Nokia – Driving mobile innovation

I have lusted for iPhone, but resisted the temptation. I’ve read about developing software for iPhone platform, but resisted learning more than just some basics as I don’t fancy Objective-C and have seen enough postings about the insanity of AppStore approval process.

From development perspective Android seems the perfect one for me, as it is such a good fit with existing and active Java-programming skills. However none of the phones that I have seen so far has yet impressed or reassured me on their quality. But Android is definitely bubbling under platform and moves which Google does in the US are definitely worthwhile to follow through as they are clear signals of change within telecommunications and mobile services sector. If Google gets their way, it might be that future of using mobile online services on your phone will be much cheaper, entertaining and faster than today, subsidized by marketers who want to be able to offer information and promotions for you.

Back in the day it used to be that operators wanted to be the gatekeepers and providers for consumers – in the prehistoric internet as well as in mobile services. More or less all those plays failed as more competent players came into the competition and won the game with faster and more innovative offerings, which made walled gardens look silly. As far as I know only very selected few gatekeeper services have been really successful ( ie. NTT Docomo ) in very selected markets. iPhone’s AppStore was and is also a gatekeeper service and it shall be seen what the future will be when the critical mass of dissatisfied developers becomes large enough and good, alternative sexy platforms exist.

Google is in quite unique position to offer truly remarkable services to consumers that work as a platform and set Google to be the de facto gatekeeper on how users communicate, access data and services online – whether on traditional computer or on mobile device. I have to applaud Google for their strategy as it is very cunning and innovative. Competitors will be in a really tight spot as they have to compete and innovate against really good services that are essentially free for the consumer and have amazing name recognition in consumer minds. Google’s ability to grow on top of their technological platform is spectacular. Even though Google’s products’ first versions might not be as good as competitors’ current versions – the bleeding edge, every version will get better and better and customers will choose the free product more often than not. And as Google’s success is dependent on usage of their services and their leadership status in users’ minds, they will work hard to create and innovate new world changing services and features. And that is good – for us as consumers as well as for all competitors. Competition is good.

And competition is especially good for Nokia. Nokia has had it’s share of insane luck, bad choises and real blunders – but no one can deny that they have also managed to create great business with nicely designed and manufactured hardware. The question for the future is software and services – fields where Apple and Google have been eating Nokia’s lunch for some years now. But the tide might be turning and signals from the company and from people who work there give hope on much more interesting future also for Nokia.

Below the surface Nokia has been making lot’s of good strategic moves, but haven’t really created big waves on the surface. Launch of N900 is – I assume – beginning of a new era and new path for innovative Nokia services and devices. As I previously wrote N900 is first Nokia device in ages to really get exited about, as a consumer device it is beautiful and works well, as a piece of hardware it is impressive but most importantly it is also extremely interesting software development platform.

As a developer who is less than happy to look at C or C++ code and library APIs, I am more than happy to see that Maemo 5 will become a platform with proven core libraries ( GTK, QT, Debian Linux based core ) and with ability to develop or prototype applications with rapid high level languages, namely Python. Nokia’s push for Qt is really impressive and smart move, as it allows developers to leverage common knowledge of one widget / development system in multiple platforms and port their applications both to Maemo-devices which are definitely cool devices but lack the numbers in market and to S60-platform which are mainstream smart phones sold in millions.

From device and software-platform perspective things look interesting and ripe for new opportunities, but Nokia has yet to show how they can produce and leverage compelling and commercially lucrative services that capture users’ daily usage and needs – and make them also open their wallets. Next versions of ”Comes with music” or ”Includes TV-shows and movies” could be it, or possibly even some kind of lifestyle services ( remember the Nokia Sports Tracker ) where Nokia devices are elemental piece of equation which produces value for the consumer.

So competition is good. Apple and Google have shown to Nokia that they have to step up in the game or they are bound to become and end up as just another device manufacturer without diversification supporting them in downturns of handset sales. Driving mobile innovation as a slogan has started to sound good again and I have my hopes up on N900 success, as well as new interesting things coming from Salo and Keilaniemi.

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