Someone get Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo to scream “services, services, services!” a la Steve Ballmer. At Nokia Showcase 2010, execs and designers made it clear that the company thinks its future lies with providing better services. “We want to provide an interesting experience to customers” said Jukka Hosio, Director Services Marketing, Location. “And it’s all about the services we offer through our phones.”
The focus was all on services for the media event, which saw regional media converge on Bangkok at Nokia’s expense. Now new phones were showcased; save for announcements of the N900 and the X6 finally hitting markets in Southeast Asia and the Pacific through official channels, practically no product names escaped the lips of Nokia execs and designers.
And the star attraction was navigation. Nokia wants to maximize its acquisition of Naviteq. The maker is offering Ovi Maps, a complete navigation solution, for free. Starting March 2010, it will come pre-installed on all Nokia phones equipped with GPS hardware, and is available to existing users as a download through nokia.com/maps. Nokia wants everyone to know that they’ve optimized their map app for the mobile experience, citing data consumption that’s 1/10 of Google Maps’.
What About the Hardware?
Through presentations and scheduled interviews, Nokia painted a pretty good picture of Ovi Maps—which included highlighting favorable reactions of the software from established publications like Gizmodo and CNET. But does this mean the maker will forget about the other important aspect of building a good mobile phone, the hardware?
Nokia has always released reasonably-priced phones complete with features. But its traditional reliance on underpowered hardware has hamstrung the end-user experience. Competing devices, even those that are more expensive while featuring less functionality, have stolen some thunder by being more responsive and powerful hardware-wise.
Quick tests of Ovi Maps on the N97 make the potential of the app clear. It not only allows navigation via driving, but walking as well. And with Naviteq painstakingly compiling map info through teams that scour the globe, the number of countries supported (currently 74) is set to grow. Unfortunately, the overall sluggishness of the app—on one of Nokia’s most powerful phones—made it a chore to use.
Getting Things Right
If the N900 is any indication, Nokia is at least aware of this problem. The Maemo-powered phone not only features comprehensive functionality, it’s powerful and extremely responsive. Nokia is also set to release Symbian^3, a new version of the software used to drive most of its phones. It promises a more responsive—if somewhat similar to competitors—user-interface.
While working on this however, Nokia also wants to offer more options to its customers. Aside from the potential opportunities made possible by mapping services, there are plans to offer a more customizable user-interface. Again similar to what’s already available from competitors, users will be able create multiple home screens and customize it in any way possible. To paraphrase Nikki Barton, Head of Digital Design, the plan is to keep things simple but make more versatility and complexity easily available to users who want them.
And what about the common criticism that Nokia’s wide range of models complicates things for developers, by requiring them to develop for different devices with different capabilities? Vice President of Sales in Southeast Asia Pacific Chris Parr assures that a “layer” will help abstract everything for programmers, so that what they develop will work properly on different Nokia phones. Maybe we can get Mr. Parr to scream “developers, developers, developers”? Both sound hard to pull off, but let’s see.
Let’s See Indeed!
In fact, let’s see how quickly Nokia can implement its plans and promises. It’s hard to change the limitations of hardware that’s already out on the market, so let’s see if future Nokia models have enough power to provide a more user-friendly experience and fulfill the company’s vision of appealing phones with relevant services.
Save for Ovi Maps—which they are rightfully highlighting as a competitive advantage—Nokia is clearly playing catch-up to its competitors. Even the promise of Symbian^3 is more a statement of fulfilling market expectations, instead of coming up with something genuinely new. But for the world smartphone leader, merely catching up is enough to retain its dominance.
Nokia has professed an all-inclusive and customer-friendly stance. They want to give their users a more responsive yet comprehensive experience, and they’ve endlessly highlighted how they are making it easier for developers to create apps for Nokia phones. But, will these statements lead to real results? And most importantly, how will the market respond?