets out after that, but they had already lost market momentum.

Nokia was never a big competitor in the US market mainly because they refused to play the game by the operators rules, hence the operators did not really endorse them.

Without Android, once again, I think there might have been openings for Nokia to get into the handset market state side.

Or Blackberry or Ericsson might have come up with something.

The thing that commoditized handset market was not actually Android, but the availability of cheap radio circuits from Asia. Until then the radio technology had been the secret sauce of the encumbents, not software. When the radio stack became commoditized, the playing field changed fairly rapidly.

I'm pretty sure there would have been competing Linux enabled smart devices in one way or another without Android. Android just got there first.


None of the handset makers back then were in a position to come up with a workstation class OS, with desktop class application development frameworks and highly tuned power management and commercial level software development tool chains. They just didn’t have software groups anywhere close to able to deliver something like that. Their software was at best based on embedded variants of Linux with very bare bones dev environments and frameworks. They just didn’t have anything close to the required level and breadth of dev experience and capability.

Furthermore when the iPhone came out almost nobody in either the phone or the Tech industry in general appreciated what Apple had done and why it mattered. I must have read a handful of posts a month like yours back then trivialising the issue as just having to ‘come up with something’. Desktop OS systems like OSX and Windows at the time aren’t something you can just come up with. It’s this sort of thinking that doomed desktop Linux to the margins for decades, and without the Google Android team’s immediately realising what had happened and what they needed to do about it, handset Linux could very easily have ended up a footnote like desktop Linux. Nobody else in the industry seems to have had that insight back then.

What I think would have happened is Microsoft would have eventually got their act together and brought out a credible Windows Mobile and licensed it to the handset makers. Other than Google they are the only software company with the resources in talent and technical depth capable of it. Without Android to light a second fire under them it might have taken longer than it actually did, but they did do this in the actual timeline and without Android to compete with their strategy would have worked.


> with desktop class application development frameworks

It was for this very reason Nokia bought Qt. They very much had a desktop class dev story going, and also some pretty solid mobile device cred. People seem to forget the Greenphone, which was sold as a development platform but you could actually buy it and it was a proper phone with the full dev stack, more than a year before the iPhone was shown publicly. Nokia absolutely had what was required to stay relevant. Without the hostile takeover, things might have turned out different.


Nokia had a problem long before that. They were trying to play on too many playgrounds. They had S60 and Symbian as their workhorse OSs and then were dabbling in various custom Linux stacks (I had an N800 back than, GTK+ based - could skin it like a tricorder - fun times). Then they acquired Qt (Trolltech) and instead of building a UI on the Widgets tech stack they wanted to re-invent the wheel with QML - which is how the Qt framework became this weird two GUI frameworks in one that don't really mesh to this day.

Granted, Google was also just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what stuck, but at least they are a tech company with multiple revenue streams - while Nokia wasn't either of those - so without a laser focus they were doomed from the get go. And they did not have it.


The irony was that there were already versions of Windows Mobile kicking around. Compaq iPAQ, for example. It ran Windows CE and required a stylus. To me, it seems that Apple managed to do to the phone what they'd already done to MP3 players. They weren't the first, and they didn't win the price/features war, but they had uniquely better UX on the device. The key differentiating features seem to me to have been:

- toughened glass screen

- stylus-free interaction due to use of capacitative screen

- multitouch

- real web browser (not WAP)

- (US) escaping the control of carriers; nobody remembers the "iTunes phone" the ROKR. Also indirectly killing carrier's attempts to do nickel-and-dime billing and therefore turning internet into a bulk commodity: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/300-page_iPhone_bill

- the marketing achievement of being a fashion device not a tech device (Tesla are explicitly copying this, to their advantage)

(again, I'm not claiming that they were the first to do any of these, but they did all of them well together)


The things that really mattered, apart from really well thought out and implemented multi-touch were: A true pre-emptive multitasking OS; Full 32bit application process memory model; multiprocessor support; OS level support for power management profiles for apps, based on experience from laptops and enabled by all the above; server class security, again enabled by the kernel features above. A full featured network stack and background services, again enabled by the first handful of features.

Bear in mind the Windows CE kernel, used until Windows mobile version 8 in 2012, was a single tasking OS with severe fundamental architectural deficiencies. That’s why Microsoft never allowed ‘ordinary’ developers access to write in C++. That was restricted to selected partners, because it gave full naked access to the platform and required specialist knowledge and skill.

Meanwhile Apple could let anyone develop on their platform in C, C++, Objective C, it’s all fine and just upload it to the App Store because it had workstation class process isolation.


Where did you get this idea the normal devs couldn't program Windows CE with C++. There are tons of open source C++ Windows CE apps from as far back as the 90s written in C++.

The Phone 7 App Store only allowed Silverlight, XNA and .NET applications, C++ apps were only allowed by close partners. Thats because CE didn't have a robust security framework or process isolation. This is fine on non-networked devices like the ones in the 90s you referred to because the worst that can happen is crashing the device, but once you have constant network access you need to be a lot more careful about allowing direct access at the system level. A badly behaved app could play havoc with the network, especially since the network stack on CE was pretty primitive with few safety features.

Also early CE devices were aimed at technical users that knew how to side-load apps and were much more tolerant of technical issues, but the later phones were aimed at ordinary consumers and so needed to be as reliable as possible. Hence the restriction to managed framework dev environments for general developers releasing to the App Stores on version 7 and below.

This is why Apple could open up their App Store to any developer with basic review, because the system was heavily locked down with robust system security, process isolation and networking models. Windows Phone didn't have that until version 8 in 2012, based on the NT kernel, and that's when the MS App Store started accepting apps developed in low level languages. That wan't a co-incidence or a capricious decision by Microsoft, but based on pragmatic considerations.


> stylus-free interaction due to use of capacitative screen

> multitouch

IMHO these two were the key standout killer features that made the iPhone a qualitatively different and better experience than every handset that had come before.


It went further; not only was the touchscreen better, and multitouch, but the UI was designed for fingers through and through. When I saw it I remember thinking, wow, finally a design team that cares about users at large, instead of showing off how they got X-windows to run on a phone.

It was comical how previous designs slapped a desktop UI on a phone and expected you to emulate a mouse with a tiny, easy-to-lose stylus.


I'm still expecting someone to well-actually us and point out an obscure device that did both first, but to me these were the spectacular features. Resistive touchscreen + stylus was and is awful (qv the other thread about how you hold a pen, like a ballpoint a stylus on resistive requires pressure and can be hard on the grip. It's also extremely loseable)

> I'm still expecting someone to well-actually us and point out an obscure device that did both first

There were devices before the iPhone with multi-touch, but that doesn’t matter. Being first isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be if you can’t market it to the world.


The first palm pilot was around 10 years before the iPhone, but despite the similarities we had flip phones, screen+keyboards, flipout keyboards, etc. It really took the iPhone nailing it to bring us the generation we have now of rectangle you can touch.

The use of glass as opposed to plastic was also critical in my opinion

> In other famous cases, Jobs’ exacting demands won out, to the eventual benefit of the final product. The screen of the phone was originally supposed to be composed of the same plastic that iPod screens were made of. But after a day in Jobs’ pocket, the prototype unit suffered from deep and permanent scratches thanks to his car keys. On a dime, Jobs switched the screen from plastic to Gorilla glass, even talking Corning into converting an entire factory in Harrisburg, Kentucky to produce the quantities Apple needed. This actually complicated things for the hardware team, since the multitouch sensors now had to be embedded in glass, and glass was an entirely different proposition from embedding in plastic.

http://www.internethistorypodcast.com/2017/01/the-history-of... (previously on hn https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13356003 )


The palm pilots were very clearly conventional resistive touchscreens.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4436657

Doesn't sound like the first gen supported multi touch


I remember seeing the original iPhone for the first time. I was an ardent Apple hater and asked to play with it for a few minutes so I could uncover all of the dumb things Apple had done.

