By: Ravi Philemon
The Today newspaper published an article sometime ago where the letter-writer said that Singaporeans cannot afford to be less hardworking than we are, because we compete globally where many countries are waiting to steal our lunch. He cautioned that “if we slow down, then we will slide down the path of no return, just like Nokia and BlackBerry.”
That’s an interesting point of view which sounds logical – until the surface is scratched. Did the market dominance of Blackberry and Nokia slow down because those companies were less hardworking?
As the market share of Apple smartphones (iPhone) grew from 3 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in the first quarter of 2009, the market share of Research In Motion (RIM) smartphones (Blackberry) grew from 10 percent to 20 percent during the same period.
As for Nokia, it spent hundreds of millions of dollars to acquire the Symbian mobile platform in 2008, so that it can get a head-start on Google’s Android mobile platform, to make sure that the smartphone industry does not remain a one-horse race.
These facts show that Nokia and Blackberry did not slide down because they are not hardworking enough. On the contrary, it makes more sense to believe that in the face of stiff competition from iPhone and Android’s mobile platforms, Nokia and Blackberry perhaps worked harder than they had ever before.
Why then did Nokia and Blackberry slide down a path of no-return? There are many reasons for that, but them not being hardworking enough is not one of those reasons.
One reason is that while Google was spending 12.8 percent of its overall sales on Research & Development (R&D), RIM was spending only 6.7 percent on R&D. Of course this is still a big amount considering Apple was spending only 2.8 percent of its overall sales on R&D. But Apple did not have a bloated bureaucracy and infighting that RIM had; and Steve Jobs insisted that a start-up mentality be maintained within Apple.
Nokia spent more than Google and Apple on R&D, but still could not stop its slide downwards because it was confident of its product. It focused on basic phones instead of on smartphones.
According to an article in Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Nokia created both a touch screen phone and a tablet nearly seven years before Apple launched its first iPhone. The management at Nokia lacked the savvy foresight to bring these prototype devices to the consumers, allowing Apple to overtake it.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, Nokia’s former chief designer Frank Nuovo talking told WSJ on the never-realised concepts that Nokia had for future mobile phones tells WSJ:
“Oh my God, we had it completely nailed, I was heartbroken when Apple got the jump on this concept. When people say the iPhone as a concept, a piece of hardware, is unique, that upsets me.”
RIM on the other hand, unlike Nokia, had a very different problem. Even as consumers were abandoning Blackberry for the more user-friendly, technologically advanced Android and IOS mobile devices, RIM failed to properly comprehend the implication of its subscribers, and against all indications otherwise, believed in the superiority of its devices.
More than half of its 78 million subscribers are business users, and RIM counted on these users’ loyalty to RIM’s many years of service to them; and also believed that business users were skeptical of touchscreen display smartphones. When the trend was clearly towards touchscreen technology, co-founder Mike Lazaridis of RIM wrongly predicted in the year 2008 that the mobile trend is towards full Qwerty keyboards.
Minister Chan Chun Sing, asked a very important question before the 2011 General Election. He asked, ‘Who thinks Singapore will be around for 5 more years? Kee chiu! Hands-up!…10…25…50…100…200…”
If Singapore is to be around for the next 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 200 years, these are the lessons it needs to learn from Blackberry and Nokia:
Firstly, no amount of hard work due to fear that someone is going to steal your lunch is going to stop your lunch from being stolen. We also have to ask ourselves why our lunches can be easily stolen?
That means that while Singaporean workers have a responsibility to re-skill and upgrade to ensure that their work cannot be done by anyone, the Government too has got to protect the Singaporean worker, and ensure that the conditions are right for workers to be paid fairly.
Sometime ago, the Prime Minister of Singapore commented on the territorial disputes between China and Japan and said:
“It is very hard for any government to give up what it has claimed, because it will lose face and standing and domestic support, so you can only manage these issues, you cannot solve them.”
Although it is not a comment on domestic politics, it gives a glimpse into the mindset of the current Government and how it thinks.
Singapore is at a crossroads and many have started embracing values and priorities which were not so important just one generation ago. The Government cannot only re-calibrate left a-bit, right a-bit, just because it does not want to give up what it has claimed.
That’s the second lesson to learn from Blackberry and Nokia — don’t grow complacent just because you have dominance, and bemoan that hindsight is always 20/20. Time waits for no one. If you need a total overhaul, a complete rethink — do it! Don’t try to put it off just because you want to save face, and have to admit that you were wrong.
In late 2009, former tech analyst Henry Blodget commented about how after being a loyal Blackberry user for 12 years, he reluctantly tried iPhone. He wasn’t disappointed with his switch. “It’s nice here in Apple world,” he concluded. With Blodget’s comments, momentum quickly started building behind iPhone. Years later, the company is now on life support.
And that’s the third political lesson to be learnt from Blackberry and Nokia — momentum is already building that “it’s nice here in the PAP-less (or PAP-unimportant) world”. People will not continue to be forever patient with a Government they perceive to be backwards, and is not working in their interest.
And perhaps that’s what Singaporeans need to do if we want Singapore to be around 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 or 200 years from now. Kee Chiu!