Posts Tagged ‘nokia’

Rescuing Nokia's Ovi: a plan

Friday, May 29th, 2009

Ovi means door in Finnish

It must be frustrating to sketch out a long-term technology roadmap in great depth, and see it come to fruition… only to goof on your own execution. But to do so repeatedly – as Nokia has – points to something seriously wrong.

Nokia spent more than a decade preparing for Tuesday this week, when it finally launched its own worldwide, all-phones application store. It correctly anticipated a software market for smartphones back in the mid-1990s, when it was choosing the technology to fulfill this vision.

That was just one of the bets that came good. Leafing through old copies of WiReD magazine from the dot.com era, filled with gushing praise for Enron, Global Crossing, and er, Zippies, I was struck by the quality of the foresight in a cover feature about Nokia. (Have a look for yourself.) WAP didn’t work out, but I was struck by particularly Leningrad Cowboy Mato Valtonen’s assessment that “mobile is the Internet with billing built in”.

“The managers responsible for putting together the Ovi Store should be put on Nokia’s naughty step – and left there for the Finnish winter”

And so Nokia has been encouraging users to download applications for users. My ancient 6310i wants me to download applications. Every Nokia since has wanted me to, too. Seven years ago, the first Series 60 phone (the 7650) put the Apps client on the top level menu, next to Contacts and Messaging.

The problem is today, it’s Apple and BlackBerry who have the thriving third party smartphone software markets. For six months, punters have been bombarded with iPhone ads showing what you can do with third-party apps. And yes, it’s like Palm all over again, but they’re very effective. So if Apple’s store is the model, then what on earth is Ovi?
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Nokia's free music offer isn't so free

Thursday, October 2nd, 2008

Few music business people expect Nokia’s unlimited free music giveaway to be repeated, or even last very long. There simply aren’t enough large consumer companies prepared to take such an expensive gamble .

And Nokia’s richest partners aren’t interested in helping out.

But it’s a radical and interesting offering that merits some serious analysis: certainly, much more than Nokia’s other Dad-at-the-Disco attempts to get down with da yoot.

As we wrote last December – Comes With Music is much more subtle and interesting than most people gave it credit for. There are strings attached, but fewer than with any such previous bundling promotion.

Nokia has been inhaling Chris Anderson’s “Freetardonomics,” and this is what comes out when it exhales. ..

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Nokia: Our community is the best money can buy

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

Who says there’s no honesty in tech marketing? We beg to differ, and present Nokia product manager Janne Jalkanen as proof to the contrary.

Speaking at a marketing website called Nokia “Conversations” (“Stories from around the neighborhood” – it says), Jalkanen gives a very frank overview of the grassroots enthusiasm for Nokia’s S60 platform.

“Pretty much the only community around S60 is the community we pay to be there,” says Jalkanen, “a few lone, strong, awesome warriors notwithstanding”.

He’s speaking in a personal capacity, but is actually saying much the same as Symbian’s John Forsyth said here, only without the wishful thinking. But what a great metaphor for the Finns’ oh-so-earnest attempts to manufacture grassroots enthusiasm.

Nokia didn’t invent the idea of astroturfing, but more than any company in the Noughties, it’s taken it to heart.

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Farewell then, Symbian

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

Ten years ago to the day, I attended the surprise foundation of Symbian. I was in Norway and sorry to miss the event today that closed the chapter – and probably the book – on the great adventure.

I find it exquisitely ironic that the philosophy behind the decision to end Symbian’s independent existence as a joint-ownership, for-profit consortium has its roots in the Microsoft antitrust trial. Symbian was created because the leading phone manufacturers desperately wanted to avoid Microsoft’s desktop monopoly being extended to mobile devices. They didn’t want a dependency on high license fees, rigid requirements and poor code.