10 minutes later I needed to own one. My N95 immediately seemed completely awful in comparison.


I would add to this that in addition to differentiating features that would surface on a PRD, the quality of these features is critical. Having capacitative multitouch is one thing, but having a quality touch screen is another. It is easy to lose sight of how much black-magic goes into making a usable capacitative muti-touch screen.

Windows CE had a real web browser, the only feature I remember that was missing was support for PNG images.

" yours back then trivialising the issue as just having to ‘come up with something’."

Sorry, I was not trying to trivialize the complexity of the issue. Rather, I was trying to slyly refer to the other competetive handsets already on the market back then.

The question was if Android had not happened, would Apple rule the mobile ecosystem completely. I don't think so. Rather, capital chose Android as the most viable alternative.

There were viable alternatives back then such as Meego which had the combined expertise of Nokia and Intel behind it.

It was the market and business that sealed Apple/Android duopoly, not the lack of viable alternative tech stacks.


Be mindful about windows phone too, it is very revisionist to call it failed; it had all the hallmarks of a successful product except it didn't have developer attention so it died.

It failed in perception, no one developed for it and why would they when MS could break their app compatibility any second with just a single update. It was already even less cool to use than Blackberry, to much enterprise and too little user focus. At the time geeks were unhappy about how the things were going with Windows on PCs. Partnering with MS and taking Elop as their CEO was the final nail in the Nokia coffin. They really should had partnered with one of the asian companies like HTC, they were fierce competitors at the time and guess who bought their mobile division and continues to make pixel phones there. It's easy to say that after the fact, but they could have stayed a niche player, instead Elop chose to completely devalue their brand.

By the time Elop took over at Nokia they were already doomed. The best they could have done was simply become another Android OEM.

The final iteration of Windows Mobile was excellent, what killed it wasn't marketing but ecosystem. MS wasn't competing with just Apple or Google. If they were they could have stood a chance, they're just as big, just as technically adept, had just as good a platform (in the end) and just as well capitalised. They could go toe to toe with any company in the world.

They weren't just competing with Apple and Google though, they were competing with them, plus all the existing handset manufacturers that had invested in Android, plus all the developers that were developing or had already released apps on Android or IOs, plus all the companies providing services for those platforms. The ecosystem provides ~10x or more market power than the platform owner on their own. That is what you're actually competing with when you go up against a market incumbent platform owner. It's the crucial difference between a platform and a product.


And they were also competing with themselves.

Sinfosky was responsible for tanking Windows Phone.

Windows Phone 7 could have evolved from Silverlight/XNA models, while evolving the support, maybe adding C++ support in the mix (On WP 7 C++ was only available to selected partners).

Instead WinDev just killed it (similar to how they torpedoed Longhorn), came up with WinRT using an incompatible variant from .NET, that not only dumped Silverlight/XNA, it required multiple reboots (WinRT, UAP and then UWP) always asking us to rewrite the applications between each reboot.

MSIX, WinUI (desktop UWP), .NET 5, C++/WinRT are just the long roadmap of fixing those issues, while trying to make everyone happy again.

At least tablets seem to be doing fine.


Windows Phone 7 was still based on the old Windows CE kernel which couldn't support multiple cores, didn't have true multitasking or support background services, had a limited network stack, the list goes on. Windows Phone 8 finally came out with a true multitasking NT kernel based OS that could compete with the iPhone, 5 years after the iPhone launched.

This is why developer access to the system was so limited, it simply didn't have the sort of process isolation capabilities and the system services this enables that you need in a modern app platform. There's no way they could just open up low level programming to anybody to develop for it and everything would be fine, the skills and knowledge needed to develop for it efficiently and safely were highly specialised.


It’s not true that CE could not support multitasking. Originally CE up to 5.0 had a limitation in the number of processes it supported (32), in order to support more performant task switching (no TLB flushes for one) - though it did not have such a tight limitation on number of threads.

However the version of CE (6, released way back in 2006) that was released on Windows Phone did not have this restriction and version 7 released in 2011 also supported SMP.

Windows CE was really not an entirely incapable OS (and I personally despised it). Its real annoyance was having a completely non-standard bastardized/limited Win32 API which made it both an odd ball embedded RTOS and only vaguely similar to the API of Windows NT. Despite this it had considerable adoption in industrial computing — never a huge market though.

It’s hard to say this was a real problem though as no one considered OS X to be a phone OS before 2007 either. The bigger issue is that clearly MS wanted out from under CE before the phone was even released.

The limitations in Phone 7 were higher level, not due to the underlying kernel.


Agreed, however throwing out Silverlight, XNA and coming up with a .NET dialect (designed by WinDev) wasn't called for.

The WP7 stacks could have been improved to work on the new kernel.

That was the typical move from the WinDev vs DevTools that keep coming up since .NET exists.


Sure. They could have pivoted and partnered with automotive industry, Maemo legacy isn't even completely gone yet and it sparked a whole new generation of open source developers. Also as far as I remember Qt were still used in cars.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maemo

Isn't it funny how things come around, in 2000s the big G became akin to MS of the 90s, in the mobile space instead of PCs.


> By the time Elop took over at Nokia they were already doomed.

They had a lot of money and a lot of market share. They could have culled a large part of the organisation, especially due to the insane policy of self-competition resulting in a lineup of almost-but-not-quite-identical handsets, either put more into Maemo/Meego or jumped ship to Android.

Instead they had an MS plant installed at the top who seemed determined to devalue the company then sell off everything to MS, who then just ran the brand into the ground while failing to get Win Phone to launch in any meaningful way.


> By the time Elop took over at Nokia they were already doomed.

Yeah, someone in Nokia engineering had made some company destroying miss calculations.

It's not like the didn't know what they were up against - it was race between engineering teams. And it's not like Nokia the company couldn't fund that race - they were a gorilla in the ring when it came to resources. They even saw the train coming at them, knew what it would do to them, did some awesome things like buy QT in preparation but it was nowhere near enough.

Blind freddy could see the pace of development happening on MeeGo and is predecessor (I forget what it was called) was nowhere near fast enough. Given the resources I expected Nokia to be throwing at it, either the team behind it was tiny, or they were tied up in some titanic tide of red tape go-slow goo.

It's not like it was an impossible ask. That was back in the days of Android Honeycomb and Gingerbread which were clearly something Google has slapped together in a rush. They were IMO barely usable. iPhone was barely more than a phone + ipod back then, granted with the best UI on the planet interface but even then the gulf between what Android would allow you to do what would be possible in Apple's walled garden was apparent, so there was space in the market for a different mix.

> The final iteration of Windows Mobile was excellent, what killed it wasn't marketing but ecosystem.

Well in that case it was obvious what happened. I've lost count of how many "throw it away and start again" iterations Microsoft went through. I do recall using one of their earlier attempts when they had very little competition. It was a Win95 interface crammed into tiny resistive touch screen, complete with start button. It was unusable without the stylus they provided. It had an uptime measured in hours - literally far worse than Win95, which was an amazing "achievement".

They threw major bits of it away and started again, and again, and again, each time with something that was 100% binary incompatible with the previous version so they never built up a customer and app base. Eventually they ended up on the NT kernel with an amazing GUI toolkit that as you quite rightly say was the best in class by any number of engineering metrics, but by that time the network effects of their competitors building up an enormous customer and applications by keeping compatibility completely annihilated them. Numbskulls.


At the last iteraction Symbian Belle was quite nice to use on a Nokia C7, just for reference,

https://www.naijatechguide.com/2010/09/nokia-c7-00-symbian3-...

Regarding Windows Phone, on one hand I was pleased to see what should have been .NET in first place, managed runtime built on top of COM, but the way it was rolled out initially incompatible across mobile, tablet and desktop (first WinRT iteration), it was just a mess.

