What's in a name? Lumia, HERE? Timing, brands, and.... conspiracy?
Microsoft, Nokia, Lumia, HERE, all brands and names that are prominent in the world of 'All About' writing. Yet I'm fascinated by the timing of the various name and brand changes - it's clear that every time something changed, whether Maps/Drive or from Nokia's Symbian smartphones to something more future-proof, the writing was on the wall for anyone with eyes to see....
A recent example was the almost nonsensical name change from Nokia Maps to HERE Maps. At the time, everyone thought "Eh??" - why change the core brand for software that was so central to the company's smartphones? However, looking back with hindsight, it's clear that the architects of the change, back at the end of 2012, had one eye on an eventual split of Nokia into devices (under different ownership) and mapping businesses. The stated aim was to diversify the mapping service across different OS (including iOS and Android), but it's worked out incredibly conveniently for the HERE Maps business to already be name-independent from Microsoft and whatever the Nokia part morphs into. What if the managers involved already had an inkling that a buyout of the Devices division by Microsoft was a possibility?
After all, this was the great conspiracy theory of 2011. That Stephen Elop had been brought onboard to facilitate the gradual switch to Windows Phone and, ultimately, the purchase of Nokia by Elop's old employer, Microsoft. And, looking back, everything did indeed pan out exactly as the theory suggested, ostensibly validating it, with Windows Phone being hurried in to the exclusion of everything else, with Nokia's value and market share dropping rapidly, with Microsoft eventually snapping up the bit it wanted, and with Elop returning 'home' to Microsoft. So the theory was spot on?
Elop himself protests that he was simply acting logically and in the best interests of Nokia at each stage and that there was no preconceived notion of selling out to Microsoft. He points to the chaotic state of the ageing Symbian operating system and the unready state of Meego, and claims full support from the Nokia board for turning Nokia onto a Windows Phone track for purely functional, not political reasons.
The truth, as usual with such things, probably lies between the two extremes. You cannot tell me that when Elop joined Nokia, from Microsoft, with Steve Ballmer's blessing, that there wasn't at least a hope in his mind that he, personally, would love to move Nokia and Microsoft closer together. Yes, there was research to do and a board to convince, but it wasn't a surprise to anyone when the Windows Phone tie up was announced, abruptly, in February 2011.*
When Nokia's first Windows Phones were announced in late 2011 (the Lumia 800 and 710), the use of 'Lumia' as a sub-brand raised eyebrows. Maybe it was a reaction to Samsung's successful 'Galaxy' sub-brand? Or maybe, looking back, it was again with one eye on the day that the phones made by Nokia's engineers would be under the banner of Microsoft and that they needed a name, divorced from an actual company, that could be carried forward when the time came. This is what we're seeing now, with 'Microsoft Lumia nnnn' being the likely format of device names going forwards into the second half of 2014.
Elop, now firmly back in charge at Microsoft, claims that the search for a new 'brand' is underway, but in my opinion, Microsoft/Nokia would be crazy to move away from 'Lumia' at this stage - it's true that Windows Phone's marketshare is still quite low, but those who have tried the current Windows Phone 8 handsets usually come away impressed - the 'Lumia' name doesn't have negative connotations or history.
So, Lumia created to ease the transition into Microsoft ownership two years later? HERE created to do the same (in the opposite direction) a year later? It's clear that I've been smoking something conspiratorial this morning. Or have I? [cue mystery music]
The moral, of course, is to pay attention when brands are created or change name - there's usually more going on behind the scenes that will all pan out in the future!
Your comments welcome - have these name and brand changes been planned to fit in with a likely future all along? Or happy accidents? Or just the way things turned out in the end?
Also, what should Microsoft call the 2014/2015 handsets coming out of the ex-Nokia engineers departments?
* Far too abruptly, I've always argued, the change in direction was emphasised too strongly from the MWC stage and the existing Symbian OS devalued too quickly in the industry's collective mind, with the result that sales through the channels started dying from that day and Nokia was left with a huge shortfall in sales and market share, a shortfall which has never been made up. But that's a rant for AAS for another day.
Published by Steve Litchfield at 10:31 UTC, May 8th