Vacanza!

Siracusa Sicily

I’m in Sicily soaking up some sun, gorging on Sicilian food and researching my next novel. All my publishers and clients should (hopefully) know where I am, but if you came here wondering why you can’t get in touch with me this is the reason. I’ll be back in Helsinki on 27 March and will return your messages as soon as I can.

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Will we see Nokia’s new phones at Slush?

Yes. Yes, we will. At least, that’s what I think.

Nokia at Slush 2014.

Nokia at Slush 2014. Photo by Jussi Hellsten via Slush Media.

We have known that Nokia is returning to the mobile device market for some time. Their complicated deal with HMD Global and FIH Mobile showed that they were planning to get back into the water, but up until now details have been lacking. I think that is about to change.

There are more leaks, more rumours and more hints that Nokia is finally going to show their hand. Mike Wang, a Nokia executive in China, has been quoted as saying three or four new devices will be unveiled by the end of 2016. These are rumoured to be two feature phones and two smart phones.

Nokia’s dwindling fan base might be cheered at their return to the mobile market, but in a way Nokia never left it. They have dabbled with apps like Z Launcher and even released the N1 tablet in the Chinese market.

I think their recent past shows what we can expect from these new devices. We will see Android devices aimed at Chinese consumers. They will probably expand in other developing countries, but we shouldn’t expect anything in the West at this point. There are no hints from retailers or operators in Western Europe that new Nokia devices are coming. America, of course, is out of the question. Apple owns the high end of the US market while Samsung takes the bulk of the rest. Nokia has a long and distinguished history of failing in North America.

These new devices will be slightly differentiated by the Nokia brand name, perhaps an updated version of the Z Launcher and better than average optics. They will basically be commodity products. This was my opinion previously, and I see no reason to change it now.

Nokia unveiling the N1 at Slush 2014.

Nokia unveiling the N1 at Slush 2014. Photo by Jussi Hellsten via Slush Media.

But why do I think we will see something at Slush Helsinki? First, they have hinted that we will see something before the end of 2016. Secondly, there are some curious gaps in the Slush agenda which make me think Nokia might have reserved time. Finally, there is precedent: Nokia launched the N1 tablet at Slush in 2014. I think Nokia would prefer their announcement at their home turf. They would undoubtedly get an enthusiastic reception, just like they got for the N1. The Slush crowd is notoriously loud and boisterous, but I have never heard them cheer like they did for the N1.

I must put in a caveat, though. I understand that things are coming down to the wire and Nokia might not yet be prepared to show off their new devices. This is why the Slush agenda does not yet list Nokia as a presenter. CEO Rajeev Suri will be a keynote speaker at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona at the end of February. If Nokia is not ready in time for Slush I believe the announcement will come at MWC.

In my book The Decline and Fall of Nokia I was unabashedly fond of Nokia. Perhaps why I was so critical of their mistakes was because I am fond of them. Sometimes we are less forgiving of people – or companies – we genuinely like. We expect more of them and hold them to a higher standard, so I really hope Nokia gets it right this time. Maybe if things go well they will eventually enter developed markets as well. I love my Samsung smartphone, but I would drop it in a heartbeat for an excellent Nokia.

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The new leader of the free world is Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel just wanted to be German Chancellor. No one asked if she would like to be Leader of the Free World. Yet she’s stuck with that title, whether she likes it or not.

angela_merkel_2008

The so-called ‘Leader of the Free World’ has almost exclusively described the U.S. president, but there is now a slight problem with this tradition. The president-elect Donald Trump isn’t much interested in leading the free world. He has chosen a more isolationist path. Simultaneously, the rest of the free world isn’t much interested in following The Donald. So where do we look for a new leader?

The U.K. would be an option, but they have chosen isolationism as well. Even if they hadn’t, prime minister Theresa May (I like to call her interim prime minister) doesn’t seem to be up for the challenge. French president Francois Hollande isn’t even liked by the French, much less the rest of the world. Narendra Modi leads the world’s largest democracy, but India has traditionally not helped the West on security issues. Japan’s Shinzo Abe doesn’t want to be a world leader, and Australia’s Malcolm Turnbull is too far removed geographically.

