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June 24, 2008

I’ve struck a nerve and now we need a waaahmbulance! (and other items of interest)

ESPOO, Finland – It’s been a busy week or two here at Nokia Conversations. We had a big device launch last Monday, Nokia bought the amazing Plazes yesterday, and today there’s the big news about Symbian. But, that’s not really what I want to talk about here. Really, all because there’s so much big news, it doesn’t mean that nothing else is going on.

From my grab-bag of interesting stories, there’s a musing on the mobile internet, more on Nokia’s service woes, a very funny campaign, and, of course, the whole thing on the waaahmbulance.

Android is still being built

While reading up on the Symbian announcement today, I stumbled upon an article in the Wall Street Journal that brings us up to date on Android, Google’s foray into mobile phone operating system software. As expected, the WSJ pits Android against Microsoft, RIM and Apple (journalists like a good fight). What was notably missing was any mention of Symbian or Nokia. Ouch. Is this a suggestion that Symbian is irrelevant in the future of the smartphone (despite being on 200 million phones)?

Moving through the jello

I feel bad. Amy Garhan kicked off one of our biggest and best discussion around Nokia service. Frustrated with having to return her N95, which she really liked, she gave us a great list of some solutions to improve service in the USA. Recently, Amy pointed out that we are losing her and similar customers as they assess the Apple iPhone against a Nokia smartphone offering. On one side, they see the total product and service from Apple. On the other side, they see a good product, but no high-end service, and a goofy ad campaign.

As she says (and I repeat it here):

For a high-end, can’t-be-without-it mobile device that people put their entire lives on, service quality is at least as important as product quality. Nokia may still have the superior product for high-end users — but their service sends a clear message: We don’t really care about your experience after you buy our fancy phone.

Not a good image to have.

The mobile world is closed

We’ve all been working hard on fusing the Web with mobiles. It’s been a promise for many years and there are pieces here and there that shine, sometimes flaring brilliantly to then fade away. It’s not an easy business. At the same time, us mobile-heads look over at the Web-heads and wonder why can’t we be more like them. Well, one big reason is that the whole mobile industry is set up differently.

Joi Ito, a visionary, has been a key player in keeping the internet open. I stumbled upon a post he made (albeit last month) revisiting the topic of openness on mobile networks. He brings up some good examples of where the mobile industry has failed to open up to innovation and competition.

Nokia tries its best to be open. Indeed, most of our successes have come from competing using open standards and open market (see our state in the US and Japan, both heavily controlled mobile markets). Joi points out that biggies like Vodafone and Nokia could do much more to open up the mobile world. Spot on. But are these giants willing to go farther than they already have gone?

Criminal on the loose, or what?

Dotsisx received an email with a ‘wanted’ poster. Turns out I know the guy. Seems like the guys from WOM/World are up to mischief. Wondering where this will lead to? Regardless, I am sure it’ll be a hoot.

And then there’s the matter of the waaahmbulance

I openly bought up a topic (product leaks) that has been bothering me these past few months. Yes, I brought it up for discussion, but didn’t expect to get it going THAT much. The article was picked up by Engadget, CNET Asia, ZDNet and other sites. And the discussion on those sites has been interesting. It really seems like I hit a nerve.

While the post was perceived as us pointing a finger at folks outside Nokia, it really wasn’t. We are much more to blame for this (re-read the article), as I really think there is no malice involved, just good-will and dumb mistakes. But, don’t expect us to ever approach the secrecy and litigation level of companies like Apple. It’s not in our nature. And we have more inclusive plans. Also, we did manage to keep a wrap on the Plazes and Symbian deals (as with most of these deals), so it’s not that leaky here.

One comment that shocked me was that leaks were a way to see if a cheaper or better device was coming. Uh, excuse me, but anyone following the tech industry knows that a cheaper and better device ALWAYS comes sooner rather than later. Scratch that idea.

There were a few comments that companies regularly leak to manipulate the market. That’s illegal. There are more legal ways to manipulate the market. That’s called marketing and spin. And that can be done in the absence of a product, as Nokia and countless other companies have shown.

There were a few good comments that leaks are a symbol of desperation. There might be a bit of that. I wonder sometimes if some of our leaks are a sign of lack of confidence, where a well-wishing employee, on her own, leaks info or ships a proto to someone. While there is no cause for alarm in the company, sometimes a competitor steals the limelight and people start grousing. Yeah, we need to keep the morale up.

And one thread that really made me think was the underlying desire to be involved in the way products are created and marketed. For example, there seemed to be a perception that leaks would be a good way to get customer feedbacks. Eh, you don’t do an uncontrolled leak to do that. You do ‘customer research’. We’ve been doing it for a while and are ramping up activities (we call it ‘co-creation’). The Nokia Beta Labs is a good example of this.

That got me into thinking that we need a huge beta program for our devices. Hm. Let me do some digging and prodding, as I think this is the big outcome from the post I made.

And the waaahmbulance? Heh. That was a good one. It’s a great vehicle for riding around town, whining and crying how unfair the world is, saying things like ‘Oh, when Steve complains about leaks, it’s artistic. When Nokia complains about leaks, send them the waaahmblulance!’

And it comes with a hankie. Thanks guys.

Image from Scott Feldstein