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Nokia’s Plan For World Domination Part Two: Smartphones and Tablets

The rumours have continued over the last few days, so you will not be surprised when I inform you about Nokia’s plans for tablet devices.

Navigation is becoming a utility, this is clear. There is however still no solid time-frame in mind for when this switch will be confirmed. In this temporary void, while the world awaits the inevitable, there is an opportunity for someone to name that date. Nokia will attempt to achieve this by pushing on two fronts: smartphones & tablet devices.

The mobile device will be a new flagship MeeGo product which I understand will be boasting a 4″ 800 x 480 capacitive screen, 8MP rear camera, a front facing camera, 32GB internal storage, 3G, Bluetooth, WIFI, A-GPS, DIVX support and Ovi Maps preloaded. This device will be advertised as a true “all-in-one”, with special emphasis placed on navigation and the aftermarket car cradle that can be purchased. This handset will also be shown to handle true multi-tasking and will have a built in client that handles feeds from Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, MySpace, Yahoo etc with full Contacts integration. The new flagship will also ship with Terminal Mode. Nokia will use this specific feature to not only re-enforce the navigation abilities of the device, but to also highlight the high-end market they would like the device to be associated with. The current plans are very impressive; the adverts will look like a typical offering from BMW or Audi, until you are shown a Nokia in the hand of the drive as they exit the car, and you realise that the instructions playing over the speakers and the route displayed on the vehicle’s built-in screen were sent from the Nokia device. That’s “Connecting People” in a whole new way.  While many have been assuming that this will be an N Series device, Nokia are considering at a very high level the launch of a new series. There is belief that the market will find it easier to recognise this as a brand new offering rather than just another iteration, which in turn is easier to sell on to consumers. I believe that many of Nokia’s most vocal supporters will see this as a positive step, as it gives them the ability to truly emphasise a departure from the past.

I am led to believe that the tablet device will be a MeeGo based product with a 7″ 800 x 480 capacitive display, 16GB internal storage,  WIFI, Bluetooth, 5MP camera, A-GPS and Ovi Maps preloaded with optional 3G. The tablet will be preloaded with a plethora of cloud and desktop based applications, revolving around art (paint and sketch programs), entertainment (media player with various codec support, flash games, browser) and creativity (note pad, voice recorder,  image & video editors). The biggest drawback for this device at present relates to the e-book market. While the tablet market is fairly undefined in terms of definitive use cases, with the majority of iPad owners purely web browsing, it is expected for a tablet to have the ability to replace an e-book reader to some degree. To this end Nokia are hoping to have a Kindle application pre-installed at launch, but this is no easy task. Not everyone within Espoo believes this is necessary at launch, but it remains to be seen whether this short-sighted view is allowed to win the debate.

I have no knowledge of names for these devices nor have I been privy to any glimpses of the IDs, but I do believe that these are the two devices that the global market leader intended to launch in the 3rd quarter of 2010, but have now been delayed until the 4th quarter. I hope I have toned this down a little so as not to over-emphasise the grandeur of the occasion, but please rest assured in the knowledge that what will unfold before your eyes over the next 12 months will be fascinating to observe as there are only two definitive outcomes – the toppling of the PND industry and Apple being de-throned as the market leader in smartphones, or Nokia’s dominating empire crumbling to ground as Samsung destroyers their defence built on Terminal Mode, Navteq & MeeGo.

Nokia’s plan for World Domination: Part One

June 23, 2010 1 comment

I raised my head above the water a few weeks ago, asking why no one seems to have recognised the big plans Nokia are making. Over the last few days a few blog sites have started to pick up on some rumours on this topic, but they have still failed to identify the true goal, so I will now share it with you.

Nokia believe that the key to regaining their status as the premium brand and fend off the rising threats of Samsung, RiM and of course Apple,  is the PND industry.

When it comes to consumer focused mobile innovation, Nokia has been more of a follower than a leader. Their share of the global market (over 30%) has never been due to producing “best in class” devices, its always been about familiarity. Their customers are loyal, having grown up with Nokia devices that have always matched their needs. This allowed the Finnish giant to become complacent, focusing more on market share (i.e. iteration over innovation) and bringing exuberant smiles to shareholders’ faces.

