Nokia Smartphones : Needs to shape up for the competiton

StockPhoto-Closeup of young men and women holding cellphoneThe worlds largest cell phone maker is gasping for the next killer phone. Something that would catapult it in the “talking league”; make it the darling of the masses and make it the “must have gadget” this holiday weekend; a la’ iPhone.

For once, I am talking about Nokia and it’s grand failure to conceptualise a burgeoning market of smart phones, it’s obstinacy to stick on with a dated operating system and a systematic market failure.

Why should the smart phone market be important? Apple iPhone is a runaway success despite it’s limited functionality. Yet, it has been able to tap in the mobile segment where the returns on the investment are high as compared to the dime a dozen Chinese made handsets for the “mass market”. As Moore’s law shrinks the processors and makes them more powerful, the smartphones are becoming more extension of mobile computing making them more important “on the go” for a cross section of users. They also remain aspirational for people who are willing to “upgrade” their handsets.

Why would an Apple iPhone be such a success? For once, I can comfortably claim that it is an extension of Steve Jobs’ “reality distortion effect”. Despite a “stunted hardware” in terms of a useless camera or no functional buttons, Apple has been able to market it effectively by brilliant menu design and amazing touch screen interface. Further, as it happens with any of Apple’s products, they seem to come up with something “new” with every product release and making it easier for most of the users to upgrade atleast in some of the markets where it is sold piggy backing the marketing muscle of the telecom carriers. Smartphones have gone beyond the typically targeted “business users” to daily usage.

Where did Nokia flounder? It stuck on, obstinately, to a dated user interface which does not justify the fancy price tag that Nokia demanded. It’s useless Symbian OS looked jaded in front of others because a significant amount of effort was pushed in to improve the other operating systems; like Android and Palm Pre designed from ground up or souped up Mac OS for Apple iPhone. In many cases, companies like Palm and Motorola fought back by addressing the needs of specific users by focussing on social networks or gaming. Nokia had one of the earliest touch screen phones but obviously failed to capitalise on that because of dated hardware.

Nokia might just be making amends on the same. I own a E63 handset for the past 10 months; the phone is great for daily usage. It is backed by a humongous battery, an extremely efficient and an easy way to set up email, decent WiFi and above average call clarity. For me, this was the primary concern; although the QWERTY keypad is a boon for quick SMS or typing out the emails. The loaded up address book is a decent effort and I extended the available memory by a hot swappable 4GB card which is good enough to hold my emails, attachments and occasional songs. All for an affordable price tag.

Yet; as compared to the other comparable smartphones, the camera is extremely rudimentary with no fancy optics. Nokia browser is perhaps one of the worst implementation of what a ‘net access’ can be and I wonder as to why they would even bother with it’s development. Opera Mini is light years ahead in implementation and those accessing the Internet on limited usage data plans would only more than appreciate Opera Mini’s brilliant product.

The worst for the last. Nokia’s flagship “application store” named as Ovi deserves to be pulled down if Nokia doesn’t want to suffer any more embarrassment. But then, they are persisting on with a passionate stupidity that is hard to explain specifically when the “applications” to extend the basic functionality abound for other platforms.

N900 / MaemoIn the face of it, Nokia has failed miserably in the most demanding market. This might however, change with the launch of Nokia N900 with Maemo Linux. That’s the mobile version of venerable Debian Linux and that has got me excited to know more about it. It sounds good in theory when Nokia claims it as a mobile computer but to have the same “marketing machinery” is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Truth be told. I had specifically emailed to Nokia’s press contacts for getting a test version because I wanted to get the first hand account of how mobile Linux would hold up against the God of all smartphones; the Apple iPhone. A souped up Debian against Mac Operating System? Open Source has definitely matured beyond it’s earliest implementation of command line interface alone. However, no one even bothered to acknowledge the receipt of the email.

Nokia still has a long way to go for the next “killer phone”. If it hopes to get it’s bearings right and crack the lucrative smart phone market, Nokia has to pro actively engage it’s stake holders, potential customers as well as tone up it’s applications store to reflect the changed market dynamics. Or else be relegated to the sidelines as another “mass market” mobile manufacturer.

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