Well. Philosophy might be a grand way of putting it – it’s more of a fashionable buzzword. This is the idea of “multi-sided markets”, which when you get down to it, is really just a fancy way of describing cross subsidization. The case for a “multi-sided business model” was made in an economic defence of Microsoft’s strategy of bundling Windows Media Player with Windows in the EU antitrust case. So take a bow, economist Richard Schmalensee, Microsoft’s favourite economist. It was Schmalensee who in the US antitrust trial argued that the true price for Microsoft Windows should be around $2,000 per license. The idea that emerged from the EU trials was that WMP created a “platform”, and therefore consumer benefits. The idea here is that Nokia, which now entirely owns Symbian, will cross-subsidize the market by giving away the Symbian OS, er … platform, royalty free.
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How the iPhone puts a bomb under mobile networks

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

If you think everything that could have been written about the iPhone already has been written, prepare to be surprised. One vital aspect of Apple’s strategy has been overlooked – with multi-billion consequences for complacent network operators.

Over at Telco 2.0, the blog of analysts STL Partners, we learn that networks who partner with Apple must install Apple gear at the data centre to support its services – specifically, the Push Notification service that wakes up the Jesus Phone. Forget the revenues from sales of extra server gear – the key point is that Apple now sits in the middle of the data stream, capturing the customer’s data. The analyst outfit describes the iPhone as a potential “poison” for the networks.

STL wrote this week:

“Apple can data mine the application message stream — and it’s been a telco’s dream for years to mediate such flows.”

Nokia sell two out of every five mobile phones in the world, and they’ve ruled the roost for a decade now. But they’ve failed to convert that market clout into mobile data revenue – for themselves, or the operators. When you discount application-specific services such as RIM’s Blackberry Connect and new music services such as Omnifone’s MusicStation, mobile data use is negligible.

Because the iPhone makes mobile browsing more of a pleasure than a pain, for the first time, this is changing. And because de facto standards are defined where the people are, this means Apple, not one of the traditional incumbents, could call the shots. Or as the STL boys put it:

“… it doesn’t take massive market share (stimulated by the new low price point) for the iPhone to de facto become the mobile web.”

So, sorry, Nokia and Microsoft – you may have turned out to be the Osborne and the Altair of the 21st Century.

And bang go the commercial prospects of turning the bitstream into money:

“You don’t have to be too bright to realise that one of the most likely things to be pushed to a phone in future is an advert, mediated again by Apple,” they add.

STL tempers this possibility with the very sensible point that the iPhone has may have limited it appeal. Apple has yet to prove it can break out of the niche in which it reigns supreme. Indeed the biggest threat to mass market adoption of the iPhone may yet be Apple itself, by refusing to add a numeric keyboard or hard-QWERTY keyboard. But if there’s growth at the high-end, it will reaped by Apple, with its superior, easier to use technology which is now sensibly priced.

Yet the mere prospect of Apple sitting in the middle of their network, capturing customer data must make a mobile operator’s blood run cold. They’re unlike to accept a cuckoo in the nest – but who can help them?

Alas, the operators’ strongest potential ally has decided to have a mid-life crisis. That’s Nokia, of course, which is in a stronger position than ever after acquiring most of Siemens’ COM division in 2006. Nokia can help with both back-end and devices, but it’s decided that it, too, wants to shaft the operators. It’s splurging on services such as music and maps that cut revenue opportunities for the networks.

As STL wrote last year in an excellent summary:

“The way Ovi has been positioned at its announcement could prove to be a mistake. It will confound Nokia’s efforts to address and bring to market answers the most important unmet user needs. Ovi annoys Nokia’s most important go-to-market partners for any new and better personal communications services.”

Just when you need a friend…

Why didn't Nokia become the next Sony?

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

When, a few years ago, I described Sony and Nokia as the only two companies who could call the shots in consumer electronics, a few eyebrows were raised. Sony, yes. But Nokia?

I anticipated that success in smartphones would be a beachhead into a bunch of other consumer electronics markets. Few noticed that Nokia already made TVs and set-top boxes. It had just launched a games console, too.