Not only were Windows Phone 7 devs being asked to throw out their beloved Silverlight/XNA tooling, they were being told to rewrite the app three times with #ifdef, and in XNA's case to also move into C++ bare bones DirectX (here is when DirectXTK was born as XNA-like for C++).


>It failed in perception, no one developed for it and why would they when MS could break their app compatibility any second with just a single update

As opposed to iOS or android? Isn't Windows known for the lengths they go to maintain backwards compatibility?


Windows yes, but windows development stack(s) not so much IIRC.

You can still develop in VB 6 if you are feeling nostalgic, though.

> it is very revisionist to call it failed

How so? It never achieved much market share AFAICT, despite being marketed heavily everywhere from slashdot to the tv.

It had to be relaunched each revision as the platforms were incompatible, it was always way behind on features and playing catch-up... and eventually MS ditched it entirely.

Sure, absent android it could have had a shot. But I wouldn't call the platform a success.


We're talking about a hypothetical situation where android doesn't exist.

Microsoft phone OS 7 (the one that was adapted to the Nokia phones originally designed for MeeGo) was very polished and quite pleasant to use. I think it would have succeeded.

I say this through a clenched jaw though because I had just started working at Nokia during the time of the acquisition and was quite enthusiastic about MeeGo.


Microsoft phone 7 that couldn't use an arbitrary mp3 as a ringtone? Microsoft phone 7 that was pretty much ditched with an incompatible update in next to no time?

I don't think it's revisionist to call it a failure here in this universe where android does exist, like I say, if android didn't exist then maybe it would have taken off. Or maybe another linux variant would have had time to come to market. We shall never know.

---

I found the marketing campaigns for Win Phone 7 and Win Phone 8 to be quite offensive. It started months before general availability of even an SDK, with posters on popular tech sites like /. asserting that it was the best platform ever for developers, and trying to get that accepted as some sort of consensus before anyone could even try it.

Then Win phone 7 got unceremoniously ditched (screw you developers) seemingly only a few months later and the exact same people started singing the exact same praises about WP8...

It just smacked of trying too hard, and being underhanded.


> Microsoft phone 7 that couldn't use an arbitrary mp3 as a ringtone?

And iOS which couldn't at the time either.

> Microsoft phone 7 that was pretty much ditched with an incompatible update in next to no time?

Due to no market-share. (Silverlight et al. was an abject failure)

I think it's fine to talk about it as if it's failed in the context of android existing; but the context here is iOS dominance in abstentia of Android itself, and I think there would have been other players (Windows Phone included) which would have contested it given the absence of android.

Windows phone was a contender and it just feels like it wasn't because Android not only won (and thus; you think of Android now vs Windows phone then) but won wildly.


> And iOS which couldn't at the time either.

Could it not?

Other phones could, and that seemed to be the expectation of two not-especially-technical friends/colleagues of mine at the time, and the answer being "No, you have to go to this special tool and cut out the first minute, then export in this format" led to both saying "what a pile of crap then, I should have got something else"

Maybe they had come from android...


The case you describe is exactly the case for iOS before they allowed you to choose a song (which plays from the beginning each time).

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3790999


As I say, perhaps they came from android or any of the other phones that let you do that.

How did it not fail? Failing is something that you can only look on after it happened.

I think "failing to capture developer attention" and provide the benefits of that to your users counts as failing. Its just unfortunate that the vendor (MS) doesn't get as much control over that.


Remember we are discussing a parallel universe where Android did not happen. There was a brief time when Microsoft was a not-obviously dead in the water participant in the market. Without Android who knows how that market position had developed.

> Remember we are discussing a parallel universe where Android did not happen.

I think when someone says it's revisionist to call WinPhone a failure, we're talking about this universe. There isn't really a history to revise in an imaginary parallel universe...


Its revisionist to say that it was "never a contender", it was for a short time and lost monumentally. Had Android not existed it would not have lost so monumentally.

Windows phone sits in the minds of many as this "absolute failure that could never have worked" but the reality is that it could have worked had it not floundered so phenomenally in the wake of Android.


I guess that depends on what your threshold is for being "a contender".

All of this is a bit subjective, but if I asked 10 friends and 10 relatives whether they thought Windows Phone was a failure, I'd expect close to 10 friends to say "yes", most of the relatives to say "What is Windows Phone?", and the rest of the relatives (if there were any left) to likely say "yes".

Personally, I'd call that a failure.

Yeah, I know I haven't actually asked the questions (and probably won't), but I think I know my friends and relatives well enough to guess what they would say (mostly based on prior technical discussions).


Again, you're talking about the current state of things and not about the original cited discussion: "what if android didn't exist? would iOS dominate completely?" to-wit I responded that Microsoft might have very well stepped up to the plate, but in the reality we currently live in all OEM's were going Android; Additionally Microsoft crumbles and "pivots" under failure causing them to fail even harder in most cases.

Sorry, been busy last couple of days, and just got back to this.

Yeah, I quoted your "contender" line in my previous response, but I was seeing that as basically equivalent to what you said earlier: "is very revisionist to call it failed" -- which I interpreted to mean that it was a dishonest assessment of what actually happened.

I'm not sure how you can call something "revisionist" if you aren't actually talking about what really happened in history, so maybe that's the source of disconnnect here.

I saw your comment as not being tied to the imaginary universe, but as an aside reflecting your opinion of the value of the Windows Phone in reality.

I suspect that if Android hadn't happened, it is likely that some other entity would have produced a phone that had an equal chance of stomping out Windows Phone. Not that it really matters, because like I said, my opinion is, that in reality Windows Phone was a failure, and I was just responding thinking you were saying that wasn't a fair assessment.


I actually think Windows Phone died only because of the Windows brand. It was otherwise a better product than early Android.

For years (and this may still be the case) the average smartphone user only downloads chat, social media, and games to their phone anyway (if anything at all).


Windows Phone died because Google played dirty. They basically prevented Windows Phone from having decent Google apps such as youtube/google maps. They also did user agent blocks to ensure those web applications didn't work on the phone.

Google did the same thing with Amazon Fire devices. I am frankly surprised they haven't been rung over for anti-trust lawsuit for how they seem to abuse play services.


For a platform the two requirements for determining success are developer attention and money earned by the platform. You can't really have one without the other, but you can have differences between the two metrics and use those differences to plan for the future.

I dont know why people kept calling it revisionist history. Me and everyone I know except for a handful of people really hated how Windows Mobile works. Maybe its great in some way, buts its definitely not great in mainstream user perspective. And its not just because lack of apps. That was a time when I could forgive lack of apps if its meant better smartphone.

Yes, Windows as well. Enumerating all the pre-IPhone incumbents with a credible shot in an alternative history universe would be a long list.

Palm's WebOS was decent and MS already had some admittedly mediocre devices.

WebOS was interesting and pretty clever, they certainly had the UI down pretty well, but I think Mobile Windows would have killed them in the end. I just don't think they were ever going to get the resources, not just in money but also in the depth and breadth of developer talent and additional platform services, to compete at the Apple/Microsoft/Google level. Only those firms had those resources, and no amount of money can replicate that fast enough for it to matter.

Palm really had the PIM suite down. A lot of other parts of WebOS were great, too.

Too bad the hardware was so mediocre.


If the company lives long enough, the hardware can always be improved. So can the software.

Palm proved that people wanted computers that would fit in their hands and pockets comfortably; that instantaneous readiness to work trumped other aspects of speed; that battery life is really important, but being able to drop a new battery set in is the fastest recharge method available.


Yeah, i seems like half their interface guys went to apple or google respectively and what was left of webos got morphed into a smart tv ui, that frankly isn't bad, although all the apps suck, so I don't use it.

Palm's WebOS was decent

I still get to see the webOS logo occasionally when my television reboots. A bit of nostalgia every few months.

