By Derek Lakin
I was lucky enough to be invited to attend Nokia World 2011, though due to work commitments I could only make it for the first day. Despite a disrupted start due to our wonderful rail service I eventually arrived at the conference centre much later than planned, but in time for the keynote … just! I skipped coffee and a croissant and made my way across the vast expanse of seats to find an empty one, just in time for the keynote to start. Here’s my thoughts and commentary on it all from the point-of-view of an existing Windows Phone user and developer.
As with any keynote, it kicked off with the usual introductory stuff about this being the biggest Nokia World ever with over 3000 attendees from a wide range of countries. Stephen Elop then went on to talk about the story of a guy named Talal from Beirut and how we’re all shaped by our experiences and how mobile technology expands those experiences. Over the last twelve months at Nokia there’s been a strategy shift to enable them to deliver better mobile experiences. “We’re playing to win”
On the whole, the keynote focused primarily on two key areas: new devices for emerging markets and two new Nokia devices for Windows Phone. After his keynote introduction, Stephen Elop welcomed Blanca Juti on stage to talk about the new devices for emerging markets.
There’s the usual round of facts and figures about what Nokia are already doing in emerging markets: dual-SIM phones that use the Easy SWAP technology to change SIM on the fly and the halo effect of these devices is boosting sales on other devices. Nokia already have 7 different devices that include Near Field Communications (NFC) technology, and the recently released N9, which sold out on the first day in their flagship Russian store in Moscow.
The strategy here is all about bridging the digital divide and bringing access to the internet via mobile devices to “the next billion”, the youth of emerging markets. Nokia are already producing 12 phones per second in this sector and at Nokia World they announced 4 new phones under the name Nokia Asha (which is Hindi, meaning “hope”).
Blanca introduced a number of (presumably fictitious) personas from different emerging countries and described their lifestyle and mobile needs. Each one was ideally suited to one of the four phones in the Asha range. Generally speaking, they were brightly coloured, had a keypad of some sort (some QWERTY, some numeric), two were had touch screens, were low cost, and all come with a Nokia browser that is powered by the cloud and compress data by up to 90% to give a faster and cheaper browsing experience.
Adding some more numbers to reinforce the potential of these emerging markets, of a population in India of 1.2 billion people, there are only 63 million internet connections, but 830 million mobile phones. This focus on and access to emerging markets is also a great thing for Windows Phone (more coming next) and to Windows Phone developers. Nokia’s presence and reach in this area will also bring opportunities to app developers being able to reach a potentially huge audience.
You can get the full details on the four Nokia Asha phones from the Nokia website.
Nokia Lumia 800
Next came the bit we’ve all been waiting for, Windows Phone! According to Stephen Elop, there is still space in the core design of smartphones for improvement and the world is ready for something new. From Nokia’s point-of-view, that comes in the shape of the Nokia Lumia 800(in cyan, magenta or black). If the attendees at Nokia World are the “Nokia faithful”, then they are well and truly behind Nokia betting the smartphone farm on Windows Phone. The Lumia 800 received rapturous applause and whoops from the audience. Lumia means light and is a new dawn for Nokia.
The Lumia 800 focuses on the essential elements, which results in harmony. It was described as being “the first real Windows Phone”. Nokia are planning to be the leaders in smartphone design.
Next, Kevin Fields was introduced on stage and gave us a Steve Ballmer-esque moment when he screamed “It looks AWESOME!” Once our ears had stopped bleeding, he went on to describe how it fits and feels great in your hand, screams premium, delivers great antenna performance due in part to the polycarbonate case, and that it’s a “beauty on the outside and beast on the inside.”
He then went on to show off the Windows Phone operating system focusing primarily on live tiles, social connections, the People, Pictures, and Games hubs, and IE9 for mobile browsing, for which he demoed the BBC’s Metro-inspired beta website.
What was really interesting to see was the software differentiation that Nokia are offering on their Windows Phones. During the keynote we were presented with three key apps that are exclusive to Nokia devices.
Nokia drive is a full voice-guided, turn-by-turn navigation application that enables you to download and install maps ahead of time, but with on-demand downloads as and when required. It has support for predictive destinations based on a database of 69 million destinations and has a dedicated car-focused landscape mode.
