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Nokia World 2010 – still playing catch up, but at least they’re now running in the right direction!

Nokiaworld2010

I’ve been covering Nokia since the early days…the launch of the original 9000 Communicator, the seminal Nokia 7650 in 2001 (yep the first ever camera phone) and the original 6210, probably the most memorable mobile handset ever made in terms of functionality, robustness and popularity.

We’ve watched the company go from bemused surprise at their insanely rapid rise to dominance, to arrogance as they stagnated at the top of their market, through to defensiveness, first evidenced six years ago as the company ran afoul of the increasing commoditization of their mainstream products.

Yesterday’s Nokia World 2010 was, therefore, interesting, if only for the fact that the beleaguered giant is clearly in a new and more aggressive phase of its existence, one we haven’t seen before. It feels very much like last ditch effort time, which is clearly nonsense for a company that still turns over nearly €50 billion a year and holds some 40% of the global mobile handset market.

Nokiac7

The announcements yesterday were not mind blowing at all, a gaggle of new handsets, some bullish sounds about developer tools and the usual gung-ho statements intended to calm ruffled investor feathers. But underneath the stereotypical flim-flam I detected an unusual sense of purpose from the exec corp., as if they finally understood what needed to be done, and this time were determined to execute instead of blather around. Maybe it’s the thought of a new CEO about to land at Helsinki airport?

Anyway here’s some thoughts from the day to back this up.

  • I’ve never seen Nokia execs stand on stage and admit problems so readily before. The first sign of dealing with problems is to move out of denial and into action. Perhaps this is that moment for the Finns?
  • The new crop of Symbian phone announcements on the face of it were not that exciting, but closer inspection of the products showed that they’re actually not that bad in terms of market needs. Nokia is clearly pinning its hopes on the hybrid camera, phone, nav device as the mainstream feature set, and the new phones all met the criteria perfectly.
  • The standout product for me was the Nokia C7. Great touchscreen, 8mp camera, super sleek and elegant form factor and a real high quality feel to it. The big surprise was also how good Symbian 3 is. Oh yes, don’t be fooled by the yawn-tastic home screen mess, underneath there’s a crisp, fast, and robust multi-taking powerhouse of an operating system which seems to have caught up a huge amount of ground on Android. I got to grips with the interface in a matter of a minute or two, and found the one handed, single button operation as good as any Android product I’ve used.

Symbian

  • Yes it’s only catch up, and the interface improvements are wholly derivative from competitors, but it’s definitely a start. The new products are now crawling up alongside Android and iPhone, but if Nokia wants to compete in the future it has *got* to execute faster. Iterate the operating system faster, introduce compelling product features faster, and generally press the turbo action button.
  • The big bonus for this new generation of products is the uniformity of functionality. The Symbian interface is exactly the same on all of these phones, which makes them easier to get to grips with, unlike Android which is starting to suffer from different manufacturer UI ‘tweaks’, which can cause confusion from handset to handset.
  • Forget about us pundits, the real question is –  will people be able to happily use this new Symbian platform from scratch? Answer…definitely. That is no longer a problem.
  • What is a problem, of course, is the applications. Ovi simply doesn’t cut it at the moment in comparison to the iOS and Android app markets. It’s a marketing thing, and the only way Nokia is going to overcome the damage of offering an also-ran applications platform is to ensure that almost all of the ‘major’ apps are also ported to Symbian. That’s going to take some serious developer wooing, and signs are that the company is not doing that great at the job so far. We shall see.

So, what does this mean for us the users, and Nokia the company? Well for one thing there are a *huge* number of Nokia fans in the world. Don’t listen to the shrill US press corp, they’re domestic market blinkered to a ridiculous extent. The fact is for many people today, Nokia is still the mobile phone maker of choice, and these new products are going to make them happy they stayed with their favourite Baltic brand.

For Nokia the challenge is to build on this tentative start (hah, it’s only taken 3 years to wake up, eh?), stay focused and not allow internal discord, external aggression and irrelevant issues to stop them from doing what they do best…making top quality *and desirable* handsets. That goal has slipped in the past few years, but if they can get it back, there’s every chance the company will retain it’s lustre even in the cut-throat commodity marketplace we have today.

 The new family of Symbian smartphones will include a completely updated Ovi Store experience. The new store experience is driven by a friendlier user interface and a new collections feature to quickly access popular apps and games available now, or soon, such as foursquare, Angry Birds, Need for Speed Shift and Real Golf 2011. Additionally, Ovi Store will continue to offer exclusive apps including Audiotube, Tesco and others along with favorites such as Fring, Shazam, and Asphalt 5. For developers, the uniform Symbian platform together with the Qt development environment enables easy smartphone application creation and extensive reach.

Nigel is the managing editor of the Red Ferret, as well as a freelance columnist for the Sunday Times newspaper in London. Loves tech and fancies himself as a bit of a futurist, but then don’t we all?

Nigel – who has written posts on The Red Ferret Journal.


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