The Nokia N91. The beginning of the N, eh? Hmm, smart stuff Mr Marketing Makkinnen. Regular readers will remember that the Ferret tends not to comment on vanilla device launches unless there’s something special about them, but this one may well fit the bill…
The new Nokia N91 has been feted by the media as a music player phone with a 4GB hard disk and all the multimedia trimmings. But really most people are missing the point of this puppy. It’s not the music features that makes it such a ground-breaking tool, but the fact that it’s running a proper operating system, Symbian Series 60, while also offering a shed load of cutting edge features in one small box.
See, Symbian phones are really quite different from anything else around at the moment, in that they offer true multi-tasking, a powerful PDA feature set, superb power management which the PocketPC can only dream of, and most importantly a large and rapidly growing number of programs and developers. For example, I’ve been using the rather fabulous Mobile Britain 2005 car navigation package recently, which runs on my Siemens SX1 Symbian handset, and it rocks.
Not only can I sit back and let the voice nav take over, but I can have the music player churn out my MP3 tracks at the same time, interrupted now and again by the voice offering driving instructions. This is cool stuff, and only one example of where Symbian really shines.
So, parcel together the operating system, ultra cool tech like USB 2.0, a 2mpx camera, WiFi and 3G on board (roaming Skype phone anyone?) as well as Bluetooth – did anyone else notice the announcement of a wireless headset? – and you have something really potent. This handset, more than any other before it, could power up a whole new generation of awesome software and hardware development. If only because this is just the beginning of this level of feature integration, and let’s face it, the competition won’t hang about for long, will they? And don’t listen to those who say that people don’t want convergence, because it’s not true. They will grab on to any device which cuts down their pocket pain, offers real utility and takes away the hassle of having to keep four items charged up day in, day out. And have you ever tried quickly finding all your gadget chargers when packing for a weekend trip?
I predict that the N91 will do for ‘all-in-one’ handheld devices what the Nokia 7650 did for camera phones, namely deliver crucial marketing buzz and help drive competitive development from all the players in the market. The point is that Nokia has the marketing smarts, user loyalty and commitment to drive this whole convergent device thing to its logical conclusion. The company may have been on the defensive over the past year or so, but this launch shows that they’re back in the fight again.
Sure it’s ugly compared to the sleek iPod, sure it could have more storage space, sure it’s going to be expensive. But at the end of the day it’s a start, and it’s still a Nokia phone. And in Europe at least that counts for a lot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of the 3G networks leap on this product as a lifesaver to drive adoption of 3G. They need something special, and this handset could be it. What price a free (i.e. heavily subsidised) 3G handset with cheap calls and multimedia data all rolled into one, eh? It’s also interesting to see Nokia again include eAAC Plus as a supported audio format, as this would suggest that streaming CD quality radio may become a major feature of future mobile content, and who knows perhaps eventually in 5.1 surround sound form?
Hang on folks, the handheld market has just changed gear, and this time it could be a really exciting ride.