Too bad LG had to ruin the user experience with the stupid magic wand remote control. If you think voice control of TVs is bad, imagine a remote that you can't leave next to you on the couch because every time you move, a giant pink cursor pops up on the screen and a menu overlay slides in from the side over what you're watching.


And as xorcist said https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22287837 it seems likely that Nokia really had finally figured it out with Meego (though I've never touched the thing myself). It was fairly inevitable that a decent #2 smartphone OS would be along sooner or later as soon as iOS had provided the competitive impetus and the blindingly obvious model to crib from.

OTOH it's also quite clear why Google would not have wanted to gamble on waiting around for somone else to get their act together, especially since it already happened to own the guts of an okay smartphone platform. Not only would a viable #2 have taken an uncertain amount of time to emerge, it could have turned out to be someone quite unfriendly to Google: it would very likely have been MS, after all. And after all (viz. __ka https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22287118 ) what other platform owner was ever going to be friendlier to Google search than Google itself?

And let's be frank, by the mid-2000s it wasn't really that bloody hard, from a purely technical point of view, to ship a decent mobile OS running on an adequate hardware platform. It seems pretty clear that in almost all cases, what was most sorely missing was someone with both the power and the taste to make an overall assessment of UX and say "no, this is shit, come back with something acceptable"; maybe to even make a few hirings or acquisitions if necessary to get someone competent on the problem. But this is one facet of one of the most remarkable and slightly strange things in the history of tech. Even by not too long into the '90s it was easy, for anyone with eyes to see, to look at a Macintosh on one side and a VCR blinking 00:00 on the other and see what the future of device UI was. But companies with massive resources and their very future at stake, including firms of impressive competence like Sony and Nokia, couldn't get there. Up to the early iPhone age it seems that the list of companies which could do good work in software-heavy/"smart" UI was roughly:

1) Apple

2) Microsoft, but only when Apple first provided them a detailed model to crib from. Not something to sneer at too much, because others couldn't do it even then

3) Some Mac/PC ISVs who could do good work, but purely in software and only inside the lines of the existing Windows/Mac platforms. (OFC by this time MS itself was effectively a Mac ISV with notions.)

4) Some device or HW startups who flailed around commercially (Danger, NeXT, Be, the set-top-box group at Sun which begat Java http://www.blinkenlights.com/classiccmp/javaorigin.html ...)

See also the iPod, Apple's Digital Hub strategy (Jobs' hope that consumers would buy Macs in order to make their consumer-electronics devices usable), Sony's catastrophic missed opportunity to turn PlayStation into an app and Web-browser platform https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22288538 , and the fear other companies felt towards MS even after Apple had been first to a hit smartphone.


It seems pretty clear that in almost all cases, what was most sorely missing was someone with both the power and the taste to make an overall assessment of UX and say "no, this is shit, come back with something acceptable"; maybe to even make a few hirings or acquisitions if necessary to get someone competent on the problem.

By all accounts I've read, that someone was Steve Jobs. After Rubin saw what iPhone was, he apparently completely pivoted Android to go the same way. Before aiming for the full-handset touchscreen paradigm, Android was supposed to be able to handle all types of handsets, including foldables, keyboard slideouts, Blackberry paradigms, etc, all depending on what manufacturers wanted to make. Seeing the iPhone changed the game, so much that Steve Jobs had his "going thermonuclear" rant about Android stealing his stuff. Ironic for a guy who once claimed that Apple was shameless about stealing other people's stuff because great artists steal.


Android could and did handle all kinds of handsets. It wasn't Android that took the industry in the iPhone form factor, it was the OEMs. People tend to think Android had way more power over the mobile industry than it actually did back then. Android got all kinds of dumb stuff put in it because a major carrier or OEM i.e. customer wanted it there.

That also constrained Android's innovation significantly. Some people say Android copied iOS, which is only partly true, and of course iOS has also copied Android over time. But when I was at Google I did encounter quite a few stories of cases where the Android team came up with something really clever and it was shot down by carriers and OEMs who said "we want what the iPhone does". They had no vision at all.

In fairness to carriers though, T-Mobile's QA effort on the G1/G2 were pretty intense. At the time Android's QA was near non-existent and the carrier testing procedure found tons of bugs.


Is this the same WebOS that now runs on "not so smart TVs" specifically LG?

Yes, HP bought Palm and LG bought WebOS from HP.

> Nobody else in the industry seems to have had that insight back then

Helps to have someone on Apple board, you know


That's a good point. I had forgotten that Eric Schmidt was a director on the board of Apple between 2006 and 2009 while being the CEO of Google.

Apparently they had Eric Schmidt step out of the room whenever they talked about Apple phones.

https://www.cnet.com/news/i-resigned-from-apple-board-for-th...


Perhaps years later he stepped out. Not at the beginning though I assume. iPhone announcement day was a lovefest between Steve and Eric.

Google also had early access to the iPhone because it was one of the few (the only?) non Apple companies to release Ana app on the iPhone on day 1 (Maps was powered by and created by Google initially if I remember correctly).

The first iteration of the Google Maps app was actually written by Apple engineers, and just used Google APIs to access their mapping data. Google took over development later when the iPhone dev kits became available to third parties.

> Google took over development later when the iPhone dev kits became available to third parties.

Google didn’t take over the stock Maps until after 2010/2011 when Google and Apple had a big falling out. Apple wanted to keep pushing the app experience further, but Google wanted to own the app (and associated data collection) and so wouldn’t license more to Apple. This was exactly the reason Apple did their own maps and was forced to release too early. Apple couldn’t renegotiate the contract and their hand was forced.

Same thing applied for the built in stocks and weather apps. Yahoo provided the APIs, but Apple entirely owned the app experience and wrote all the code.


I believe Yahoo still provides the APIs for those apps.

Yep! But unlike with Maps, Yahoo! still provides the APIs while also having their own duplicative function first party apps.

That sounds off. I had Google Maps on my Samsung flip-phone somewhere around 2007 - can't remember if it was before or after the iPhone's release though.

Those are just other clients to the Google Maps service, and some of those clients might have predated the iPhone. It just happens that the client on early iPhones was written by Apple, but clients on other platforms may have been developed by Google.

The impressive thing about the client on iPhone wasn't the maps themselves as such, other phones had maps, it was the ease and fluidity of navigation using multi-touch gestures, and the simple integration with system services such as location services. Bear in mind phones back then didn't have pre-emptive multitasking.


Nokia n770 "an internet tablet", had maemo mapper which used the Google Map data. It worked well, the main problem is that n770 had no WAN chip. You could preload map tiles though.

This was before the iphone, and years before google maps would work offline.


That's probably a j2me version of google map: http://www.boostapps.com/apps/google-maps-2-3-2-signed-touch...

There was a native YouTube app on day 1 as well (The one with the old TV icon). However, I believe it was developed by Apple.

I really miss that app. Youtube. No ads. It was great.

It was built entirely by Apple.

Not only that, it was Pre-Google YouTube.

Google bought YouTube in November 2006[1], months before Apple announced the iPhone.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/YouTube


Which probably all helps to explain why SJ was so stung by Android and willing to start lobbing patent suits around.

And if you can’t have someone on Apple’s board, it helps to have the inventor of the iPod. (Palm’s WebOS)

> None of the handset makers back then were in a position to come up with a workstation class OS, with desktop class application development frameworks and highly tuned power management and commercial level software development tool chains.

Did you ever use early Android? It was impressively bad.


Yes and you're right, it took the Android team years to catch up, but they started a massive course correction effort basically the day the iPhone was announced. Google realised how much of a threat the iPhone was and threw everything they had at getting Android up to speed. My point is the incumbent phone handset companies didn't have those sorts of resources in skilled development teams with system level experience and support services available to throw at anything.

