Nokia: The empire strikes back


LONDON: Nokia brushed off its recent top management reshuffle and used its annual Nokia World conference here to signal that it is not ready to give up in the high stakes smartphone battle despite being overshadowed by the competition, such as Apple’s iPhone and Google Android devices.

In fact the company came out swinging and took some well-aimed digs at the two competitors, its fiercest rivals in the smartphone space now.

Apple was first in the firing line as Nokia made fun of its senior vice-president of iOS software, Scott Forstall, for inadvertently using the Finnish company’s well known tagline “Connecting People” in a video.

“For us, it is not just a feel-good tagline, it’s our mission,” said Nokia executive vice-president for markets Niklas Savander in his opening keynote.

The company also said that it sold more smartphones than Apple and Android combined in the last quarter.

“On average people buy 260,000 Nokia smartphones every day — that’s more smartphones sales than any other company by far. Period,” Savander added.

Ever since Nokia started making Symbian 60-based smartphones, it has shipped 300 million devices to date and currently holds just over 40% of the market share, the company said.

Savander also reinforced Nokia’s strategy to continue making handsets to cater to different market segments and user experiences despite opinions that the company should concentrate on just the high-end smartphone section.

“We will continue to expand the availability of smartening features because everyone — not just the well-off — should have easy access to the Internet and modern mobile communications,” he said.

Savander added that Nokia was not going to apologise for the fact that it wasn’t Apple or Google or anybody else. “We’re Nokia and we’re unique,” he said.

He also spoke about the company’s push into the mobile location and navigation space and said that — contrary to popular perception — it is Nokia, not Google, that is the leader in mobile navigation.

He said that Ovi Maps is far less data hungry than Google Maps because it is optimised for mobile use. In terms of global reach, he said Ovi Maps is available in 78 countries and 46 languages.

The reason that Nokia is intent on “owning” the mobile location and navigation space is because more than 800 million people will have access to GPS-enabled phones by 2013, Savander said.

“Your phone will be able to analyse your location, friend’s locations and take into account your tastes and needs. This ‘science fiction’ story is now in place and soon everyone will have a coordinate. The impact of this is huge,” he said.

The fightback

Despite delivering stinging ripostes to Nokia’s competitors, Savander admitted that the company hasn’t been as competitive as it wants to be in the smartphone space.

But he quickly added that all that was about to change as the company is about to shift into high gear to regain the spotlight in smartphone leadership.

“Nevermind the past. Today is about the here and now, about three words: Nokia is back.”

Spearheading the fightback are four new models — the previously-announced N8 entertainment phone, the C6 and C7 for social network users, and the E7, which is the successor to the business-centric Communicator (see sidebar).

At the heart of these new phones is the new Symbian ^3 operating system, which was talked-up by outgoing Nokia executive vice-president for mobile solutions, Anssi Vanjoki.

He began his keynote by vigorously defending the new Symbian OS against criticism that it is the same old system by those who have just looked at screenshots of it.

“It’s like dismissing the performance of a new car with a new turbo-charged engine before driving it just because the dashboard looks familiar,” Vanjoki told the audience.

He said the majority of improvements are under the hood with over 250 new features and enhancements such as support for multiple home screens, visual multitasking, gesture-based interactions and a noticeable reduction in prompts.

The new devices, which are also tightly integrated with enhanced Ovi services and apps, reinforce the company’s vision of a mobile industry that is increasingly being defined by socially connected, location-based devices and experiences.

The phones will include a completely updated Ovi Store that promises a friendlier user interface and a new collections feature to quickly access popular apps and games available now, or soon, such as Foursquare, Angry Birds and Need for Speed Shift.

There will also be free access to the latest beta release of Ovi Maps which amongst others, adds visibility to subways, trams and trains in 85 cities around the world, real-time traffic, safety alerts in or out of navigation mode and speed limit warnings.

In addition, there are improved search capabilities and users can share their location immediately via text messages or e-mail to other browser-enabled phones.

Developer focus

With the smartphone business being predominantly about apps, Nokia is also taking steps to make it easier for developers to create more applications for the Symbian platform.

With Symbian ^3, Vajonki said that the fragmentation of the old Symbian system would be a thing of the past and that Nokia is developing strategies to ensure development consistency and a broader distribution base for applications.

For instance, developers can now write an application on the Nokia Qt platform and it will work on all of the company’s smartphones without any further fuss. Nokia also said its development tools are now more efficient and reduce the lines of code needed to write an app by as much as 70%.

Other methods to attract more developers include enabling in-app purchases and introducing a wider range of app pricing options such as subscription models, micro-transactions, or “try and buy.”

Nokia has also removed the time consuming and costly step of app signing — developers can now get their Symbian and Java apps signed at no cost just by the click of a button, the company said.

In addition to the refinements to the Nokia Qt software development kit (SDK) for smartphones, Nokia also announced an SDK for its Series 40 Touch and Type feature phones.

Currently Nokia said Ovi Store has 13,000 apps with about two million downloads a day. In comparison, the Apple App Store has 200,000 apps and the Android Marketplace is home to 80,000 apps.

However, Nokia executives pointed out that Ovi Store is just one of the many channels available for Symbian apps and that many thousand more are available at other sites.

Related Stories: Nokia: An eye on the next billion Quick peek at Nokia phones on the horizon

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