The launch of the Nokia Lumia 1020 in New York capped off a remarkable year for Sami Niemi, one of the co-founders of Scalado, a company based in Sweden which had been renowned for its innovative mobile imaging experiences.
In a deal that was completed in July 2012, Nokia acquired Scalado’s key technologies and intellectual property, and many of its employees transferred to Nokia, including Sami, who became Nokia’s director of Capture & Relive software product management.
Within months, Nokia Smart Shoot was released and an alpha version of PhotoBeamer was being demonstrated to operator. It didn’t stop there either.
In their first year, the former Scalado team, at Nokia Lund, in the southern Swedish town where the 70 or so employees were already based, also made enhancements to Creative Studio; provided the core technology for Nokia Smart Camera and is responsible for the amazing reframing feature of the Pro Camera application on the Lumia 1020 as well.
All this was achieved, says Sami, even though before the deal was signed, “95% of the team had never used Windows Phone before!”
In New York for the unveiling for the Nokia Lumia 1020 superphone, Sami found the time to sit down with Conversations to look back on a whirlwind first year.
Can you tell us about the history of Scalado?
Four of us founded Scalado in 2000. We worked on a technology for streaming high-resolution images on the web. It allowed us to view great product images on a low bandwidth.
Then the business idea of Scalado changed quite a bit because there were other tools like Flash competing and the web industry took a dramatic downturn in 2002.
What was your big breakthrough in mobile imaging?
We approached a mobile phone company who wanted to do a panorama app because we had done some stitching technologies for another product.
We discovered that their device had less memory than a remote control. It wasn’t possible to stitch a panoramic image in real time with 60kB of memory and an 8-bit processor.
So we had to figure out a way of doing everything in a compressed form. That was the starting point, where we managed to create the first ever panorama in a device with those constraints. This was in 2003 and the initial development work was done on a Nokia 7650, one of the first cameraphones.
This was around the time mobile imaging started becoming a big deal…
We’d invented this technology that did things really efficiently and at the same time the megapixel race started.
You could say that without Scalado’s innovations it wouldn’t have been possible to put high megapixel cameras into devices.
We were selling to more than a billion devices and every OEM was using our imaging technology and expertise. Then we moved to creating differentiating experiences that were really high tech and appealed to many of the companies.
Why did the deal with Nokia make sense?
We were recognised as a leading and creative company with a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve, but often we didn’t have the full means to do it.
We were creating certain fragments for one OEM and then another bit for another OEM. So it was our customers who created the applications but we provided them with the technology that made it all work.
We didn’t have the creative control or the means to really make them the way we wanted. That was what Nokia offered us. We would become part of a core team that was strategically very important to Nokia. We could make our vision come true.
How well has Scalado been integrated with Nokia?
I think this must be one of the most successful integrations. The evidence is that within months we had brought out some of the key experiences.
Culturally, the Finnish and Swedish teams are fairly similar and all of us are very passionate about photography. Everyone is able to share their passion and the profiles are quite distinct, but it’s very clear what the role of each site is.
I have programme managers both in Helsinki and Sweden and they have to travel a lot but it helps the integration.
Nokia was quite a different company three years ago before the shift to Windows Phone. We had noticed it previously when we were dealing with Nokia. What we have now is a real challenger mentality where we have such passion to achieve our dreams.