Microsoft left it for years, believing they could still compete using their single tasking Windows CE kernel based platform. That's why Windows 8 with a true pre-emptive multitasking NT based kernel, able to run background services and run on multiple cores wasn't ready until 2012. By then Android had already had it's act together for a few years and it was too late for MS.


In what concerns NDK tooling they still have quite a bit to catch up with Windows, but that is what we have.

>I must have read a handful of posts a month like yours back then trivialising the issue as just having to ‘come up with something’.<

I remember ESR going on and on about how Apple was doomed any day now. He lost site of how the direction the world was going, wishing instead it went where he wanted it to end up.


iPhone wasn’t even supposed to have an app store.

It originally didn’t even have custom apps but web shortcuts.

iPhone wasn’t even supposed to be jailbreaken either.

NOKIA had N9, the only phone that was well-received by US reviewers, quite few calling it better than iPhone, yet Elop killed it off by not allowing it to sell in major markets (e.g. Germans had to buy it in Switzerland).

NOKIA was used by Microsoft's investors as a way to get MS back into mobile game, unsuccessfully. It was an internal coup. With the revenue and world-wide market share they had, they could have survived for a few years, finally going full speed ahead with MeeGo, at the cost of never making it in the US, but continuing their dominance in the rest of the world.

There seems to be some foul play involved in ruining NOKIA as Elop had a bonus for the sale of a company in his initial contract and the chairman of the board publicly distrusted his own engineers as unable to compete with Silicon Valley.

Finnish economy is still in shambles from NOKIA's downfall and only Google/US profited from taking over the fastest growing market segment at that time from NOKIA. EU lost its only competitive tech company.


The N9 was so good. Meego was great, the all-swipe, no-buttons interface was way ahead of iOS and Android at the time. The hardware with its subtley curved screen was perfectly designed around it. The phone was the right size.

I might still be using mine if it didn't have an unfortunate bug, which always came back eventually, where SMS messages would show up under the wrong person. Nokia said they'd support it until 2015 but that didn't happen, I think the last update was in 2012. The community made some fixes for other bugs, but not for that one.


The Meego interface is better than what I have in my Android 10 phone... Those gestures are so awkward and bolted on. I haven't used an iPhone with gesture navigation but I imagine their navigation is only marginally better, also being bolted on later.

it is better. N9/Meego was designed with those gestures as the main navigation of the OS. So it somehow feel intuitive and natural to use it. In comparison the Android gesture is nice, buts its just a nice extra imo.

I would probably still use N9 as my 2nd phone if its not broken.


> The N9 was so good. Meego was great, the all-swipe, no-buttons interface was way ahead of iOS and Android at the time.

Sounds like it ripped off webos, like everybody else.


Not really. It uses a completely different paradigm. 3 screens next to each other. One is notifications, one is a list of installed programs, and the third is a scrollable list of open apps (somewhat similar to tabs in FF for Android). It was later used (and greatly refined) on the failed Blackberry QNX-based devices.

SwipeUI winds up very usable on a phone, but basically unusable everywhere else. This is in stark contrast to the webOS paradigm which is much closer to a macOS desktop (dock at the bottom, menu always at the top left, settings always at top right, and modified/improved deck of cards "expose"). Because of this, scaling webOS to tablets or even desktops isn't difficult.

If Steve Jobs had seen the webOS UI, the iPhone would definitely be using it today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaQM8vVjuE4


maybe the idea is, but the execution is definitely different. If you used them both(Meego and WebOS) you would know how distinctly different they are.

If there was foul play involved, you'd have to pull back a few more curtains to find it. Information that transpired after it was all over was that the Nokia board hired Elop with the assignment to sell to Microsoft.

The N9 is a really sad story. I had one, it was great. It did get some "better than iPhone" reviews. It was in development for too long, and when it was released and it was great, Nokia was too cowardly to bet on it.


You can't really call it foul play, it was deliberate corporate takeover.

They had an unplanned stockholders meeting where the then-CEO was voted out and Elop was ushered in. He did a lot of good stuff like clean up five layers of middle management, got rid of build-it-five-times mentality as well as bring Nokia up-to-date with a bunch of modern practices.

But then he made a PUBLIC speech about Symbian being dead and that they would have an amazing Windows phone at the end of the year. This caused the Osborne effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_effect) to just eat up Nokia.

Nokia was ahead of the game in a lot of things, like platform security -- let's not forget the first iOS ran everything as root and had no App store, while Nokia was making secure boot and encrypted applications happen.

Nokia was five or ten years ahead of everyone else in technology (you can look at iOS history and tick off boxes when they catch up to Nokia), but they had massive problems in their company culture. Nokia could not have bet on the N9 because they just didn't have that sort of mentality.


Nokia decided to never adopt Android ever and that decision started the whole collapse, I think.

They chose to maximize diversity of investment, while opposing widespread use of free beer software, that is Android as perhaps they perceived. That combined with Microsoft’s chronic inability to launch and stabilize new platform led to burnt ash of Microsoft Mobile.

Had Nokia adopted Android and had Google allowed them to maintain MeeGo, a MeeGo/Android/S60/Series40 train of platforms could have worked at least for a while.


> Had Nokia adopted Android and had Google allowed them to maintain MeeGo

IIRC that wasn't a possible option, thanks to Google's monopolistic practices that prevented other companies from shipping phones with Google's proprietary apps and at the same time shipping phones with alternative mobile OSs.

That was a mayor reason why technical people rooted against Android open-but-not-so-much and for any other available truly-free-software platform.


That’s not true. Samsung shipped GAPPs Android devices along with phones running their own proprietary mobile OS. HTC, Samsung, LG etc shipped GAPPs Android phones at the same time shipped windows mobile phones

That's right, my memory failed me. Google's anti-competition behavior was limited to preventing companies from distributing both devices with and without their proprietary Play Services at the same time, thus making it almost impossible for hardware manufacturers to support non-Google's AOSP full open-source distributions of Android; which is bad enough as it is.

https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2018/07/googles-iron-grip-on...


In NOKIA's case, they couldn't ship e.g. NOKIA Maps (now HERE) as default navigation, but instead use Google Maps; that would make their navigation investment pointless.

No they could have shipped Nokia maps as default just as long as Google Maps was included as part of the GAPPs suite. Samsung still ships many of their proprietary apps as default (Samsung Pay, their own messaging and mail app etc)

I am not convinced board hired Elop to sell the company to Microsoft. Anecdotally Jorma Ollila, the Nokia Chairman when Elop was hired[0], was extremely agravated to learn the sale of handsets had taken place [1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Elop#CEO_of_Nokia

[1] Siilasmaa: Transforming NOKIA: The Power of Paranoid Optimism to Lead Through Colossal Change


I am wondering if the surveillance capitalism we have now would have been impeded if NOKIA was still around in full force. I miss time when my phone didn't track everything I did. The only alternative I own now is running on SailfishOS, from MeeGo team members.

It’s the apps that spy on you, largely not the OS.

If you lock down your app permissions and install the bare minimum of apps that you need or aren’t practical as web versions, you can absolutely limit your blast radius.

Changing your OS to sailfish isn’t helping you on its own. Sailfish can run Android apps, so if you installed an Android app and gave it those permissions, you’d have the same problem.


It's not just your phone that spies on you, it's mostly the apps on it that do. With no Android to push it so hard and fast, perhaps surveillance capitalism would be a bit less developed by now, but I doubt the difference would be all that big. The allure of corrupt money is just too high, and the pressure is industry-wide.

But it's the OS that allows apps to spy on you.

There's only so much an OS can do about it. Every feature that can be used for tracking has also legitimate user-beneficial uses.

Not true, Symbian was highly locked down. You needed permission for pretty much anything, and some of them required you to ask Nokia for permission. It's probably part of the reason why it didn't take off in the US.

yeah, Nokia was a dead man walking when Elop was hired. They had no way of caching up to iPhone.

Big product companies don't die from one day to another, they take a slow long time to fizzle out.


