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August 25, 2009

A brief history of Nokia World

nokia_world_retroBOSTON, USANokia World 2009 is just around the corner. As the biggest Nokia event of the year, Nokia World has reflected the evolution of products and thinking at Nokia. So, we did some digging into the origins of Nokia World to see what was said (or not) over the years.

We found out that Nokia World has been around for a while (next week is the 14th), and the event always packs a wallop in terms of what gets put on display there. It has been the main venue to announce some big things for the company (we list a few). Even from its modest first event, the goal was to bring interested folks together to talk about new Nokia products that would (it was expected) shake the industry. But, as we discuss below, not all the big announcements happen at Nokia World.

Humble beginnings
Nokia World traces its origins to an industry event back in 1996. We were told that this was one of the first industry conferences also targeting mobile developers. Called the Nokia Wireless Data Conference, some 250 people from the industry were invited to attend the event, held at a hotel near the Frankfurt airport in Germany.

The big announcement at that event was something called Narrow Band Sockets from Nokia Telecommunications (the group that would eventually be called Nokia Networks). It allowed developers to create PC apps that could send marked-up data to phones, such as ringtones.

Keep in mind that this was the early days of using data on mobile phones. This was cutting edge stuff. Downloadable ringtones wouldn’t come to be until 1998. The Web was just starting to pick up steam. And the Nokia 9000 Communicator had just been introduced earlier that year at CeBIT, where it had been nominated the best product of the year.

Yet, what was clear was that the Nokia Wireless Data Conference marked a turning point for the industry, a big first step on what has been a long journey of fusing data, Web, and mobile phones.

By 2000, the conference had grown. And the name of the conference had changed as Nokia’s perception of this mobile-Web fusion matured. Now called the Nokia Mobile Internet Conference, over a thousand attendees and hundreds of staff joined together in a large palace in Prague for an event hosted by the company that had become the undisputed world leader in mobile communications (forgive me as we toot our horn here).

In Prague, Nokia announced the Nokia 9210 Communicator, a direct descendant of the Nokia 9000, and with no less of an impact on what Nokia expected the future to look like. The 9210 had a color screen, it was Nokia’s first Symbian device, and it was a swiss-army knife with phone, fax, email, calendar, and both a WAP and Web browser. Not to be outdone, the following year, at the Nokia Mobile Internet Conference in Barcelona, Nokia launched the Nokia 7650, the first GSM cameraphone, a smartphone that made the cover of the Economist.

The event name has recently changed to Nokia World, as the focus has been less about the “Mobile Internet” but more on how Nokia has become a solutions company and what it can offer operators, developers, and its customers. For example, in recent years, Comes with Music was launched at Nokia World 2007, and, despite being a device, the Nokia N97 announcement in 2008 was mostly about how the N97 supports a rich internet-fueled experience, all in a small form-factor.

But then there’s the other stuff
In the course of our digging, we realized that Nokia doesn’t save up all its big announcements for Nokia World.

As said above, the Nokia 9000 Communicator was introduced at CeBIT (1996), the Series 60 Platform (now known as Nokia S60 on Symbian OS) was launched at COMDEX (2001), the Nokia 770 was launched at the Linux World Summit (2005), Ovi launched at its own special event (2007), and yesterday’s launch of the Nokia Booklet 3G happened online (and brought Nokia Conversations to its knees).

Keeping you on your toes
Not all of the important announcements come out when expected. We do like to keep you on your toes and constantly delighted. But, as we know it can be bad for the heart to get all excited unexpectedly, we do reserve a few good ones for big events, particularly Nokia World.

Yet, don’t get carried away with all the announcements. Nokia World is still first and foremost a gathering of Nokia developers, customers, operators, and enthusiasts – two days of thinking, talking, and working together to take the industry to the next level.

And, even though a few thousand will be there, don’t be upset if you can’t make it. The Nokia Conversations team will be on the ground, covering as much of the event as we physically can. So, sit tight and tune in next week to get your fix of all that’s going on at Nokia World 2009.

Annamari Qvist,  Åsa Totterman, and Salla Huttunen kindly contributed to this article.