If you are going to attack your competitors' products as being glitchy, you'd better bulletproof your own products. Nokia is the latest company to relearn this venerable rule the hard way.
The Wall Street Journal among others are reporting that just three-days after launching its Lumia 900 smartphone, which Nokia has been touting in ads as being a "real" smartphone that customers should be buying instead of the poorly designed and buggy iPhone and Android "beta" smartphones, the company admitted late Tuesday that some 900s "could at times lose their high-speed data connection" because of software glitch that manages the phone's memory.
The Journal says that Nokia claims to have discovered the glitch in a "small percentage" of its phones during "ongoing internal testing." How long ago Nokia found the error wasn't stated nor what a "small percentage" meant in terms of numbers, but I bet that it was way before the launch, and that there were extremely heated internal discussions among sales, marketing, engineering, and management about whether to delay the launch or ask forgiveness after the fact. Apparently the decision was that delaying the Lumia's launch for a "small percentage of phones" would be more costly or embarrassing than admitting to a glitch.
I do wonder, though, whether the decision might have been different if those in the discussion also knew that Nokia was going to announce about the same time that its first-quarter profit forecast was going to be lowered significantly, ironically in large part due to the Lumia product line introduction last year. In early 2011, Nokia announced that it would stop selling phones based on its Symbian operating system and move to a Windows-based solution. Predictably, Symbian-based phone sales have fallen off a cliff, and Nokia's share price fell nearly 16 percent yesterday on the news, even as the company reporting that the Lumia product line was selling well.
One reason the Lumia 900 may sell extremely well for the next week or so is that anyone who buys one before the 22nd of April will receive a $100 credit to compensate for the software error. Over at AT&T, which is selling the Lumia 900 for $99.99 with a two-year contract, you'd be getting the handset for free.
Nokia also says that there is a software fix for the Lumia glitch coming out on the 16th of April, or alternatively, customers can swap their phones right now for an updated one at an AT&T store.
AT&T's president of retail sales and service was quoted in the WSJ as praising Nokia's response to the glitch, saying, "What is not uncommon is what just happened to Nokia. What is uncommon is how they responded."
Of course, what's also all too common is dissing your competitors for the very problems you then fall prey to—releasing to the general public what should have been the beta version of your product.
It will also be interesting to see what Lumia 900 sales are after 22 April. Despite its receiving generally favorable reviews, AT&T phone store reps apparently don't seem interested in pushing the Lumia 900 today, no matter what the price.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.