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Nokia ups the innovation stakes

GLOBAL – Think about innovation and the first thing that pops into most people heads is headline-grabbing, top of the line product. But innovation happens across the board at Nokia, not just at the high end. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a brand new technology, it could just as easily be about taking an existing piece of technology and making it available to a whole new group of people. Mark’s post on Friday sparked a whole load of debate, with a lot commenting on Nokia’s apparent lack of innovation. Really? Well, what about all this then?

The Nokia 1280 is one of Nokia’s most basic handsets. At 15.3mm thick, it’s a chunky little beast too, and it only has a black and white screen. Ground breaking stuff? Absolutely not. Delve deeper into the specs and you’ll find that it’s dust resistant, comes with a speaking alarm clock and multiple phonebooks (for five users). Oh, and it has an FM radio and a flashlight (with one-key access). Fancy stuff, indeed.

But then you get the price. Without taxes or subsidies, this device is destined to retail for about €20 (or about $27). The five-user phonebook is important as where this device is destined for, it’s normal for phones to share owners, typically across five people. So, between the five people, this phone costs a little over $5 each. This is by far, the cheapest mobile device you’ll find on the planet. That Nokia can put a device into someone’s hand for a little over $5, and still make a profit, is utterly outstanding. Worthy of an innovation tag? I think so. What’s more, this is available to people who previously would have no hope of being connected, despite the evidence that shows the improvement being connected makes to their lives.

Rolling out across a range of developing countries at the moment, Nokia Life Tools brings genuinely useful information to farmers and fisherman which previously they’ve had little or no access to. In remote parts of the world where there isn’t even a newspaper industry, this is a revolutionary and life-changing step for those who adopt it. Innovative? I think so.

Closer to home, BetaLabs has for some years now been including users in the development process for new applications and services. Some apps have had millions of downloads, and with those invaluable feedback which has been captured and used to help make the app or service better for the users who end up adopting and using it. Such an open approach to development (and one that’s pretty unique, certainly from a mobile perspective) ticks the innovation box for me.

As Nokia’s service strategy develops and evolves, new services are starting to spring forth. This year will see Nokia Money rolling out, bringing with it a banking system that millions of people around the world don’t have access to. When you think about the number of mobile users, versus the number of bank accounts in the world right now, it’s clear there’s an opportunity to create something genuinely useful. Doing it on such a scale promises to be an exciting move for Nokia. And another one certainly worthy of the innovation tag.

Email might not be a new thing, even on mobile devices, but Ovi Mail brings with it something different. The need NOT to have a PC. It’s a simple omission, but one that’s noteworthy. It makes email accessible to those who wouldn’t normally have access to it (there’s a lot more mobiles in the world, than there are PCs) and so brings the Internet to a far wider reach of people. Subtle innovation, but innovation nonetheless.

More recently, we’ve seen a game-changing addition to Ovi Maps with the inclusion of free walk and drive navigation along with copious other services. Other subtleties such as including maps on the device, so users don’t need to download them, again make a big difference. Both of these are key innovations for navigation. Sure, Nokia isn’t the only one to be rolling free navigation out, but the addition of both on-device maps and access in over 74 countries, in 46 languages and that innovation box is well and truly ticked for me.

To say that Nokia doesn’t innovate is plain wrong. Nokia’s approach to innovation doesn’t centre solely around one product which it hopes the many will adopt. It’s about offering a range of devices, to a range of people who have specific needs and wants. It’s also about services, creating and evolving for the needs of those users who will benefit most from them.

Nokia isn’t short on innovation, even when it comes to smartphones. We’re in the middle of a transition for Symbian, the largest it has seen in its long history, where the platform will evolve into a new world of open development, and bring with it a raft of changes and evolutions which will go beyond the innovations we’re seeing everywhere right now.

And there’s Maemo, which in the last six months has gone from a mobile internet device operating system to one that is capable of forming the backbone of a new range of mobile computers bringing with it, too, a new range of innovations starting with the open nature of its design and development. Sure, Nokia isn’t the only one doing this, but it is the only one of its size, scale and stature that is.

Now, what do you think? Is Nokia lacking when it comes to innovation?

Photo from Photo Mojo 
Thumbnail image from Seth1492