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.

Social network advertising: not your father's banner ad

When i visited the San Jose Mercury News yesterday, what did we talk about? Advertising and how newspapers were going to make it online.

Well, one trend we’re seeing big time is the move to social networks. Facebook alone has more than 100 million people on it. When you add MySpace, Microsoft’s new network, Hi5, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, Twitter, and others, these networks are seeing some sizeable traffic.

But how do they monetize? Well, Facebook has been seeing a bunch of ads lately.

Problem is banner ads just aren’t working well anymore. Most users ignore them and the smartest users use software that blocks them from being seen at all.

So, how do you overcome those problems? Make ads that people play with and want to talk to their friends about.

That’s what Kevin Barenblat’s firm, Context Optional, does. One of his Facebook apps is driving 60,000 users a day to the website that sponsored it.

In this two-part video we take a look at both the kinds of apps that Context Optional is building, but in the second part we look at the whole Facebook marketplace.

Part I, six-minute video.
Part II, 10-minute video.

Cisco's new datacenter: does more, lower cost

Let’s say you are a bank, like Washington Mutual, and you’ve been forced to join another bank. What happens to your data center? How do the IT guys left in charge reduce cost? What other things are happening in the data center to squeeze cost out and return investment dollars fast? Well, today I went over to Cisco’s headquarters to see what they are doing in their datacenters. There I met James Urquhart (here is his Twitter account, he was just hired by Cisco because of his CloudComputing expertise and blog, titled appropriately “Wisdom of Clouds“) and friends who gave me a 20-minute tour. I uploaded the video to both Kyte.tv and Facebook (I’m continuing to test out various video services, here you can see that Facebook has dramatically better quality video).

Cisco datacenter tour on Facebook.
Cisco datacenter tour on Kyte.tv.

Some of the things they showed me:

1. Virtualization technology lets you join many different applications onto one machine.
2. Unified fabric. That means that you can join all your different databus and network types into one common wire. In this case they are showing FibreChannel being delivered over Ethernet.
3. Automation. I saw a demo of VFrame, which can turn on and off servers automatically based on load, and perform many other management tasks from one computer. This lets you run a datacenter using fewer people.
4. Cloud Computing and Cloud Burst. I first heard of Cloud Burst techniques when I visited 12seconds.tv last week in Santa Cruz (they have a popular service that you can use to put up very short videos — trying to be the video Twitter). They told me that most of the video you watch is on their own servers, but if your video gets popular their systems automatically send everyone over to Amazon’s S3 service. This lets them do a lot more with very few of their own servers (makes things much cheaper) but also helps them scale in case they get linked to by a popular site.

Anyway, thanks to Cisco for inviting me over and having good humor on a day when their stock was hammered. We’re all getting used to this new economy and it’s good to see a big company look for ways to help its customers out.

A taxi business in Shanghai, China?

One of the best VCs in the world is Gary Rieschel. He started Softbank and now is EMD at Qiming Venture Partners. When I visited him in China, he took me into a taxi where he showed me one of the businesses he was investing in. Cool conversation about China enterpreneurship too.

As to China, I’m still processing our trip. It was mind bending. Lots of photos are up on my Flickr feed. But what would you like to know that I learned there?

Outlook for social media messaging inboxes

Fuser is something I took too immediately upon seeing it because it helps me with a new pain: keeping up with Twitter, Facebook, and other social media messaging systems. See, hundreds of people are trying to send me messages on those systems. But they don’t work in old-school email systems like Microsoft’s Outlook. That’s what Fuser is for, it gives you a common UI to handle all your social media inboxes. Here I get a 26-minute look at Fuser with a couple of executives from the company. I’ve been using it ever since and love it.

The Twitterization of Conversations

Yesterday I filmed a video about the half-life of conversations. When I started blogging back in 2000 a blog conversation could go for a week or more. Those days are long gone. In this video I cover why, and show you some ways that tools can be used to lengthen the conversation’s half life (which, on Twitter, can be as short as five minutes).

This video caused a conversation to break out on FriendFeed.

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