The Motorola Syndrome or Why Nokia's N97 Shows It Still Can't Innovate

The new Nokia N97 was supposed to be the Finnish manufacturer's secret weapon, when we first heard of it in October 2008, to counteract the conquering Apple iPhone but when you look closer, there's a sense of underachievement, a subtle air of deja-vu and the feeling that Nokia "could have done better".

We call it the "Motorola Syndrome"; it describes a condition where a mobile phone company, like Motorola, can't break away from their legacy and create something anew. Motorola never really got away from the Razr and the Nokia N97 still feel like the two-year old N95 or the slightly older N800.

Don't get us wrong. Nokia is not the world;s number one phone seller for nothing and the slide out keyboard, an idea pioneered by Psion 5MX nearly a decade ago, will win it kudos. Their Nokia Labs as well are producing great innovations like their mobile web server.

But, and there's a big BUT, Nokia is now facing a resurgent Microsoft, a consumer-friendly Blackberry, Apple's iPhone and Google's Android Platform. The last three came to the consumer market - where Nokia gets most of its revenues - in the last 18 months.

The N97 should have been the secret weapon that should have been a break from the past. Instead, it firmly cements the N-series as the one which tries to do everything right but ends up doing only a few bits.

The N97 is all about brute force than elegance, about hardware, rather than platform and concentrates on form rather than substance. Yes it has a touchscreen. But you still have that pesky stylus and you can't pinch to zoom in.

Sure, it has 32GB internal memory but it only hikes up the price of the smartphone. The camera is a 5-megapixel one but without a Xenon flash, will yield poor image quality. And there's the price. Expect it to be available on £40+ contracts. The G1 is available on £30 tariffs.

Nokia needs to think outside the box. Maybe it should join the Open Handset Alliance and promote Android alongside Symbian and become a box-shifter rather than a platform pusher.

Tidying up its software/mobile applications, making the lot at least as intuitive and elegant as the iPhone will be another great step. Apple doesn't have the monopoly on classy products. Maybe Nokia could start its own tablet PC or Netbooks (after until recently, they sold CRT monitors and PCs). Then, maybe, Nokia will leave the competition in the dust again.