Nokia Music gives you a Pandora/Spotify/Last.fm-style music radio experience based around genre-specific mixes that you can listen to whenever you want, completely free and completely without subscription or sign-up of any kind. You can create your own mixes based on up to 3 artists of your choosing and, best of all, you can download up to 4 mixes for offline listening. You need to “refresh” an offline mix to update the content and renew the license, but that’s the only restriction. There is also an MP3 store for to purchase music from, all of which is saved with your regular music content, which you can also access. Finally, Nokia Music offers a Music DNA service to scan your music and create mixes based on your existing music content. My understanding is that this is done from a separate desktop app, though wasn’t on demo in the Experience area.
ESPN Sports Hub
This app is still in development, but far exceeds the current free ESPN Goals app for Windows Phone to provide a hub experience for different sports, teams, leagues, news, and scores and enables you to pin your favorite leagues and teams to the Start screen.
Nokia Lumia 710
The Nokia Lumia 710 is Nokia’s second offering this year for Windows Phone and is their “affordable” offering. It shares the same processor and graphics as the 800, comes with the same Nokia-specific apps, but comes with a black or white face and replaceable back covers in a gloss or matte finish in a range of colours to match your live tiles.
With the key stuff out of the way, the keynote finished off with some marketing talk how the marketing for the Lumia is aimed at the 25 year old in all of us (though primarily the actual 25 year olds). The slogan is “The Amazing Everyday” and the campaign has already started with a range of activities including setting up a sauna at a bus stop and having people dressed as live tiles running through traffic! We were also treated to a direct link to the factory in Finland where actual Lumia 800 boxes were putting put into the retail boxes to be shipped to the 31 operators and retailers across the UK, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands (and one other country I can’t remember) for sale in November.
Sessions and Speakers
The rest of the day comprised of enjoying the Experience area and a number of speaker sessions and hands-on experiences. Sessions such as that presented by Joe Belfiore were standing room only with a crowd outside the room, too, so it was awesome to see Windows Phone receiving so much attention and interest.
My Thoughts on the Lumia 800
The Experience area at Nokia World gave us all the opportunity to get hands-on with the devices, the new Nokia Purity headphones, and the various software offerings, so I got my hands on a Lumia 800 to see how it compares to other devices I own and I’ve used.
The design is clean and crisp and very much in keeping with the Metro design of the Windows Phone operating system that powers it. The USB port and SIM slot are hidden away and all the buttons are on one side of the case. The case is not removable, and so neither is the battery. It undeniably fits well in your hand and feels light and comfortable. I like that the top edge is uninterrupted and clean and that all the external buttons are clean and simple and on one side of the case. The hardware is good and keeps the phone running at a nice pace, and the camera is what you’d expect from expect from the Nokia stable.
However, I have a few gripes. To me, the polycarbonate case just feels like plastic and does not “scream premium”. The screen is clean, crisp, and vibrant, but seems small at only 3.7″ But, perhaps the most glaring omission is that there’s no front facing camera! With Skype for Windows Phone surely just around the corner this would seem to be a glaring omission for the phone billed to be “the first real Windows Phone”. Apparently they agonised over every decision on what to leave out as much as they did every decision on what to put in, but in my opinion, to compete with new Mango hardware like the awesome HTC TITAN, they should have agonised some more! Many people have said that a Nokia Windows Phone would be the only brand that would take them away from their iPhone, but would the absence of a Facetime replacement make them think twice?
Given that Nokia were apparently given free reign to differentiate on both hardware and software, the Nokia Lumia 800 feels like a first generation device (albeit with mango). It’s a really nice design, but from the hardware and design, not enough to make me want to swap my TITAN for a Lumia 800.
The software differentiation on the other hand is a completely different story. I’m not a sports fan, but I can see the appeal for a large audience with the ESPN Sports Hub and the Nokia Drive and Nokia Music offerings give excellent value for now additional cost, which is remarkable!
Nokia World has a very different feel to the Microsoft conferences that I’ve been to; there are a lot more suits and marketing/sales executive types and someone with a camera (video or still) everywhere you turn. Unlike the regimented education-focused style of BUILD, PDC, and MIX, this felt like a much more relaxed and networking-based event.
I think Nokia have made a good strong start with the Lumia 800 and 710 and are moving in the right direction. We can expect to see a portfolio of products coming next year.
I think their presence in emerging markets and general brand strength will help to boost Windows Phone sales in general and that their effort and clear commitment to marketing will boost this even further. While I think they can do better with their devices, their software differentiation should be a wake up call to other manufacturers.