Angela Merkel is the obvious choice. Political pundits across America, Europe and Asia are already calling her the new leader of the free world. She certainly has experience in global leadership. She led the response to the European sovereign debt crisis as well as the opposition to Russia after the annexation of Crimea. Much of this response was based upon Germany’s power as the world’s fourth largest economy, which Merkel is increasingly willing to use.

Merkel has also laid claim to moral leadership of the free world in a rather dramatic fashion. Her ‘congratulations’ to Donald Trump was a stern message that she would cooperate with him on the basis of democracy, freedom, and respect for law and human dignity.

Jaws dropped around the world that Merkel would speak to Trump like he was some third-world despot, but she had no qualms about it. Merkel has the right and the responsibility to impose conditions on Trump and lecture him about human rights. While Trump grew up a coddled trust fund baby in a Manhattan penthouse Merkel cut her teeth under the Stasi. Merkel has a cold steeliness that the soft Trump can never hope to match.

Angela Merkel's famous 'triangle of power' might be seen even more around the world.

Angela Merkel’s famous ‘triangle of power’ might be seen even more around the world.

The German Chancellor has the economic and moral authority to be the leader of the free world, but there is still one major problem with her new position. The leader of the free world needs to have military might, and this Germany does not have.

Germany has had extremely limited armed forces for decades because of the ghosts left by Hitler and the Holocaust, but that might be about to change. European foreign ministers have already discussed what to do if America’s retreat leaves a security vacuum in Europe. We don’t want that vacuum filled by Russia, so we need to bolster our own military. Defence budgets for conventional forces will almost certainly be increased, and there are even whispers of a greater nuclear deterrent.

There will undoubtedly be some global concern about Germany becoming a military powerhouse again. Even Germans are uneasy about the idea. They do, after all, have a troublesome history. Yet Germany has paid for their sins for four generations now, and it is time all of us start looking to the future instead of the past. The free world has chosen its new leader, and now Angela Merkel must act like one.

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What President Trump could mean for Finland

On Tuesday, 8 November 2016, Americans will pick the 45th president of the United States. Their choice will have an impact not only on America, but the rest of the world. What would a Donald Trump victory mean for Finland?

This Latvian mural shows a Putin-Trump love affair that many in the Baltic worry about.

This Latvian mural shows a Putin-Trump love affair that many in the Baltic worry about.

It’s no secret Finns aren’t Trump fans. According to a recent poll 86 per cent of Finns favoured Hillary Clinton while only 7 per cent wanted a President Trump.

A Trump victory is definitely possible. Nate Silver’s Fivethirtyeight website currently predicts he has about a 36 per cent chance of winning. National polls give Clinton a 3 per cent lead, but I strongly suspect that Trump will perform better than expected. Polls are biased against him, just like what happened with the Brexit vote. Finns might be dismayed at the prospect of a Trump presidency, but there could be some benefits for us.

One possibility is a closing of the American economy. Trump has repeatedly followed isolationist rhetoric and called for the raising of trade barriers. If America begins to close its economy off to foreign companies, other countries will definitely retaliate and this could give us an opening.

America isn’t particularly important to the Finnish economy, at least directly. The US isn’t a top trading partner and it is neither a major source of capital nor a destination for new Finnish investments. It would definitely hurt some of Finland’s digital consumer companies, like mobile gaming, because America is a major market.

Other industrials could take advantage of decreased American competition around the world. Our forestry companies could help fill the void in Canada and South America. KONE would love for Otis Elevator to be kicked out of China, and Nokia’s return to mobile phones would get a massive boost if Apple was out of the global picture.

Overall, though, the benefits of a closing of the American economy under President Trump would be negligible. It would undoubtedly cause a global recession and Finland would not be immune. The downsides would outweigh any benefits which specific companies or industries would enjoy.

A more serious problem for Finland is global security. Donald Trump is curiously friendly with Vladimir Putin, which has caused more than a few shivers among Finnish policy makers. Only 10 per cent of Russians prefer Hillary Clinton to win, which tells us something. Perhaps Russia wants a weak president, or they want a compliant one. I suspect President Trump would be both.

russia-finland-cartoon

Trump has hinted that he wants to pull back America’s military overseas presence and may not fulfil America’s NATO obligations. This does not directly impact Finland, because we aren’t a part of NATO and have never been under American military protection. But many of our neighbours are. Russia might feel it has a free hand to move against the Baltic states or against Norway in the Arctic, neither of which would benefit Finland’s security and independence.

