Today marked the day of the launch of the Ovi Store, the Nokia answer to the Apple AppStore. Symbian has been around for years and years, and so have the Symbian apps. However, it took a year after Apple announced its store, for Nokia to realize they needed one...
Being second is not always a bad thing. You can learn from the first one (or second one, since Android Marketplace has been live for a few months) and make adjustments.
Or you can screw it completely...
TechCrunch has been pretty quick to call the launch "A complete disaster". Maybe they were even too quick and too harsh (I could get to the Funambol app on the store pretty easily), but the initial meltdown highlights one thing, a key one: maybe Nokia is not good at running services...
Or better: maybe they have never done it, they are trying (Ovi has been up and running for a while now) but they do not know how to manage a peak of interest. They are learning.
This is the tough part: they are a hardware company. They have always been (although they were selling very different hardware in the years before mobile telephony, like galoshes...) and they have decided to morph into a cloud services company. They have to. But it is not easy.
The question is: can they pull it off? Can a company change its DNA, and reposition itself as a software and services battleship?
Apple was started as a software company with a superbly engineered hardware around it. The difference was the UI, although they have been innovative on the HW side as well. And they still are. The iPhone is a superb piece of good looking hardware but the difference is inside. So much that everyone is catching up on the HW part, but nobody has matched them on the SW (Palm excluded, I think they surpassed them, actually). Apple knows software and they translated it pretty easily to services, starting with iTunes and playing with .Mac for years before going into MobileMe.
RIM was started as a software company with a very usable HW. The core, though, is the push email mechanism and the service behind it. The HW has been good looking enough (ugly, in most cases ;-) but very reliable. They know services.
Nokia is different. They are a hardware company. They bought software companies and they destroyed them (Intellisync being the last one coming to mind). They have to make a huge effort to turn the boat around. But they have to.
If I have to bet, knowing the resilience of the guys in Helsinki, I would say they will make it. It will be painful, they will need to get more help outside of the company (you do not change your DNA, you get some new from the outside and you recombine it) but eventually they will pull it off. It will just take a long time.
The worry is that they might not have that much time because the competition is moving extremely fast and they are out to kill them... We'll see.