In fact, Nokia had began planning for “mobile multimedia convergence” in the mid-1990s, when it began sniffing out a next-generation operating system – it eventually opted for Psion’s Epoc, which became Symbian OS. For years Nokia put its best brains on the task – and sat back and waited. And waited.

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Nokia's music bundle Comes With Hoover-shaped liabilities

Monday, April 28th, 2008

Nokia faces a crippling financial bill for its strategy of bundling free music with handsets, which will give users unlimited song downloads with Nokia phones.

The world’s biggest label, Universal Music, joined the “Comes With Music” initiative at launch last December, and Sony BMG joined last week. The Register has learned that Nokia must pay the wholesale per-unit rate for downloads over a certain ceiling – believed to be 35 songs per user per month.
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Nokia radical bundling deal deserves applause

Wednesday, December 5th, 2007

You could be forgiven for thinking that Nokia’s music announcement yesterday was yet another subscription service. The phone giant didn’t help dispel the notion by omitting some details from the official press material. However, we were able to put more flesh on the bones of the announcement last night. It’s beginning to look as if Nokia’s move, blessed by the world’s biggest and most aggressive record company, represents a radical new direction for the music business.

Essentially, the deal bundles digital music for “free” with a Nokia phone. You can acquire unlimited songs for a year through the Nokia Music Store, then keep the music you’ve acquired if you don’t want to continue the deal. You’ll be able to play the songs on a PC (alas, not a Mac or Linux) and your Nokia.

By contrast, most music subscription services on offer today time-bomb the music, so that when you leave the service, it dies. That’s fine if you think of it as a sort of “cached” on-demand radio, but not as a way of acquiring a permanent collection; it’s proved unacceptable to consumers, who are used to keeping the music they’ve acquired for life… or until they’re burgled, or the house burns down.

In other words, it’s a loyalty program for Nokia customers, with music as the bait.
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Warner slaps Nokia for Web 2.0 swap site

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Nokia’s Music Store went live last week – but look in vain for anything by Led Zepp, John Coltrane, or Smokey Robinson. That’s because Warner Music Group (WMG) is refusing to license its catalogues to the phone giant, in protest at its Web 2.0 file swapping site, Mosh.

WMG says Mosh is a hotbed of copyright infringement. Nokia has responded by saying it employs humans round the clock, as well as using Audible Magic software to weed out unlicensed content. Warner sources have told Billboard that the two sides are far from a deal, and that litigation is a possibility.

Nokia launched the fully buzzword-compliant “social media” site back in August, we reported here, prompting reader Pascal Monett to hail it “a Nokia-centric happy slapping database”. In June, even before the public “beta” launch, we’d received emails pointing out cracked applications were being freely traded.

But unlicensed music isn’t really in evidence; it’s buried beneath mountains of user-generated crud. Much more in keeping with the tone of the site were gems such as “conservative party i love you” and “you-fat-bastard.mp3″: material at the vanguard of the User Generated Content revolution.

No surprise there, then.

More puzzling is the question – what on earth was Nokia thinking when it launched the file-sharing site?

It looks like another Dad-at-the-Disco attempt from a company so desperate to “get” the internet, it leaves common sense behind. Mosh would be a disaster even if it was never tainted by copyright infringing material.

Nokia has long been regarded as a soft touch by California technology evangelists and consultants. Now it has created a feedback loop for itself by only listening to buzzword-spouting bloggers.

Having to choose between Motown and “you-fat-bastard.mp3″ is just the sort of reality check Nokia needs. Perhaps it can bring the space cadet tendency at Nokia back down to Earth.

How the 'Jesus Phone' was really John The Baptist

Thursday, September 20th, 2007

So was nine months of relentless iPhone hype and froth just a distraction? Not quite, but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I believe Apple’s most important product of 2007 was actually announced this week, and its significance has been slow to sink in. It might be one of the cleverest moves Apple’s ever made.