We could also be directly threatened. Not fearing any American reprisal, Russia could put more pressure on Finland and restart the old manipulations of the Cold War era. Finland has managed to firmly position itself in the West over the past few decades, but a disintegrating EU and a withdrawing America could leave us in the Russian sphere of influence. We may not be reduced to a Grand Duchy again, but a period of Finlandisation II could be in store for us.

All of this remains speculative and hypothetical. Trump might not win, and if he does he might not follow through on his isolationist promises. Even if he tries to keep his campaign promises he might not succeed, because he doesn’t even have the backing of his own political party in Congress.

Despite all this, a Trump presidency remains a real possibility and his policies a real threat. It wasn’t too long ago that the idea of the UK leaving the EU or Russia seizing Crimea would have been considered impossible. The world has entered a new era of instability. Finns have good reason to be watching the American election closely.

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How the US election looks to an absent American

America is doomed. Well, maybe not, but it would be nearly impossible to pick two more depressing presidential candidates. If a maniac held a gun to my head and demanded I list ten good qualities of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump I would hope he couldn’t count.

Hillary ‘Multiple Subpoenas’ Clinton

The success of Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary race was foreordained. She is the establishment, the career politician, the safe choice. After the mild disappointment with Obama the Visionary the Democratic faithful shrugged and picked Clinton the Bureaucrat.

Ms. Multiple Subpoenas.

Ms. Multiple Subpoenas. Photo from Hillary for America campaign.

Clinton certainly isn’t inspiring. She doesn’t offer the majestic visions of Obama or the radical reforms of Bernie Sanders. She has been tainted with her establishment connections while allegations of corruption follow her with thought-provoking persistence. Democrats gave her a quick sniff test, like you do with that old milk in your refrigerator. You have some doubts if it is still good, but since you don’t have any better ideas you drink it and hope for the best.

Her power base is in the political and business elites, the urban centres, and the people terrified of Donald Trump. She has the money and power and organisation behind her. This is Clinton’s election to lose, and she might – in fact – lose it.

Donald ‘Multiple Bankruptcies’ Trump

The candidacy of Donald Trump is more interesting. First, let’s be honest: Trump is the worst candidate for President in living memory. He has no political experience. He has an unbalanced temperament. His own party hates him. For someone who is supposedly a great businessman it is curious how many of his companies have declared bankruptcy. He has amassed an impressive number of endorsements from current dictators and former KKK and KGB leaders. I could go on and on.

Mr. Multiple Bankruptcies

Mr. Multiple Bankruptcies. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Yet if Trump is so terrible, how did he win the Republican nomination? There are a variety of reasons, such as the weakness of the Republican contenders and the power of the far right in the primary system. But most importantly Trump tapped into a growing dissatisfaction with the direction America is going. He is saying what they are thinking.

Trump’s power base is made up of white men with lower education in the lower-middle class. This is a large demographic group. Race and religion are important issues with them – and tend to get most of the press – but I believe the most significant reason for Trump’s popularity is economics. Friction between races and religions are admirably lubricated with cash. If there is less cash, there is more friction.

The Lost Five Decades

A large proportion of the American populace is losing hope in the American Dream, and they have good reason. Their real incomes have not changed since 1964. They can’t find good paying jobs. Materially, they are worse off than their parents and they think it will be even worse for their children. An intense and comprehensive study by the Pew Research Center shows that this is precisely the demographic that is supporting Trump.

Five decades of stagnation.

Five decades of stagnation. Image from Pew Research.

These are angry people, and much of this anger has turned towards the establishment and outsiders. They tend to believe the establishment, like Clinton, is corrupt and milking the system. They are also angry at outsiders who compete for scarce resources. These outsiders might be Mexican migrants or Chinese workers who are believed to take American jobs, or even African-Americans who Trump supporters think take a disproportionate share of public money.