The N9 did have a chance, I think. If you live in the US, you have no idea how big Nokia was. Problem was that the decision to sell to Microsoft was made before the N9 release. It would have taken a lot of courage to change course. People making that decision could have ended up looking like idiots. The N9's success was possible but not a sure thing.

"Never presume an action is caused by ill will if it can be explained by ineptitude".

Reading materials related to Nokia at that time period it was pretty dysfunctional as it was. The only mistake I can accrue for Elop was his "Burning platform" memo - which is basically paraphrazing crisis management 101. So he was clearly out of his depth when running Nokia.

I think the sale of Nokia handsets to Microsoft was quite the coup. At that time the value of that IP was close to zero and Microsoft paid billions for it.

If there was foul play intended then the players surely lost. The fall of Nokia was the best thing to happen to Finland. It was far too big an enterprise for a small country. It basically stifled innovation and entrepreurship accross the board.


Not sure, if you look at how Elop (mis)managed the company piece-by-piece, first by sidelining MeeGo, then one by one closing Indian factories that made NOKIA independent (ask Indians how fun that was), then splitting off Qt to prevent any kind of internal competition to MS' platform, including the sell-off bonus Elop had in the contract, the Hanlon's razor applicability is pretty low. If you want to believe there wasn't some background deal between top management, rendering all NOKIA employees sacrificial lambs for MS, OK.

Hanlon's razor becomes more credible once you understand how mismanaged Nokia already was at the point Elop took in the reins. He may have been in the boat when it sunk, but it already had lot of holes in it.

Both Jorma Ollila (the Chair) and Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, the CEO preceding Elop, were financial experts, not tech visionaries. The organization that had created the rise of Nokia was split to pieces before Elop took control with no understanding that you can't run an technology corporation like an investment bank.

There are two pretty good books exploring this topic: https://www.amazon.com/Ringtone-Exploring-Nokia-Mobile-Phone...

https://www.amazon.com/Transforming-NOKIA-Paranoid-Optimism-...

"rendering all NOKIA employees sacrificial lambs for MS"

'Sacrificial lamb' is quite hyperbolic. The laid of people enjoyed quite good benefits. You don't become an instant destitute in Finland just because you are temporarily out of a job.

The way the handset business was going, Microsoft basically paid 8 billion for the privilege of a dead-in-the water platform and the nicety of laying off the staff .

If there ever was an evil plot to steal value from Nokia's shareholders then it was thoroughly botched.


>The way the handset business was going, Microsoft basically paid 8 billion for the privilege of a dead-in-the water platform and the nicety of laying off the staff .

It was having issues when Elop came in but still had potential for rebound and good market share. Elop just stomped any potential for that in the ground making it dead in the water.


I was horrified when they signed that deal with the devil. Nokia shares suffered 20% drop. By that time everyone already knew what were going to happen eventually.

https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/elop_invests_in_nokia_sha...


This is an accurate account of what happened to Nokia / Symbian, from insiders. Symbian hated Nokia and vice versa.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Smartphones-beyond-Lessons-remarkab...


> Reading materials related to Nokia at that time period it was pretty dysfunctional as it was. The only mistake I can accrue for Elop was his "Burning platform" memo - which is basically paraphrazing crisis management 101. So he was clearly out of his depth when running Nokia.

I just did some very superficial reading on the "Burning Platform" memo (the first time I had heard of it).

I'm intrigued by the idea that the memo shows Elop was "out of his depth". Is there something I can read to explain why this was such a terrible management move? What would have been a better response?


The Symbian eco-system had just started to finally move into Qt as main development platform, Qt on Symbian got PIPS (POSIX compatibility layer), there was the third reboot of the Eclipse based IDE (Carbide), Symbian Java was getting JavaSE extensions, Python and Web Runtime were made available, Symbian Open Source project had just been made available.

So everyone was putting the effort to move away from Symbian C++, J2ME into a more pleasant environment, and then comes Elop with that memo saying to everyone that all their efforts were gone to the trashcan and it was time to embrace Silverlight and XNA instead.

Also from internal point of view, this memo was very bad, because until then Nokia had an heavy anti-Windows culture, and now everyone had to suck it up, leave HP-UX, Linux, Symbian behind and embrace Windows.


The burning platform memo basically triggered the Osborne effect [0] on the whole range of Nokia's smartphone offerings.

If you read crisis management literature this "burning platform" metaphor is literally in the "For dummies" section (at least what I recall). It implies he was desperately trying to find something to drive a message trhough the organization and he grabbed the most obvious and stereotypical thing he could find.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osborne_effect


I was in Nokia at the time. As soon as it was released onto the intranet news feed, a couple of thousand employees immediately stopped caring and were more focused on hanging around for their redundancy payment.

The Nokia London office had an emergency Town Hall session in The Oval cricket ground building where execs tried to convince us that Symbian was safe. Those claims were met with actual laughter from the crowd.


microsoft paid for the name, not the IP.

Ah, you mean all device and radio patents were left with Nokia? Sorry, can't seem to remember the details on a moments notice - but I think you are correct. Hence MS underwrote all of Nokia acquisitions as a complete loss eventually.

MS got licence to all NOKIA patents as well.

Oh well, why didn't they just gifted the whole company to Ballmer instead and maybe it would be "developers, developers" focused /s

They did, and the company exploded in their hands.

The shockwave lasted 2-3 milli-millennium, and was observed as far away as Seoul from Finland, but not Tokyo.


And then there were also a team of McKinsey consultants in Keilaniemi (whos team lead had strong connections to Microsoft)

(Chapter 9. https://medium.com/@harrikiljander/operation-elop-6f2b043f52...)


Going from the N9 to the first IPhone (I jailbroke mine for use in Sweden) was a revelation.

The N9 was a very complex beast to use and it was very laggy compared to the smooth graphics the iPhone offered.

Even in the markets where it was available, it was a very rare sight. But grey import iPhones were everywhere in Stockholm.


Maybe I'm mixing my timelines but when was this? I thought the N9 was released a couple of years after the first iphone? Around the time there was iphone4?


They're probably referring to the Nokia N95.

> NOKIA was used by Microsoft's investors as a way to get MS back into mobile game

Also, patents. Microsoft earns from every Android sold (or at least they did for long time)


Nokia's downfall was their own doing. And their telecom equipment division is still going strong.

> EU lost its only competitive tech company

Spotify, Angry Birds (Finnish even), several Fintechs, sends their regards.


None of them has revenue comparable to NOKIA before Elop. Look at the unemployment level in Finland right after NOKIA went belly up. They were some of the worst in EU in that period. Now instead of one huge company you have hundreds small ones that combined can't even reach 10% of NOKIA's revenue. That must be felt in taxes.

I wanted to add to this list but as it turns out, all of the EU's top companies (the top x list starts at around $22B revenue) aren't tech companies; oil and gas, automotive, utilities and financial services are the main ones. Mind you the list is from 2015: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_European_compa...

Compare to the US (2019 figures), it has Apple in 3rd place, Amazon on 5th, Alphabet on 15th, etc: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_companies_in_t...


It's true, but perhaps it's also worth mentioning that Europe has a large number of small and medium sized companies in general and high tech companies in particular.

For instance, the Obama administration blocked the takeover of Aixtron by a Chinese company because Aixtron was so key to national security.

The US Attorney General recommended a few days ago that the US take a share in Ericsson and Nokia, because they are the main 5G equipment suppliers besides Huawei.

A recent takeover of Kuka, an industrial robot maker, has caused a lot of concern as well. Germany has a lot of small to medium sized high tech equipment makers that are mostly privatly owned.

Robert Bosch, the largest car parts manufacturer in the world, is not a publicly listed company and not usually classed as a tech company, but it does make some of the most high tech parts that go in to cars. It's certainly no less of a tech company than, say, Facebook.

