Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Quick Takes: Logitech's Misstep, Nokia's New Names and Fonts

Short thoughts on recent tech news...

Logitech strays from the path

I haven't written much about Logitech here, but they've long been one of my favorite tech companies because they have a history of breaking all the rules of Silicon Valley:

--The Valley says you can't make money in commodity hardware, but Logitech makes good profits from the most commoditized bits of the computer industry.

--The Valley says you especially can't make money in low-end consumer hardware, but that's where Logitech thrives.

--The Valley says that if you want to make money in hardware, you need to be based in a low-cost part of the world like China.  But Logitech is Swiss-owned and headquartered in Silicon Valley, two of the highest-cost places to do business in the world.

Logitech succeeded by picking well-established markets like keyboards and webcams where its skills in design, user experience, and added-value features let it charge a bit more than the commodity players.  As the folks at Logitech will tell you, "we're chefs, not farmers."  In other words, we don't create new markets, we come to existing markets and do an especially nice job of rearranging the ingredients.

But Logitech's financial performance hasn't been great for the last two years, and the company's most recent quarter was a loss.  The disappointing earnings report stood out to me because Logitech put much of the blame on its Google TV product, which apparently had apocalyptic negative sales last quarter (more returns from retailers than shipments) (link).  Apparently somebody at Google convinced Logitech to do some farming, and the company is paying dearly for it. 

I'm usually an advocate of companies taking risks and pioneering new markets, and I think that's something Logitech has the skills to do if it's careful.  But in this case, it chose a terrible target: the uncertainties of a new market, but with a user experience constrained by Google's software.  So Logitech took on the risks of farming without the ability to fully apply its own strengths.  Logitech was more or less a passenger on Google's boat.

The lesson, obviously: Be very careful when you step away from your proven strategy.  Oh, and never trust Google to develop a new market for you.

Good luck naming your phones, Nokia (again)

Nokia announced that it has changed the naming system for its phones, going back from letters to numbers (link).  The last time Nokia changed its naming, five years ago, I wrote a piece saying why technology naming schemes eventually break down after about six years.  This morning I thought about updating the post, but actually I think it's still valid as-is, except that naming schemes now apparently last only five years.  Here's a link to the article, so you can judge the rest of it for yourself (link).

Font games

Speaking of Nokia, there are few things more embarrassing for a company than announcing to the world that you have chosen a new font for your corporate communication.  Making font and logo changes is often interpreted as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic -- "we can't fix our fundamental problems but by God at least we'll fix the font!"  That's unfair, of course; Apple changed its logo in the middle of its rebirth, ditching the six colors, and it turned out just fine.  So I didn't blame Nokia when it announced on March 25 that it was moving to a new font (link).

But I'm surprised that more than four months later, Nokia's old font is still splattered all over its web pages.  You can find the new one in some spots, but a lot of website navigation, headlines, and even new product announcements are in the old font.  Here are some examples (click on the images for a larger view):

Nokia Conversations (official company blog), August 2, 2011.  Note the use of the old font to announce the company's newest product.  That means the use of the old font isn't limited to legacy bits of the website that haven't been converted yet.

Nokia Press website, August 2, 2011.  New and old logos together on the same page.  That's got to annoy the corporate branding folks.

Nokia UK home page, August 2, 2011.  New font used for the headline, but the old font is used elsewhere.

Nokia US home page, August 2, 2011.  Old font almost everywhere.  Well, you kind of expect Nokia's US site to be behind the times.

Nokia Finland home page, August 2, 2011.  The greatest use of the new font -- except when they mention Ovi.  Freudian slip?

I feel childish and petty for picking on Nokia about a little detail like this.  Fonts stand out to me because I used to run a font company, but I know most people don't even notice them.  Nokia has much bigger problems to solve. 

However, four months is more than enough time to switch over to a new font, especially in newly-created headlines.  Since the criticisms about Nokia's smartphones often center on inattention to detail and slow execution, you'd think they would want to execute crisply wherever they can.  In its March announcement, Nokia wrote that the new font is important because "the letters flow into each other somewhat, creating the impression of forward movement." Since the old font lingers, does that create the impression that Nokia's not moving forward?

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