Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Things you might need to accept about Nokia

"The customer is always right" as goes the saying, but there's still one irrefutable fact invisible in this saying. This is the lack of power of the customer to affect the product he is being sold or is buying. It isn't quite as straight-forward as this in a long-term perspective, but irrefutable in the present moment: the customer cannot affect the product he is buying.

I think this is an important thought when we think about how people perceive Nokia and on what grounds they base their demands towards Nokia.

This will be another "thinking straight about Nokia" feature, where I will share with you some (in my opinion) common misconceptions about Nokia and business models Nokia might pursue. This piece attempts to address all common gripes I hear about Nokia on a regular basis.

Accept with me now: "Nokia is a business"

First and foremost, Nokia is a business. Therefore Nokia operates on exactly the same basis as the company that provides you the tapwater you bathe in or the company that provides you milk to drink: they're there to make a profit. Difference is, you might not be quite as demanding or even aware of the difference in attitude you have for these different companies.

For example, very often you'll hear people issuing demands for Nokia in respect to their product line-up, choice of OS or overall market strategy. You'll hear people asking for latest features for their age-old products or demand reprimands for when their device receives its successor. Here people show a total lack of understanding for how a business works, which of course is based on getting customers, getting the maximun amount of money from the customers and to constantly generate new products for people to buy to keep your company gaining new venues for gaining more money.

People rarely base their expectations on such realities when talking about high-tech, but hardly ever question if in fact the water from their taps could be bought cheaper or if the watercompany should somehow remember you for being a long-time customer. After all, most people drink the same water from the same company for their entire lives! But only Nokia receives demands for giving former customers new devices when, for eg. a device has flopped (à la the N97 and sometimes when talking about the N900). I often wonder if people understand that even the cheapest supermarket they know is in fact making a profit when they're selling milk at the lowest price. Based on the incredible demands I've heard said out aloud to Nokia, I'm tempted to think that they don't. If any company had to reimburse all their customers at the slightest whim, not many businesses would still be around.

Nokia will rather lead than follow (read: OS strategy)

Nokia is a pioneer in the mobile business. You know this. It's just that lately it hasn't really seemed that way with iPhone ads on your TV, Android populating tablets as well as smartphones all over the globe and the internet being full of pro-iPhone and pro-Android banter. Where is Nokia in all this? Still releasing Symbian based devices? Well, yeah. But I still dare claim that Nokia's strategy is to be a leader, instead of a follower. Let me explain.

The easy solution in many peoples' minds is that Nokia should adopt one of the now popular platforms that have surfaced relatively recently. We all pretty much agree that Nokia's hardware has been pretty good so far, mostly we just dislike the UI of the Symbian operating system. So, why not load up Nokia phones with Android or Windows Phone 7 and be done with racing with the competition?

Well, we know what Nokia's answer is: to stick with Symbian. And MeeGo for the highest of the high-end. MeeGo is nowehere near release (probably only around mid-2011) and Symbian just feels really outdated, even the latest Symbian^3. Still, this is no reason for Nokia to adopt Android or WP7. Here's why: to adopt Android would for Nokia mean that they had nothing to compete with, so they had to adopt a winning platform. This is bad for Nokia in a pride sense, but also when thinking about the future. What can you compete with if you have exactly the same weapons as your competition? Now, Nokia will tell you that Symbian and Ovi are unique strengths of Nokia, but personally I feel that more about what Symbian and Ovi can possibly become in the future. This is Nokia's strategy. To develop what they already have towards a greater vision. Its just like Anssi Vanjoki put it, to adopt Android would be Nokia "pissing in its pants for warmth in the Winter". It's nice and warm at first, but in the long run you'll freeze and be more cold than before the urinating.

Nokia plans to provide everything for everyone (read: device strategy)

There's another point that Nokia is absolutely adamant about: offering everything for everyone. In practice this means that Nokia will push the bar lower and lower to get higher-level features and functions into cheaper phones. Sometimes Nokia receives criticism for blurring the difference between a high-end device and a low to mid-range priced device, as some features may appear to be the same. You can get 5Mpix devices in pretty much all price-points.