Then of course there are companies like ARM, SAP, Siemens, ASML, Amadeus Group, Infineon, Vestas or Airbus. No, they are not the size of Apple and ARM is now owned by SoftBank.

You see the pattern? Europe doesn't have consumer tech. It does have a lot of high tech equipment makers and parts suppliers.

Europe is really bad at selling to consumers (apart from France's and Italy's luxury goods makers and traditionally auto makers that are now suffering as cars become software platforms), and that's exactly where network effects have created those giant tech companies that now dominate US stock indices.

So yes, I think Europe is in a pretty bad place right now when it comes to tech, but it's not quite as bad as what you might think if you're just looking at the biggest components of stock indices.


For comparison, another mobile handheld zombie, Siemens ceased production in 2005

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siemens_Mobile

They operated with losses the whole time. One of their last products (SX1) was actually running Symbian, it also was Linux compatible btw


That's definitely valid criticism. Though not necessarily competitiveness is connected to size.

I certainly wouldn't complain if the EU would have comparable companies to FAANG ones in size.


"Its only competitive tech company" is a bit of an exaggeration. St (chips), nokiaEricsson, arm (maybe before being bought by Softbank...)

Given NOKIA hosted Qt that was the only reasonable alternative to Java in Mobile, and the only threatening tech, it indeed was the only relevant European tech company. I met Haavard Nord at Googleplex just before he sold Qt to NOKIA and Google was in the play as well. Had Google acquired Qt, Android could have been Qt-based instead.

Well, okayish if by "tech" you mean mobile-internet-client-side software tech (Maybe, I don't work in it anymore).

Technology also applies for vastly broader fields (which I wont enumerate here).


Nokia never was a 'tech' company in the sense we attribute the term nowadays. Their core expertise was in the areas that are now handled by an integrated Asian logistics and manufacturing network available to all.

The mobile handset is only one part of the multiplicity that creates the mighty FAANG product and service portfolio and Nokia never had strong offerings in most of them.


> Nokia never was a 'tech' company in the sense we attribute the term nowadays.

In what sense? By the size alone, off course you can't compare it to the american and asian mega companies. The ambition to be a european mobile tech leader was still around in the mid 2000s. At least in Europe Nokia arguably had one of the most dedicated customer crowds in the handheld devices category. To piss all that away in one move left a big stain...


That's terrible, action should be taken against participants of this.

It was 10 years ago so I know people might not remember this, but I do and I think it’s relevant. RIM had 10 year development cycles for devices. They had blackberries designed 10 years out and had nothing on the horizon that looked like an iPhone.

Here is a slice of relevant context: http://www.edibleapple.com/2010/12/28/rim-was-in-disbelief-f...

Do not understate how ridiculous the iPhone was when it launched. You had to side load apps on your phone to use them. Remember getjar.com?


> Do not understate how ridiculous the iPhone was when it launched. You had to side load apps on your phone to use them. Remember getjar.com?

It looked ridiculous for for your average grandma but for young tech enthusiasts that was half the fun. That turned out to be detrimental for your average grandma but not the amount of cash that apple got at the bank. Did it matter that you could put SD card into your iphone , obviously not because you still can't.

https://www.ifixit.com/Answers/View/69495/Can+you+stick+a+Mi....

So grandma of today doesn't have to worry, she will be using some chinese Android device anyway.


I was at Nokia during Elop's short reign, and while he gets a lot of blame for what happened to them -- some of it fairly -- the thing is, that memo was basically right.

Remember, by this point it was 2010. The iPhone had already taken off like a rocket, Android had pivoted to be "iPhone-like" and other companies were riding its rocketship -- and Meego, Nokia's ostensible Symbian successor, was way, way behind schedule. The Nokia Communicator was a great "computer in your pocket" device for a certain kind of ubergeek, but it wasn't ever going to be a mainstream smartphone. I know there are people who still fiercely defend the hardware keyboard -- I was a Sidekick user and used to be one of them! -- but it was obvious by 2009 that "giant touch screen with virtual keyboard" was the runaway winner, and it was also obvious by 2009 that most of the incumbents had dealt themselves death blows by refusing to read the writing on the wall.

Elop's memo came about after he looked at the N9, what was supposed to be their response to the iPhone and Android, and it was clearly not just too little, too late, but at the time he saw it, it literally just did not work. You were lucky if you could get through a few hours without a fatal crash.

Anyway -- I don't think Apple would own the mobile space without Android, either, but I think there's a good chance they'd have a larger marketshare than they do just because nobody else would gotten a credible response to the market before 2011. Maybe it would have opened up space for Windows Phone and WebOS to keep existing, which would have been nice. (Although if we're playing "what if," it's possible that if Windows Phone had succeeded, Microsoft wouldn't have gotten desperate enough to go through its executive shakeup and, ironically, would have been in a worse place today!)


What's nifty about Google's business rationale here is how tight and elegant it is.

The strategic case needs to clear a very low "knowability" threshold in order to justify their conclusion. Great example of contingency-based strategy.

Google didn't need to waste a ton of cycles on the counterfactuals (would RIM/Nokia/others be a threat? Would Apple really box us out if they win? etc.).

Android was simply a way to de-risk a potentially catastrophic scenario and give them some optionality.


Palm's WebOS was already competing and was better than Android at that point. Android being out there with Google behind it sucked the air out of the room, and WebOS was only deployed on hardware that was 6-8 months behind the competition... and so it died.

Perhaps things would have turned out differently without Android in the picture. I really liked WebOS


If wikipedia is correct, the google acquisition of Android was two years before Palm launched WebOS?

Palm (and RIM) has a kind of first-mover disadvantage; they'd build a fantastic niche, and people loved their devices, but that inherently prevented them from building something completely different like the iPhone which could take the mass market and be "imitated" by Android.


Sure, 2 years before, but in that 2 years period Android looked nothing like iOS. As others have pointed out it was an entirely different kind of UX until Apple announced the iPhone.

WebOS was the first to come along after the iPhone and make something competitive. Android took some time to catch up. I don't think your statement is correct about Palm -- they weren't like RIM, stuck with an old OS for eons unable to switch because legacy; WebOS and Palm Pre were launched pretty soon after the iPhone.

They just didn't do well in the market, because they couldn't keep up on hardware manufacture, and Android took the not-Apple ecosystem over despite being an inferior experience for many years.


I think Blackberry killed themselves... they should have spun off and created business email apps for iOS and Android and focused on the software licensing... interacting with MS Exchange was painful around that time, and BB had a lock in on the corporate culture... they could have expanded into that space well before google docs and o365 took hold.

I think Nokia might have eventually caught up, and I think the Windows Phones that came later could have been even more compelling. I thought Metro UX was really nice, but just missing crucial apps compared to iOS and Android... if MS had pushed about 2 years earlier with that OS, they'd be in a different position in the space.

These days, who knows. It's easy to speculate with some hindsight.


I think it's less about "Apple would own the mobile space", but "some other company than us would own the mobile space and would be a threat to our advertising business".

Just like Microsoft owned the browser market in the late 90's and 2000's, and it was a problem for Google. That's why they poured resources first into Firefox, then into Google Chrome.


Microsoft/Windows would have won, not Apple. Apple is doomed† by the fact that they're a vertically integrated provider with a limited range of products. That makes them a big player in every market they are, but rarely the biggest. People crave simplicity but the real world is very messy and needs are super varied so they have to settle for complexity that solves their issues.

At a much larger scale and with the US as a much bigger hold out, it's happening again now, very, very slowly. Before it was PC/Windows vs Mac now it's Android vs iOS.

