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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A "Just One More Thing" CEO for Symbian?

In an article over at All About Symbian that addresses the upcoming desparture of the OS consortium's CEO, David Levin, Ewan Spence looks at Macworld and says, in part
Irrespective of Apple's volume of sales, or number of users, the amount of buzz generated yet again showed Apple punching with the big boys. But not the biggest. With only 14 million OSX users, they're outnumbered almost 2 to 1 by Symbian OS devices. So why can't Symbian generate the same sort of excitement? Cutting edge phones, wi-fi, music devices, every ingredient to make the gadget-hounds salivate is in the OS.

Fairly or unfairly, I'm going to put this down to the CEO. David Levin (and to a certain extent Colly Myers before him) have done a good job taking what was a division of Psion (Psion Software) and grown it to the size it is today. That's a lot of management, guidance and care. But Symbian is past the forming stage, and needs to start storming. Symbian needs passion, needs energy and needs all that to be projected outside of the walls of Symbian and into the general public, the tech heads, and every electronics company this side of Redmond.

We need some dynamic, entertaining, captivating personality that people want to follow and be inspired by. The Board and The Managers (and to a certain extent the senior staff) of Symbian know exactly what is needed code wise. It's time to choose someone who complements these skills, not duplicates them.

My Take On It

The Steve Jobs "just one more thing" act reminds me of James Brown - you know, where at the end of his show his muscians try repeatedly to pull him off stage and he keeps returning to the microphone for more. It was great showbiz when Brown did it in his day, and it's great showbiz now, when Jobs does it.

But let's face it, you're not going to pull a Jobs-like personna out of thin air to head up Symbian. It's not going to happen. Steve Jobs is something of a unique character, and his relationship to Apple, and how he got back there, is unique. The whole Jobs phenomenon is grown organically out of Apple and inseparable from it.

Gil Amelio, former CEO of Apple and the man who brought Jobs back, has never, in my view, received the credit he deserves. Knowing how terribly territorial, image conscious, and ego driven senior executives by nature are, it took real vision and guts for Amelio to do this; the equivilent of throwing yourself on a live hand grenade in order to save the company. Bringing Jobs back was the right and only thing to do - but most CEOs would take the ship down into the briny dark rather than willingly step off the plank to save it.

Vision and Courage. Or, at the Least, Marketing Skills

This is why it's going to be difficult to pull off success for Symbian. As a consortium, Symbian requires not only that its leader have vision and courage, but also that those who lead its member companies have similar courage - and similar vision. At the very least, Symbian requires a leader who can sell whatever vision he has to the heads of these member companies. And him (or her), I think, Symbian has some reasonable prospect of finding.

As Apple amply demonstrates, branding really is everything, or almost everything. Making a quality product is important, but without deep brand awareness it means nothing. A company like Apple can sail along on its brand equity for a good long time. The hoopla and excitement generated by a stripped down computer and a flash player without a screen is a perfect example of this. They'll sell millions of them.

Nokia. Powered by Symbian OS

The synergy created by, for example, "Nokia, Powered by Symbian OS", could be amazing. The real question - assuming you have a leader who can pull it off - is how to get there.

Apple leveraged its deserved popularity among creative types - designers, architects, artists, and others - to give itself the halo of rightousness it has today. Similarly, Symbian could conceivably take stock of its own strengths as an OS to generate cache among users and prospective users.

It seems to me that two of Symbian's major strengths are its efficiency at utilizing resources, and the ease of writing applications for it. These strengths would seem to point to IT managers, who respect such things. Why not select a group of high profile IT managers and give them handsets to play with? This could generate some buzz in the IT world.

Business People and Artists?

Since Symbian has virtually written the book on convergence - been a pioneer there - it could also have great appeal as a brand - greater than it has today - to non-tech users, such as business people and even artists.

I'm actually a professional photographer, and I find the ability to use a handheld device for multiple functions very useful and interesting. It means a lot to me to have a device - one always with me - that I can use as a camera.

Some Ideas and the Bottom Line

For some time now I've been thinking that it would be great to take, say, a Nokia 6630 or Sony Ericsson S700, on a year long, round the world photo shoot. Symbian and one of its licensees could give serious thought to sponsering something like this among several photographers or travelers. Maybe co-sponser it with someone like Lonely Planet, and feature the results, as they happen, on a website. Such a project could create lots of excitement at very little cost.

Another possibility is to give handsets to interested, high-profile artists - maybe produce a magazine and/or art shows, demonstrating what they've produced using the devices.

These are just a few, maybe naive, ideas. In any event, they put the details way ahead of the broad-brush need for branding and a leader with the vision to see it and make it happen. In an increasingly Microsoft world - and that's the one we live in, like it or not - this is what it's going to take. It's all or nothing. Link.

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