This situation in America is not unique and is mirrored in much of the developed West. The UK got so fed up that they decided to leave the European Union. The supporters of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage have a lot in common.

Trump can win, believe it or not

The other parallel with Brexit is how far the polls were off. Right up until the day of the vote the Remain camp polled about 4% ahead. The end result was a 4% win by Leave. This is an 8 percentage point slide, which few people beyond professional pollsters seem to be considering.

I think it is almost certain that the polls are wrong about Clinton’s lead right now. Trump himself suggested that people were embarrassed to admit to pollsters that they will vote for him.

Many people in Europe continue to view Trump as a joke. I did, too, but I stopped laughing after Brexit. Britain’s departure from the EU has demonstrated that the modern systems of economics is misfiring and that people are desperate. Revolutions are born out of desperation, and it is time Europe starts to look at what is happening in America a bit more seriously.

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Thanks, UK

Brexit has been called the end to the grand European project. It should instead be viewed as our last warning and great opportunity.

EU flag Brexit

The European Union has been lurching from crisis to crisis for almost ten years. I first realised how deep the infection was when the European sovereign debt crisis reached catastrophic proportions. There was a real risk of a complete breakdown of the financial system. I went to the website of the European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs to see what action they were taking. I found a football analogy and a silly platitude about ‘a new era of better competitiveness.’

I was appalled that this was their response. Yet to the surprise of practically everyone their inaction worked. Europe didn’t do any fireproofing; they simply put out fires as they flared up. Here we are nine years later and Greece and all the other bailed out nations are still in the union. Somehow we survived the first great crisis, which was economic, although many of us are still suffering.

Yet the EU didn’t survive the second great crisis, which is immigration. We tried to follow the same procedure as before, not making any reforms but only weakly dealing with specific problems as they arose. That failed dramatically, as Brexit proved. The greatest worry for almost every single demographic in Great Britain was immigration.

Ben Garrison's cartoon is harshly critical of the EU.

Ben Garrison‘s cartoon is harshly critical of the EU.

The two crises are related. If our economies were stronger and people felt more secure they would not be so threatened by immigration. The reason neither of these challenges could be met is because of the structure of the European Union. It’s not that they are unwilling to act; they are unable to.

There is a remarkable similarity between how the EU is governed and how Nokia was governed. Consider an extremely top-heavy organisation with multiple, convoluted spheres of competing interests and weak leadership. It has a culture of consensus and a focus on internal processes instead of external results. This was Nokia circa 2007, as I described in The Decline and Fall of Nokia, and this is the EU today. We know the fate of Nokia; is this also the fate of Europe?

I hope not. I hope that Britain’s exit is the final warning that we so desperately need. Time and again European politicians have demonstrated that they will not act until they are forced to. Now we are being forced, confronted with the dissolution of the entire project.

Europe needs intense and comprehensive structural reform. We need a new method of governance and we need new governors who are directly elected and have real power. I want to see a real federal system where the voices of the people are reflected in the power structure.

People feel they are disenfranchised and ruled by regulations and bureaucratic elites. They are right. But with real reform this can change.

It is almost inevitable that such reform will cost us more member states, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hitherto the number one goal was to keep everyone in the union. Solutions and results, not consensus, should be our aim. This is what the UK has taught us. For that I thank them, and I wish them all the best on their own path.

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What I want from Nokia’s new phones

There has been lots of interest in the news Nokia was returning to the mobile phone market. Part of the excitement has something to do with nostalgia and part of it is frustration at the current stagnation in the industry. There is a hope that Nokia could shake things up. What will we see from them?

What I want

The N95, the last great Nokia device.

The N95, the last great Nokia device.

If I had my way, Nokia would release a device that had the build quality of the 3310. Back in the day dropping a 3310 generated as much concern as dropping a pencil. You simply picked it up and got back to work. Now you handle a smartphone like you handle a Ming vase.

The new Nokia device would have the design of the N9, which was the first and last Nokia device to run the MeeGo operating system. While the operating system was nice, I loved the design of this phone. Engadget called it ‘the most beautiful phone ever made,’ and I don’t disagree.

I would like to see the new device with the functionality of the Lumia 1520. Windows phones were largely ignored, which was a shame. The 1520 was something special.

