Nokia’s big chance

When catching up with Maxine. a friend who is still in the conference business, she told me the tale of Nokia’s opportunity to impress some people at a multinational consumer products company.

She was working on a conference for the senior media buyers of this company who had gathered from all over the world to discuss the future of media. Between them these people controlled budgets of over €1.5bn. They talked about how social networks, interactive TV, internet search will shake up all they do when advertising their many brands to consumers all over the world. As media buyers they were repositioning themselves as internal consultants to the brand managers. This was seen as being especially useful in managing their relationships with their many ad agencies worldwide.

Instead of the usual teambuilding activity at the end, it was based around an element of the future media – what was called ‘user generated content’ earlier this year. The attendees were divided into groups and each team was given a new Nokia 95 to shoot and edit the kind of video that could be uploaded to YouTube.
nokia95

If Nokia knew that their phone was at the centre of this new media education project, would they be excited? This would position the N95 as ‘the’ media phone for some very influential people. There are three possibilities: 1. It would be good news for Nokia, 2. It wouldn’t matter one way or another or 3. They’d be worried that their phone wasn’t up to the task and that their product would look bad. There’s no way of knowing. In a way I hope it is 3, because knowing you’ve got a problem is half the battle.

You can guess how enjoyable the teams found the editing process. Maxine was pressed into service to limit the problems people had with the software. They found the user interface confusing at first and irritating once they understood how limited it was. Maxine says they ended up laughing at it.

Over the last couple of decades I’ve made a point of not following the mobile phone business. I only got myself a phone when I went freelance, I would have not got one otherwise. Phones were quite irritating back in 2001, but they seem to have go even worse in the intervening years. More and more features have been added, making the phones more difficult to use and less reliable. Or so it seems from the sidelines.

The first phone I got that wasn’t rubbish was an iPhone. The camera isn’t any good. You can’t (officially) record video with it. You certainly can’t edit video on it. You can’t copy and paste text or run more than one program at a time. I’m sure there are many phones with many more features than the iPhone has. The difference is that the phone isn’t a pain to use.

Features are less important than implementation. Over the last few years many companies created putative ‘iPod killer’ products. None of them beat Apple. They went for extra features at cheaper prices. That didn’t work. I hope Apple’s phone competitors got that message.

The phone industry had years to make phones that were any good. It happened to be Apple that came along to shake them all up. As well as having advanced software on millions of computers to manage the phone (iTunes), Apple also seems to have avoided the silly politics of the phone industry. Some people say that it doesn’t make economic sense for carriers to sign up with Apple, but it makes sense for Apple to get into deals with carriers that need them more then they need the carriers.

I hope that someone comes along to give Apple a bit of competition. They’ll need a tighter, simpler link with people’s technology (many people don’t like to run iTunes on their Windows PC) and a way of getting the best possible services to a large number of people without any restrictions from the carriers. I’m looking forward to it!

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