While Nokia was counting the coin, the market was changing. A company that refused to make flip phones because it was “simply a fad” and in the early days refused to jump onto the 3G bandwagon as it “wasn’t what their customers wanted” was slowly being forced to take notice of the world around them. They saw that Motorola had risen again from the ashes, only to quickly be overthrown by Samsung. Sony Ericsson with their Walkman devices were making waves, only for LG and HTC to clip their wings as they seemingly released new “best in class” devices month after month. And of course, there’s the iPhone. Due to its size and lack of true direction, Nokia’s reactions to these new and varied threats have not all been positive. While recognising the need for change, they were struggling to identify the best way in which to achieve their goals. Their attempts to use their engineering superiority to win customers spectacularly failed – this is after all a world where the all-conquering iPhone fails to handle a simple 3G to 2G handover, but their customers are more than satisfied.

The truth is that Nokia has always known that its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness – its UI. Without delving into too much detail, they knew it needed an overall almost 3 years ago but recognised that such an undertaking would amount to a lot of pain and suffering. In a market that evolves as quickly as this however, delaying the task was only ever going to make things worse. This again was always known, and devices like the N85 were released to simply buy them time while they got on with the painstaking process.

Well before the N85 however, in the middle of brainstorming this redesigned UI, it became clear that a new UI alone is not enough. No matter how good it is, without the developer support that Windows Mobile and the then new iPhone seemed to have, along with that unique “cool” factor thrown in by Apple, there was no way they would be able to get across how a great a difference this new UI really is. Software still being the key, they had to look for a marquee feature that would set them apart; something that would open up new revenue streams and have their name associated with an entirely new and modern function. The answer of course, was Navteq. In 2007 this purchase had already been marked for differing reasons, but by the middle of 2008 with the purchase just coming to completion, it became clear that there was an even bigger part this company had to play in Nokia’s future, bigger than anyone had ever realised.

While many recognised that Nokia was heading down a different road, it was still not read as a market altering purchase, as navigation on mobile phones was still seen as slow, clunky and just not fit for purpose. at this stage the analysis was indeed correct, but only in the short term. Google finally releasing one of the worst kept secrets in the industry – their free navigation app – opened the eyes of the world to the true potential of not just navigation on mobile devices, but location-based services. This had been seen as a potential growth area for years, but concerns over hardware, especially battery life issues had hindered investment. Google releasing their free navigation product however immediately squashed that barrier, since it was clear that as long as its free, people are willing to take the hit on battery.

We return to the Espoo base of Nokia, where the realisation of what free means to the industry fully hit home. The writing on the wall was clear – within 2 years, navigation products on mobile handsets would be seen in the same light as the calendar app – simply a standard utility. Many believe that this forced s drastic re-think of their strategy, but I very much doubt this was the case. Nokia already had plans in place to setup a standard API for interfacing with vehicles, recognising that being able to share information between devices (including map data) would be one of the marquee features for mobile devices over the coming years. they are still following their original plan, just at an increased pace.

Over the last few months Nokia has signed deals for the use of their Terminal Mode technology with some of the planet’s most well known car manufacturers including BMW, Daimler, Fiat, Audi, VW and Porsche. From the OEM and after-market side they have deals already in place with Alpine, Clarion and Harman Becker. These deals allow Nokia devices to connect either wired or wireless to a car’s infotainment system, potentially providing diagnostic information, music and navigation to the vehicle. The potential for this type of integration, and the choices it can offer to a user are simply incredible. While the world has been focused on purely convergence, bringing as much functionality to a mobile as possible, Nokia has recognised that there is another way. Imagine but for a moment, the ability to use a device the size of a Palm Pre for in-car navigation by having the map displayed on the built in screen in the car. Maybe you use your pocket-sized device to view movie trailers on the car’s LCD display before heading into the cinema. What Nokia’s Terminal Mode APIs allow are for smaller, more pocketable devices to still offer the same multi-purpose functionality of their larger brethren, without sacrificing a larger screen. It would no longer be necessary to only look at devices such as the HTC Incredible or Evo 4G with their +4 inch displays if you intend to use your phone for navigation. Handsets the size of Sony Ericsson’s Xperia X10 mini with its 2.55 inch screen become a lot more appealing. You can even “go large” with something the size of the HTC HD Mini with its spacious 3.2 inch display.

