Nokia’s touchiest week

We’ve arrived in Barcelona, Spain for Nokia World, a week where Nokia talks to its top customers.

When we got here a Nokia executive met me and bragged that the Internet has no clue what they will announce this week. I asked “what about the touch screen cell phone that I’ve seen rumors about?” He said that no one had gotten it right yet. The announcements are on Wednesday morning (it’s early Monday morning as I post this) so we’ll have to wait to see what they announce. He told me this is one of the only times he can remember when a big announcement has not leaked. He said that even internally only a handful of people have seen the new device they’ll be announcing on Wednesday. Does that tactic sound familiar? It should, and is only one of the reasons why this is Nokia’s touchiest week.

This is the week when Nokia either keeps its seat at the cell-phone-thought-leadership table or it will give up its spot to Apple and RIM alone.

Here’s some datapoints.

1. At the recent Salesforce.com conference CEO Marc Benioff asked the audience what cell phone they used. 35% answered iPhones. That’s incredible. Apple has gotten HUGE market share among enterprise users, despite having a huge wall setup against them.
2. RIM was used by almost everyone else at Salesforce. Nokia? Hah.
3. When I traveled to China the thought leaders there bragged about their iPhones. Same in Tel Aviv, Israel. These are places that are HUGE Nokia strongholds and that have almost no Apple stores.
4. Apple is just about to pass 10,000 apps for the iPhone, says Webware. Developers are picking iPhone big time. Why is that? Because Apple has thought leadership that Nokia has squandered.

Translation: this is the week that Nokia either shines or moves to the B list of the cell phone market. Yeah, you won’t know how this week turned out for a year or two, but there is no bigger week for Nokia.

Now, can you count Nokia out yet? No way. It has the biggest slice of the cell phone marketshare pie. Its devices are much better engineered than Apple’s are (GPS on Nokia is better, so are the antennas, the cameras, and bluetooth radios that Nokia uses). But engineering does NOT equal a great experience. Yeah, my Nokia does not drop phone calls in places in Silicon Valley that my iPhone does, but generally I reach for the iPhone when I want to make a call or surf the web. Why?

Nokia is behind in experience. The executives here from Nokia that I’ve talked to know that. They know this is Nokia’s touchiest week and one where they either deliver a much better device or they are going to face a very tough 2009 globally.

Oh, and how do you figure out what kinds of new features are coming soon? You visit the suppliers of Nokia like I did last week. I went to Broadcom where I met with (and videoed) the team that does the GPS chip inside your cell phones.

What did they tell me? Well, first, look at how much smaller that Broadcom chip is compared to the prototype that team built back in 2000. Can they make it even smaller? The team says “yes.” How? They are now combining chips. In your cell phone today is three chips. One for GPS. One for Wifi. One for Bluetooth.

Broadcom now makes one chip with all three features. That means longer battery life, lower cost, smaller form factor so you can have sexier phones that are thinner and smaller. By the way, the videos I shot with Broadcom explain how GPS works and how they are making it better so it works even inside buildings. Think that one small group of people can’t change the world? These engineers did. They are now working on new chips that also include MEMS (micromachines on silicon) that will include things like accelerometers (like the iPhone has). As I was leaving, the Broadcom PR people said they were “just about” to announce new chips. Is Broadcom waiting for Nokia to announce its new device? I hope so.

So, what do you think Nokia is going to release on Wednesday? Will it take “touch” and “experience” leadership back from Research in Motion and Apple?

More from Nokia World all week.

UPDATE: more discussion of this over on FriendFeed.

129 thoughts on “Nokia’s touchiest week

  1. I’ll be the first to say that Nokia has lost its way when it comes to user experience compared to Apple. Of course, I’d say that about every other mobile phone company compared to Apple. Let’s face it, Apple is #1 when it comes to user experience. However, Nokia and Apple are in different classes when it comes to manufacturing. It is patently silly to count Nokia out just because they are slow to keep up on the high end.

    The challenge will be for the rest of the mobile phone industry to take advantage of the ground Apple (and to a lesser extent Google) have broken in breaking the grip of the carriers. Until the latter have been marginalized and a DSL-like race-to-the-bottom has happened, the data-enabled experience that iPhone (and G1, etc.) brought to the high end won’t happen for the majority of subscribers (and pre-payers!)

    This means that Nokia has at least a good year to get “touch” right. Just because iPhone will continue to lead in user experience doesn’t knock Nokia or anyone but the weakest players out of the market.

  2. I’ll be the first to say that Nokia has lost its way when it comes to user experience compared to Apple. Of course, I’d say that about every other mobile phone company compared to Apple. Let’s face it, Apple is #1 when it comes to user experience. However, Nokia and Apple are in different classes when it comes to manufacturing. It is patently silly to count Nokia out just because they are slow to keep up on the high end.

    The challenge will be for the rest of the mobile phone industry to take advantage of the ground Apple (and to a lesser extent Google) have broken in breaking the grip of the carriers. Until the latter have been marginalized and a DSL-like race-to-the-bottom has happened, the data-enabled experience that iPhone (and G1, etc.) brought to the high end won’t happen for the majority of subscribers (and pre-payers!)