It would be as revolutionary as the 1011, the world’s first mass-produced GSM device. Going from analogue to digital was like going from masturbation to sex. You had no idea it could be this good.

And, of course, Nokia’s new device must have the soul of the N95. This was the last great Nokia device and demonstrated to millions of people around the world what a smartphone could do.

What I’m likely to get

Are Florida oranges more amazing than any other oranges? No, but Florida wants you to think so.

Are Florida oranges more amazing than any other oranges? No, but Florida wants you to think so.

None of the above is realistic. What I’m likely to get is the mobile device equivalent of Florida oranges. What I mean here is that oranges are a simple commodity. If you bite into an orange you have no idea if it came from Spain, Brazil or Florida. Nor do you care. It’s just an orange. But Florida markets its oranges as something special. They aren’t special at all, but the state-sponsored marketing pretends that they are.

This is what Nokia will do with their new devices. They are entering a crowded Android marketplace where the devices are commodities. The only way they will differentiate themselves is by the Nokia brand and perhaps a few extra touches which would be the device equivalent of a Florida sticker on an orange. This is exactly what they did with the N1 tablet.

And this assumes that Nokia will even release their new phones in developed markets like Europe or the U.S. where I could buy one. It is very possible they won’t.

Nokia’s brand recognition is highest in their old strongholds like the Indian subcontinent. The man leading HMD Global, the company using the Nokia licenses, is Arto Nummela, who led Microsoft’s mobile device operations in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. The N1 is still only sold in China and Taiwan and I strongly suspect the new phones will also be for those markets.

So what I’m likely to get from Nokia is nothing, at least at the beginning. I’m still waiting for the sea change in the mobile device market which is overdue. The next great revolution should be coming soon and maybe we’ll see Nokia return to developed markets then. They have been missed.

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The public is losing interest in Nokia

Nokia is a well-known brand name among consumers, but it is in a long and steady decline. The return to mobile devices seems to be aimed squarely at large, emerging markets such as China where the name still has some power. The N1 tablet did not stem the brand decline but perhaps mobile phones will.

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Nokia’s new mobile devices explained

New Nokia Devices

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Announcing The Decline and Fall of Nokia, second edition

The Nokia story still fascinates. Two years after the publication of The Decline and Fall of Nokia I am still being invited to write articles, asked to speak to university classes and interviewed by curious journalists. The book has popped up everywhere from a newspaper article in Rwanda to an academic conference in Belgium. When I’m introduced to new people I am invariably ‘that guy who wrote the Nokia book.’ I am so happy that this book has been so well-received, and am grateful that I had the opportunity to tell this story.

DFN2 cover

Because Nokia is still so interesting a lot has been written about it since the first edition of this book was released. The output in my adopted homeland of Finland has been particularly rich. There have been many newspaper and magazine articles, blog posts, talk shows, academic papers and books. Two books in particular have been important to advance the Nokia story: the Finnish-language Operaatio Elop (Operation Elop) from Pekka Nykänen and Merina Salminen, and the Swedish Nokia och Finland (Nokia and Finland) by Carl-Gustav Linden.

The English-language world has missed out on much of this. Former Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila’s biography will finally be translated into English in 2016, but he doesn’t cover the same ground as I did and he can’t exactly be called unbiased. The other main Nokia publications in English have come from academics. Many of them have used this book as one of their sources.

Yet Decline and Fall remains different. It was written as Nokia’s mobile phone business was collapsing and emotions were running high. Many of the interviewee quotes in the book reflect this. The publications from academics have been more like short business study cases, remote and stoic and clinical. While excellent, they don’t show the intense emotions involved. Two years after it was published The Decline and Fall of Nokia remains the only comprehensive narrative in English about Nokia’s… well, decline and fall.

Because this book is still the definitive English source for this popular story I decided it needed expanded and brought up to date. This second edition has additional information in regards to Nokia’s troubles and has been updated to reflect the current state of the industry and what the major players are up to. It also addresses some reactions of the press, public and influential industry leaders to revelations from the first edition. I hope you enjoy it.

The second edition is only available as an ebook from my American publisher, Stairway Press.

Bookstores:
Amazon
iTunes
Kobo

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