As I'm also in sales selling mostly Nokia products (I live in Finland after all...) I sometimes grow incredibly fustrated in the way Nokia prices its devices. Very often I'm faced with a situation where two devices have identical features, but the price difference between two devices can be up to a hundred euros. It's really difficult to try to explain to the consumer which is the better phone for them, but above all its really difficult for the consumer to decide which device to choose. I, as someone who's really interested in mobiles, know that if you get a 5Mpix phone for 200€, it probably won't have the optics of, say a 400€ device with the same amount of megapixels in the camera, meaning that the 200€ device will take far poorer pictures than the 400€ one. But the average consumer has nothing else besides listed statistics to choose from. Even worse, Nokia packs Carl Zeiss optics into cheaper devices as well, but in the end they still don't take pictures as good as the 400€ device for reasons that even I can't be sure of.

It simply has to be understood, that Nokia has a streak of altruism running through its every policy, meaning that Nokia doesn't want to constrain anyone from getting a Nokia phone just because they can't afford it. This results in just these "invisible differences" between devices and the feeling that Nokia is producing a thousand models per year. Nokia creates a variety of devices for every single price point to offer the best selection of devices regardless of how much money you are ready to invest in a new device.


I understand how it might seem that I'm completely settled in a position where I perceive that I have no power over what I buy and that I don't believe that you can influence service providers. As much as I think that people should be active about trying to influence all things around them, including hardware vendors, I think people could sometimes use a reality check. This is my aim in writing this piece. I am all for demanding more and more goodness for the consumer and feel that this is in part the role of companies: to answer to the needs of consumers. And I stress: Not the other way around. But I must persist, that you need to take into account realities so that you can form constructive opinions and suggestions to your service providers so that maybe one day one of your ideas will go through and you will get what you want.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Second encounter with the N8 - Final batch of gripes (I swear!)

Recently I posted my thoughts that rose from my first encounter with the N8. The N8 in question was a prototype and it didn't have a SIM in it and was hardly connected to the internet, so really trying it out proved impossible.

This is "part two" of my encounter with the N8. This time there's a SIM on board, and I went ahead to put all my settings in to begin using it as if it was my own device.

Again, this post is going to focus on things I'd like to see changed in the N8, but I swear that after this I'm done with griping!

Ovi logins, and how it's driving me insane

Among the first things when starting up the phone was logging into the Ovi service to "get the full benefit" of Ovi services on my device. I logged in and then proceeded to do all the usual setting up one has to do. (Login to Ovi counter: 1)

My first priorities were to try out the Nokia Social Hub app and to then setup my e-mail. Steve Litchfield was quite harsh on the Social hub app, recommending everyone to give it a pass. In the Phones Show Episode 122 he shows us as the application stutters when you scroll. When I gave it a try it worked surprisingly well. Okay, I come from a Maemo-heavy background, so maybe I'm just used to stutter ( ;) ), but I found it quite usable. The desktop widget that came with this app was quite unintuitive, and it was hard to understand it's logic. My biggest problem was sorting out the different views you got to see by using the widget, and then not finding these views when using the app "normally" on its own fair and square. Wonder what on earth is going on here.

To add my Ovi chat or whatever to the Social program, I had to log-in. (Login to Ovi counter: 2)

Here's also a translation inconsistency in the bit where you add accounts:
Here I've added my Facebook account.

When I went to setup my Twitter account, the languge had changed to English.

The e-mail turned out to be a bit of a downer, as well. I set up my GMail and Ovi accounts. Guess did I have to log-in to my Ovi account again? Sure did! (Login to Ovi counter: 3)

Can't scroll by having my finger on the text, btw.
Above is me trying to scroll down the page by dragging the text. Won't work, you'll have to catch the miniscule scrollbar on the right to go down. Yawn. This was the only place in S^3 where I found myself doing this. Inconsistency! Argh.