    This means that Nokia has at least a good year to get “touch” right. Just because iPhone will continue to lead in user experience doesn’t knock Nokia or anyone but the weakest players out of the market.

  3. A couple of “big” things I know Nokia are working on:

    1. Nokia’s next generation Symbian platform. I don’t expect this to work out for them though. But for sure, Nokia will have invested billions into it, it’ll have one-touch applications installer and stuff like advanced UI and stuff like that. I don’t think Nokia should work on anything else then Android, since Android is open source and free, it makes no sence to persist with Symbian in my opinion, even though Nokia wants to open source and give the next generation Symbian away for free.

    2. Nokia N900 series, which uses the Texas Instruments Cortex processor, which is the most powerful ARM embedded processor, many times more powerful then an iphone processor. It can capture HD video, load websites much faster, play advanced 3D games like Quake3. See Archos 5 and Open Pandora for examples of how awesome the Texas Instruments Cortex ARM processor is. I don’t expect Nokia will surpass either Archos nor Open Pandora project with their next generation tablet, so it probably won’t have good storage and no good multimedia features. But it’s to be seen.

    A few things Nokia should work on but they probably aren’t:

    - Pocketable E-Ink and LED dual-screen for pocketable Kindle HSDPA replacement.

    - WiFi Mesh devices to expand and improve WiFi usage, for collaboration and VOIP stuff.

    - White Spaces devices and WiMax. Totally unlocked, open-source and free.

  4. A couple of “big” things I know Nokia are working on:

    1. Nokia’s next generation Symbian platform. I don’t expect this to work out for them though. But for sure, Nokia will have invested billions into it, it’ll have one-touch applications installer and stuff like advanced UI and stuff like that. I don’t think Nokia should work on anything else then Android, since Android is open source and free, it makes no sence to persist with Symbian in my opinion, even though Nokia wants to open source and give the next generation Symbian away for free.

    2. Nokia N900 series, which uses the Texas Instruments Cortex processor, which is the most powerful ARM embedded processor, many times more powerful then an iphone processor. It can capture HD video, load websites much faster, play advanced 3D games like Quake3. See Archos 5 and Open Pandora for examples of how awesome the Texas Instruments Cortex ARM processor is. I don’t expect Nokia will surpass either Archos nor Open Pandora project with their next generation tablet, so it probably won’t have good storage and no good multimedia features. But it’s to be seen.

    A few things Nokia should work on but they probably aren’t:

    - Pocketable E-Ink and LED dual-screen for pocketable Kindle HSDPA replacement.

    - WiFi Mesh devices to expand and improve WiFi usage, for collaboration and VOIP stuff.

    - White Spaces devices and WiMax. Totally unlocked, open-source and free.

  5. I’m sure there were those who looked at GM’s ‘insurmountable market share lead’ years ago and thought there was no way they’d be in the position they are today. But Honda and Toyota, steadily, have done what Apple has done … they’ve become as Robert puts it, “thought leaders” in the automotive industry, and their products over the years has inspired an army of passionate consumer evangelists.

    Nokia has some wonderful products … I have an N95 and nothing compares to its video capability … but it can’t touch the iPhone in terms of bringing the ‘full web experience to life’. If the iPhone had the video and picture ability of my N95, I’d trade for it in an instant. Right now, I feel like I need both to have everything I want in terms of mobile capability.

    I agree with Robert. Nokia better ‘bring it’ this week (and every week from here on out) and understand that if it wants to take a fat share of the North American market, it needs to create revolutionary products that inspire passion. On a side note, ask a hundred people in the U.S. what ‘Ovi’ is and 98 won’t have a clue. It’s Nokia’s ‘portal to the web’, and it hasn’t caught on here. Perhaps it’s because Ovi means ‘door’ in Finnish, and the translation, like the portal itself, is lost on us. Nokia has a lot of work to do to make itself known in North America, the way it’s known around the world, as a mobile leader.

  6. I’m sure there were those who looked at GM’s ‘insurmountable market share lead’ years ago and thought there was no way they’d be in the position they are today. But Honda and Toyota, steadily, have done what Apple has done … they’ve become as Robert puts it, “thought leaders” in the automotive industry, and their products over the years has inspired an army of passionate consumer evangelists.

    Nokia has some wonderful products … I have an N95 and nothing compares to its video capability … but it can’t touch the iPhone in terms of bringing the ‘full web experience to life’. If the iPhone had the video and picture ability of my N95, I’d trade for it in an instant. Right now, I feel like I need both to have everything I want in terms of mobile capability.

    I agree with Robert. Nokia better ‘bring it’ this week (and every week from here on out) and understand that if it wants to take a fat share of the North American market, it needs to create revolutionary products that inspire passion. On a side note, ask a hundred people in the U.S. what ‘Ovi’ is and 98 won’t have a clue. It’s Nokia’s ‘portal to the web’, and it hasn’t caught on here. Perhaps it’s because Ovi means ‘door’ in Finnish, and the translation, like the portal itself, is lost on us. Nokia has a lot of work to do to make itself known in North America, the way it’s known around the world, as a mobile leader.

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