† "Doomed" is hyberbole, they'll just never be the biggest player on a long term scale. But they'll make zounds of money along the way :-)


Vertical integration is how you win the upper edges of the market, Apple’s goal was never to have 90% market share, it was simply to make the best product and have (affluent) customers buy it. They know that the bottom 50% of the market is low-profit and low-CSAT products so they don’t touch it. To go a step further, Microsoft only really found any success in Windows Phone when they vertically integrated their involvement with WP. I agree that if you are chasing market share you should be licensing software, but if you want profits you should be chasing product. When compared, the Microsoft Model ends up being exemplified by the underperforming licensees. It makes holes for companies like Apple or Palm to make their own product that owns the story of the market. We are in a little different of a world than the 90s now. Android’s on most phones out there...but those manufacturers are looking at everything Apple does and following suit.

True, but as a vertically integrated company you only need to slip once badly and the piranhas eat you up. Everyone else, collectively, can make way more mistakes and still come out on top, long term. Apple has learned from past mistakes, though.

> what actually killed Nokia handsets in one stroke was one memo by their then CEO Stehphen Elop where he basically stated their platform as it is was dead in the water.

Gotta disagree with you there - when the burning platform memo came out the battle was already decided, even if it wasn't over.

Just look at the HN thread: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2195520 - it's 95% praise for the CEO clearly stating the reality of the situation.


I owned a series of Nokia high-end smartphones through this era, and I have to disagree with this:

> what actually killed Nokia handsets in one stroke was one memo by their then CEO Stehphen Elop where he basically stated their platform as it is was dead in the water

IMO, Nokia was infact dead in the water compared to Apple and Android, and Elop was just the one to recognize it in a culture of stagnated development coasting on past glories, and call it out loud enough that it might possibly change in time.

The key falling behind point, as I see it, is that Nokia just never got on board with making app development and distribution easy. Symbian phones in theory supported loading apps. In the many years that I owned one, I think I was able to install 1 or 2 total, which were mostly never used. IIRC, there was an app store with virtually nothing on it, and useful apps were usually downloaded from random websites directly. I don't recall the process exactly, and I never tried to look into building and distributing one myself, but it sure wasn't as easy as open the official store -> find an app that's useful -> tap "install" -> done, use the app.

The bigger issue, also IMO, is that their engineering culture just never got into the rapid cadence that the new-gen phone OSes brought - they were stuck in the appliance mentality. The first iPhone and Android were a little lame compared to the best Nokias. Nokia's development pace was always slow though. iOS and Android rapidly eclipsed them, while they essentially stood still.

I did also own one of the Meego devices. It was basically junk compared to Android. Nokia never had a chance. Elop might have been a MS stooge, but it was still arguably the best move they had at the time.


> People don't remember but, what actually killed Nokia handsets in one stroke was one memo by their then CEO Stehphen Elop where he basically stated their platform as it is was dead in the water. Until then they had had a fairly good portion of the market, but that single statement just killed it. People who did not like IPhone moved from Nokia phones to Android after that.

The way I saw that was that Elop was pretty much hired by the board to sell the company to Microsoft. Maybe he had some last ditch efforts in mind to save the company, but the fallback plan seems to have always been to lean on his connections to sell the place to a former employer. As a random example, he was allowed to keep his shares in MSFT, a direct competitor and eventual buyer, while working as the CEO of Nokia. This conflict of interest would likely have been blessed by the board of directors.

Android certainly make Nokia's life harder, but like, if Nokia couldn't negotiate subsidies from operators, they were going to be sold for parts regardless.


> People don't remember but, what actually killed Nokia handsets in one stroke was one memo by their then CEO Stehphen Elop where he basically stated their platform as it is was dead in the water.

That's like saying that declaring the patient has pneumonia killed the patient.

Nokia was treading water, and everyone knew it. Their Symbian phones were plasticky slow devices with a stillborn ecosystem. Their Linux devices were plasticky hacky devices that only geeks loved. They were hooked on the feature-phone pipeline and couldn't decide how to face the smartphone revolution. They had dozens of competing models that splintered their development efforts and made them compete, ineffectually, with each other.

Elop told them the truth, didn't find a way to flip the behemoth around in 6 months, and sold the company. There absolutely is valid debate about selling the company, but people underestimate the difficulty of radically changing such a large company to effectively compete with the new existential threat.


At the time I worked for STMicro, in the division developing the Nomadik line of SoCs for Nokia's smartphones. We were all carefully watching Nokia's numbers and very nervous about their continued assertions that they'd pull it together.

I quit ST in January 2011, knowing (like all my colleagues) that the Titanic was heading for its iceberg. The "Burning Platform" memo came out in February.


"Nokia, for example, had lots of nice Linux handheld devices before IPhone."

True, and their partnership with Microsoft killed them all. When the 770 came out I bought it almost immediately; it was more like an expensive toy (1), but years before the first iPhone was being introduced it showed how Nokia had the technology ready.

(1) there was a way to navigate Google Maps (or how was called back then) from this mobile device before any Android and iPhone devices were produced. A small utility (forgot the name, sorry) allowed the download of Google maps as tiles, georeference and rearrange them in a bigger map on storage memory, so that thanks to an external GPS receiver paired to the 770 via Bluetooth I could have my Tomtom-like screen perfectly useable with maps of the entire city.

Oh, and the LCARS themed home screen was absolutely gorgeous!:) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwXBPjLdJnU


Microsoft killed Meego and Nokia, taking part of Finland with it. What I don't understand is why the board of Nokia went for it. Granted, I've been in the open-source world for a long time so my opinions might not be those of the average non-tech user, but Meego did feel like it could have kept some people happy ("critical mass") while giving Nokia a chance to rebuild itself. Instead, the board sold out, and destroyed what could have been a worthwhile competitor to the more closed platforms of Android and iOS. Jolla is still alive with Sailfish OS, but they are a very small fish in the sea.

Remember, the board is responsible for stockholders. When Nokia's handset business was sold to MS, the value of the handset business to Nokia was close to zero. It would have been very difficult for the board not to accept a deal at the given pricepoint.

MS gave Nokia 1 billion usd

Sad part is Nokia started the Nokia 770. Linux kernel, c based, nice 800x480 screen, (big enough for web pages of the day), app store, icon based GUI launcher, and a map app MUCH nicer than anything else in that space (maemo mapper).

Sadly it took too many years for Nokia to add a WAN chip to it, tragic. They had a good lead over Apple, but had no WAN chip, quite ironic for Nokia.


The Linux unit was fighting politics with the Symbian one, hence no WAN chip.

Had Blackberry created an email and messaging client for iPhone I am 100% positive they'd still be around. It took Apple almost a decade on the email front to get to where Blackberry + BES was in the early 2000s. Blackberry messenger was THE THING back then too, and a reason I had friends who weren't even in the business world buying Blackberry phones.

"I'm pretty sure there would have been competing Linux enabled smart devices in one way or another without Android"

I wish that was the case. We'd probably have nicer Linux as a result and no extra Java bloat/performance hit on the devices that can do without it.


Nokia also decided to abandon CDMA production, which killed even the possibility of using a Nokia phone in vast swathes of the USA.

> those incumbents would have come up with something.

The Zune Phone.


"those incumbents would have come up with something."

I am convinced about the exact opposite. Apple interrupted so many different industries, all were sooner on the market with more resources and very good financial situation. Steve Jobs was extremely tough on staff do deliver what he wanted. He also had an extremely good 6th sense what people wanted. Combining all of these, you get Apple, lacking any of these you get the rest.


"I am convinced about the exact opposite."

But Android was exactly created by others than Apple.

So while Apple surely performed admirably, I'm not sure how you can follow historical evidence to the conclusion that "without Android no one would have competed with Apple".


Android was also not made by those incumbents. I don't necessarily agree but it seems like the point wasn't that it was impossible so much as the old guard was not capable or willing.

> Apple interrupted so many different industries

But I can't think of a single one where Apple in the long ran dominated in volume. Apple's goal was and is always to dominate in profit in a segment.

So, absent Android, I'm pretty sure there would have been another low end disruptor.


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