Questions are already being asked when it comes to screen sizes and where the breaking point is and many would note that Apple has not increased their screen size on the new iPhone, although there are also technical reasons for this. This type of option for smaller devices brings this discussion forward, as more alternatives are presented. Let’s not forget that while the new functionality coming to devices from Nokia is unique to the market, there is another, more established reason why smaller handsets could be appealing. Tethering for tablet devices such as the iPad is already being recognised as a viable alternative to purchasing a tablet with built in 3G. The opportunity to have a small handset and a tablet tethered offers the best of both worlds whilst undoubtedly being more cost-effective at the same time. A small device offers maximum portability, but when a bag is easily taken there’s no problem bringing along a 7 inch tablet for reading or browsing on the go.

This is Nokia’s grand plan, but only part of it. There are new devices involved as you would expect, and one or two in particular will be flagship products in their attempts to establish a new market category and ultimately, World Domination….

Who loves their iPhone?

Today being the day it is, it would be impossible to not mention a little something on the iPhone.

While no one would argue that the iPhone as a product category has revolutionised the mobile marketplace, could the same be said for raw hardware? The most interesting thing about the love affair the public seems to have with all things Apple, the very same public show the most disdain for the things that Apple has had the most say in.

Let’s break this down a little. The most popular applications on the iPhone are Google Maps, Youtube app, Facebook, Pandora, Skype, dedicated news apps etc. These applications and of course the thousands of games are what iPhone lovers refer to when they talk about the iPhone. The biggest part Apple plays in this is of course with iTunes on the mac or pc, an application almost universally hated for its ‘bloatedness’ and poor usability. This is so far a software based discussion and maybe that’s unfair since Apple created the device these applications run on. What is there to say about the actually hardware? the device doesn’t have the biggest screen although some would say its the best in all conditions (I have not seen any direct comparison with the Samsung Super Amoled screen as yet), it doesn’t have the fastest processor, nor the largest potential memory capacity, nor the best GPS performance, nor network reception, nor camera… In fact the iPhone is bested by at least a half-dozen other phones for hardware.

Apple knows however that none of this matters. Apple will today announce another phone with a nice screen (high resolution but small enough to not actually matter for most  usage including video), but one that is already bettered on the market in terms of hardware. You won’t notice this however, as in the same breathe they announce the phone with, they’ll also be telling you all of the  “incredible applications” you can purchase for it.

The iPhone is simply a platform, not a complete phone. When you receive it in your hands out of the box its the most incomplete smartphone on the market. To complete it you have to download applications, there’s just no way around this simple fact. You don’t love the iPhone, you love your applications.

Think of it like this – if you could have the same applications on a HTC Evo 4G or the new iPhone announced today, which would you choose?

Google & privacy…

It would seem that this is the most opportune of moments to address something that I have touched upon in an earlier post. With the news today of the class action lawsuit against Google, its clear that serious questions are about to be asked about the data they are collecting.

As I explained in a previous post, the interpretation by the general public to Google giving away features and applications is almost always deemed to be for “the greater good”. While there is a recognition that Google as a company have certain interests in the internet, most seem to assume that for example they will make their money from Google Docs when they sell the complete solution to various corporations; the public is simply being used as guinea pigs to test their software. While there is some truth in the latter statement, there is a large question mark on whether people realise what Google’s main source of income is.

Maybe its simply that most people look at their usage of applications and the internet at large as a collection of separate experiences, with merely coincidental overlay.  It could be that people have no real interest in their privacy online and see discussion on the matter as simply unnecessary.  I believe however that the Google brand is seen as so trusting to the public, that any concerns regarding privacy and the use of their personal data are just pushed to the side. The differences in belief between Google and Facebook is very interesting in this debate. On the face of it we give far more personal data to Facebook than to Google and we have seen the side affects this has in the media, as Facebook continues to try to monetise this information as quickly as possible. The most interesting thing however is that the vairous complaints from mainly the technology press has had no more affect than a strong gust of wind on willow tree.  Branches have been shaken a little and maybe something like a leaf or two has fallen off but thats it. Facebook, in response to this “overwhelming media pressure” simply re-organised the presentation of privacy settings for user accounts but continue to go forward with harvesting  data any way they can. There has been no mass loss of users, no big ongoing campaign on Facebook itself to do more, nothing. What we can take from this situation is that as long as you provide a service that people like for free, you will have to do a lot more than “simply” sell their data to turn them away.

