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Microsoft puts the final nail in Nokia’s coffin

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Nokia's dead and Microsoft is burying it

Well, it's really over now. Stephen Elop and Jo Harlow were the last surviving members of Nokia's leadership team to retain prominent positions following the Microsoft takeover, but today they've both been dismissed from their roles. The former Nokia CEO and device chief had morphed into senior Microsoft VPs when the Finnish company's phone business was bought out by Microsoft, but their influence is now coming to an abrupt end. Their departures appear to be the just the top portion of a comprehensive clear-out of leftover Nokia staff, which in itself is the culmination of an ongoing exodus. Any glimmer of hope that Nokia wouldn't be subsumed into the Microsoft monolith and would continue along its own path, albeit under a different name, has today been extinguished.

Maybe it makes sense for Microsoft. In fact, I'm almost sure it does, as it streamlines the company's efforts and focuses its decision-making team to pursue a coherent set of goals. The new Microsoft cares what services you run, not what device you run them on. The Nokia we knew and loved, on the other hand, was all about the device. Microsoft has had enough unpleasant experience of internal conflict to want to harmonize its priorities, but that doesn't make Nokia's annihilation any less painful.

A Nokia company still exists, but it's not the one that matters

I'm aware that a company bearing the title of Nokia still exists, but it's not the company that once put its name before such iconic devices as the Communicator, the 3310, the N97, or the 808 PureView. That Nokia is now gone — its chief designer is now playing bass in a band — and it's not coming back. Besides losing out on some of the awesomest Nordic accents to ever launch new tech products, we are losing a great deal of creativity and originality.

If anything wild comes out under the Lumia banner in the future, it will be a Redmond wild and not an Espoo wild. The difference? Microsoft is still a relative newbie to hardware design whereas Nokia used to have a staff of passionate industrial designers who'd seen and made pretty much everything since the very start of our ongoing mobile revolution. If Microsoft's strategy is all about mobile today, that's because of innovators like Nokia building appealing and attractive mobile devices.

It didn't have to be this way. The plausible scenarios for Nokia's existence under the Microsoft aegis could have included something akin to Motorola's short-lived yet wonderful time under Google's ownership. Sure, Moto was constantly losing money, but it created the Moto X, the Moto G, and the Moto E, each of them setting new standards of expectation for what a good Android phone could do at a given price and size. For a brief moment in time, we saw what a hardware company could do when it was given the financial muscle of a caring yet permissive parent. Who knows how things might have developed if Google didn't feel compelled to sell Moto in order to appease Samsung? The original Xbox was a big loss leader for Microsoft that was nevertheless justified by the company's subsequent success as a console maker.

Microsoft is to Nokia what HP was to Palm

When Microsoft bought Nokia's phone business, it adopted the same approach that HP did with Palm: acquire, assimilate, rebrand. Coincidentally, neither company was able to execute the full extent of its plan as both replaced their CEOs — Mark Hurd at HP, Steve Ballmer at Microsoft — before their visions could be realized. The end result for Microsoft, at least so far, isn't quite as disastrous as Palm's demise at the hands of HP.

Microsoft hasn't tried to compete with the high-end flagship phones that dominate people's attention and disposable income. It's focused on and generally been successful in producing cheap, accessible devices that make it easier for people to start using Windows services. That's going to remain Microsoft's strategy for the future and the company's acquisition of Nokia to spur that on remains justifiable. Nevertheless, without the once-Nokia driving hardware design and improvements forward, the ceiling for innovation in Lumia devices is dramatically lowered. Microsoft's Lumias may be decent, but good luck remembering any of them in a few months' time.

All we're left with now are memories of happier times

When Nokia launched the 808 PureView at MWC in 2012, replete with a massive 41-megapixel camera that took astonishingly good photos, I asked Stephen Elop a simple question: why? Not why launch a great cameraphone, but why launch one that ran on Symbian, a software platform that Nokia was deprecating in favor of Windows Phone. His words still resonate with me today: "because it's memorable."

If I had to sum up Nokia's legacy in a single word, it would be "memorable." That was the aspiration that drove this Finnish company to push boundaries and experiment endlessly. Even when Nokia was unsuccessful, as with the N-Gage portable console, it never failed to accomplish the goal of leaving us with something to remember. And that's all we're left with now: memories.