Here's another oddity I ran into in the Mail app:
An e-mail from my GMail inbox.
When viewing mails from the GMail inbox, the text was nice and big and it mimiced the "threaded" view of e-mails you have in the PC browser version of GMail. This was really nice and enjoyable, and with pinch to zoom working quite nicely here. Then I opened an e-mail from my Ovi inbox:

Nice and... unreadable.
For some reason, when reading e-mails from my Ovi e-mail account, the text would settle itself very poorly on the screen. First, its too small to read unless you put the device right up in your face and second, if you pinch to zoom, then the text doesn't reallign itself with the changed view. So its either this miniscule print or then endless scrolling left-right-left-right to read one paragraph. C'mon, this renders the e-mail app on the N8 unusable for me. Why does it attempt to mimic the view you see in the webmail versions of these e-mail services anyway?

I then went on to have a look at the new Ovi Store (Login to Ovi counter: 4) although I first did it in the browser by accident, so I launched the Ovi Store app (Login to Ovi counter: 5) and found it to be nice and improved. I was intrigued by the topApps application (Login to Ovi counter: 6) although found it odd, that searching for other apps besides the ones listed in the assorted "most famous in category..." wasn't possible here. I then fired up Maps (Login to Ovi counter: 7) remembering something about pinch-to-zoom on the maps and it was pretty cool. I really enjoyed seeing the maps on the nice and bright screen, and maybe for the first time ever Maps didn't feel too heavy for the hardware it was running on.

Syncing my stuff

I was really hoping that on the N8 I could sync to my Ovi Calendar from the calendar app. For some reason, I had to do it through my address book, where it promted me to sync my contacts from the Ovi cloud service (Login to Ovi counter: 8). Upon starting this process, it asked me if I also wanted to sync the calendar and images or something, which I naturally did. Bit of a strange logic here.

When going through the syncing process, I was confronted with a message that I hastily tapped out of the view somehow, and suddenly this was staring at me:

Sorry... what?
This is in Finnish, so probably this wouldn't make any sense to many people anyway, but here's another example of something I griped about in my "part one" post. The finnish translation is really poor in S^3, and at times completely unreadable. Here words are cut so short that I've no idea what could be their meaning. "Automatic sync" yeah got that much, but what on earth is it asking me below? A weird check-box (that isn't one) and the option to Sync or get out. I was a bit lost here, went with "Sync". Syncing seemed to work fine.

Things I liked

Now, because I promised to stop griping about the N8 (or actually S^3 to be precise), I will end this post with a few notions of what I liked.

For some reason, I really enjoyed the SMS notification up front, on top of everything in the desktop view. I found that the little "bubble" was quite functional and well placed both in portrait and landscape mode:

Landscape SMS notification.
The turning of the screen was nice, although not the fastest I've seen. A huge difference to S60 5th was, however, that I think Nokia didn't want the device to be too sensitive to turning the screen, and therefore there's a "wait period" to see if the user's serious or if tilting was an accident. Somehow it just seemed to be implemented really well and the delay seemed intentional and well controlled. Thank you, Nokia! Gripe #1 from S60 5th Ed. fixed!

I really enjoy the threaded SMS conversation view:

Lookin' good! -b
Tapping on a message bubble reveals the SMS in its full:

Single SMS view.
The obvious thing I liked (no, loved): the friggin' awesome camera!


So there. I feel like I've made my peace with Symbian^3 and the N8. I've finally said a lot of what I wanted to say about why exactly S^3 is stilla way away from being great, the way it should be. No Symbian^3 device will find its way to be my main device, but I think a lot of people can enjoy it to the fullest. I also think that most people won't even notice half of the stuff I gripe about!

In bringin out these negative points I wasn't aiming to flame, but to show the aspects of the UI that still need work in my opinion. The purpose of this is two-fold: I want people to read about these little things that eat into your experience, and second, nowhere can you read detailed examples of what exactly is wrong with Symbian^3's UI, it just gets called old and lame. I think I'm somewhat fair here in taking the time and effort to point some of them out and hopefully I've made it clear as to why I think these "features" are faults. I think this should make it easier to fix them. Also, since I've called them out, so I've done my part.

Am I completely off here?