Google is on Easy Street right now. Just as everyone has accepted that they scan your emails on your gmail account and provide ads based on the content, track your location with Google Maps, track every search you make and record every website you visit, people will not flap an eyelid at their (accidental) WIFI snooping ways or almost anything else they do any time soon. Don’t assume though that this is just an ignorant stance to take regarding your privacy. Without a lot of money and serious professional help its almost impossible to go “off the grid” these days. When you have companies such as Netflix saying that they can build a pretty accurate profile of a person based on simply their rental history, you have to realise we’re simply living in a different world.  Hiding from “The Man” is not the only reason to be concerned about your data of course and it is right to be wary of one company holding so much information about you. One “solution” of sorts is spreading your information around by using different email and search providers, clearing your cache after every browsing session, avoiding any devices on the Android platform, shopping at different supermarkets and general stores, avoiding loyalty cards, only using cash for purchases, only buying films rather than renting….

We have to realise that our own desire for comfortable, easy living has created the opportunities for a companies like Google , Apple (they could potentially have a history of your phone, music selection, movies and tv series, books, laptops, macs) or any number of others to try to provide all of the services that you need to live your life the way you want. Everything comes at a cost however and while we may not see the price upfront, we have to remember that it is always there being paid by us with our sacrificing of more and more of our personal data. The issue of privacy ultimately comes down to a question, and the answer to that question defines exactly what you can and are willing to do regarding protecting your privacy. The question is simple: how important is convenience in your life?

Google is just another company…

Google’s entire aim is to simply push people online, why would they care about perceived fragmentation of a platform they make no money from? The best example of what we’ll call Google’s “Dual Support” is Firefox. Google created their own browser to push people to the internet even faster, and yet they still financially support FF. Why? Because all roads lead to the same money pit. It doesn’t matter how people get online, only that they do. Pushing innovation in browsers of all kinds is the right move to make for their bottom line.

Some might call it a long con, but its really just sound investment. Everything they do that enhances the way in which people get connected and stay connected pushes innovation throughout the market. Ultimately this means that whether you’re using a Google platform or browser or something from their competitors, you’re still getting online faster than ever and giving them access to you faster (if you use Google for your searches of course).

Google seems to be filled with some of the most visionary business minds in the industry. They fully recognise that regardless of your size, constant innovation should not only be encouraged, it should be a mandatory requirement. In an industry that is constantly evolving, the only way to stay relevant is to lead from the front. Gone are the days when someone like Microsoft could come in after Apple and dominate the market with inferior products; today almost exclusively, to win the race you have to lead from the start.

Well I think that’s the first full rant completed! Please feel free to comment on any and everything said on this blog. I’m just as interested in hearing equal or opposing views as I am venting my frustrations!

Google Is Your Friend…

Since we’ve all been enjoying Google IO recently, it seems fitting that the first little rant I expunge is on that little advertising company.

It seems that what Google have realised is people put no value in something that’s free. Simply because Google releases so many free programs and features, people just ignore the end goal. It could be said of course that the end goal for Google is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said, but how true is this belief?

I see some of the frankly comical pieces from technology blogs, demanding that Google unify the Android platform and wonder how these people have never asked the obvious question – how does that benefit Google? By ‘design’ Android is a platform that will always be fragmented, simply because it is being used in devices with differing functionality. Why would a TV need to have the same OS as a tablet device? Its interesting that on a basic level (why does Android need to be on a TV?) these questions are asked, but the thoughts of many never seem to go further.

Ultimately it is down to device manufacturers to decide if they want their phones or tablets defined by the free OS that anyone can have or their own custom applications that set their devices apart. A manufacturer will never want their device defined by an OS anyone can have, there is simply no commercial sense in that line of thinking.

As for Google, they are not interested in empowering geeks with whatever they want; Google are simply trying to get people online as conveniently as possible. Why? They are a web based advertising company and they want to continue making money. Is there anything wrong with that? Of course not, but it is always important to remember when you are signing up to the latest free Google service.

Facebook could learn a thing or two from Google. If they gave away free features before trying to acquire personal data , they’d probably have maybe half the info on their users that Google has in theirs…