The ‘Jesus Phone’ today looks like it was really ‘John the Baptist’.

I hope Apple has ordered enough parts, because the iPod Touch is going to be a sensation – at least for one Christmas shopping season, if not more. Not only does the Touch bring Apple’s big gimmick breakthrough, its capacitive multi-touch interface, to its key music products, it does so at a very low entry point: $299 (or £199). That, rather than $499, is the market sweetspot.

But the whizzy interface is simply a means to an end. Because the Touch has Wi-Fi, so you get the most attractive web browsing device at a very low cost, too.

And as a bonus, the importance of which few pundits or bloggers have realised yet, Apple stealthily enters a new market altogether: the connected PDA. This ‘Second Box’ business is one that almost everyone has neglected, because they’ve followed the conventional wisdom that Everything Must Be Converged. But what if that isn’t true?

Unlike the iPhone, which is locked down at the carrier’s request, third-party applications will not be restricted on the Touch. All it’s lacking is Bluetooth – which was apparently in early specifications, but didn’t make it into version 1.0 – and removable storage.

In short, the Touch brings much of the value proposition of the iPhone to people who are perfectly happy with the phone they’ve got – or who are locked into a long contract with a network operator. All along, I’ve pegged the iPhone as a defensive move disguised as an offensive strategy. If Apple hadn’t introduced a phone, it would be marked down for imminent death at the hands of the mobile phone companies – Sony Ericsson does music very nicely indeed.

My, how that script is going to need a rewrite, after this week…

Perhaps the clues were there all along. iSuppli pegged the bill of materials for the iPhone at just over $200, giving Apple a profit margin of over 50 per cent. That suggested Apple could put much of the technology in a much lower-priced device, which it’s gone and done.

As we can now see, Apple has fulfilled its primary responsibility to its shareholders: to strengthen and extend the appeal of its most successful product line, the iPod.

Where does this place Apple in the great ‘convergence’ debate?

Sitting very nicely, actually. With the iPod Touch, Steve Jobs is saying: ‘Look, you can have your One-Box converged device if you really, really want it. But people won’t mind two – if the second is attractive enough.”

Opting for ‘best of breed’ actually gives you much more choice, of course. In Europe and Asia – although not, alas, the US market – small and stylish phones are available for next to nothing. These do 3G, are so small you can wear them as jewelry, and they’ll also run Mobile24 or Google Maps, or Opera Mobile, very nicely. Because of a strange bug for which Nokia and Zimbra can both be blamed, my ‘dumbphone’ actually does IMAP email fetches more reliably than an E61i. The consequence is that the ‘smartphone’ category has really become a distinction without a difference.

What the introduction of the iPod Touch implies is that you can keep your beautiful, small, low-end or mid-range phone. The Touch will take care of music, and once it has Bluetooth, the rest. Long live the PDA!

The losers in this are manufacturers of do-it-all converged devices, particularly high-end smartphones. Nokia has most to think about here because, as the champion of One Box converged products, it’s been undertaking some very ill-advised marketing recently.

Firstly, it’s selling its easy-to-use consumer devices – phones – as “multimedia computers” – reminding us that computers are hard-to-use, and using a word, “multimedia”, that no civilian has ever, ever used. And it’s been making fun of the public who choose several best-of-breed devices, with its Great Pockets ad campaign:

Now my first thought on seeing this was not, ‘how stupid, carrying several devices’, but ‘Hey! What a fantastically useful pair of trousers!’

But don’t listen to me – I’m funny like that.

I’m the contented user of a Nokia N800 tablet – it has a great radio and a decent browser. But even with its generous removable storage slots, and its 800-pixel screen, I can’t imagine many people opting to pay a premium – it’s around $385 retail in the US – to buy the tablet over an iPod Touch.

At a stroke then, Apple makes one market category look ridiculous, while stealthily entering another.