Like many others, I've followed Nokia closely since the eyebrow rising, jaw dropping Feb 2011 announcement; the partnership with Microsoft on Windows Phone and the abrupt abandoning of Symbian. Why? Because it was the one of the roughest 180 degrees handbrake turn in Nokia's corporate history, and that the announcement came premature with no products to show.
The Nokia/Microsoft marriage in the public eye, didn't have a honeymoon, nor wedding photos to share, and some even wondered if it was a quickie at a Las Vegas tavern after one drink too many over their troubling and tearful market share stories. If not, did they marry for each others money or are they just friends with benefits? Will this marriage last?
After monitoring their progress for 10 months, we finally saw the official announcement and the availability of the first Nokia Windows Phones (Lumia 800 and 710), we also saw a new range of Symbian Belle handsets (600, 603, 700, 701), and the lustful Meego Harmattan N9 where for most people, it will ever only be a long distance love affair where they can look but can never have.
What is going on here? What did 2011 events tell us about Nokia? To tell this story, let me introduce three fictional characters.
Belle is the ex-wife who was once a bit slow, a bit quirky, but is very capable and tried to do everything the husband wanted her to over the years. Belle after the abrupt breakup with long time husband Nokia went on a full diet plus gym workout, to finish off she went to the same face-lift plastic surgeon as her rival Android. She is now slim and fast with most wrinkles ironed out.
What went unnoticed to the public is that new Belle handsets sport the most powerful GPU (Broadcom BCM2763) in the Nokia line up with 4X the graphical fill power of its predecessor, 1080p video encode/decode (although not enabled yet by the OS), 128MB of dedicated video RAM, and up to 20 megapixel imagery support. Through yoga meditation, she also gained NFC skills.
However despite this new her; Belle won't be around for long, all her belongings will be removed from Nokia no later than 2016 (in fact she is flatting with Accenture while retaining visitation rights to Nokia). Add insult to the injury the ex-husband took away the wedding ring, the crown jewl that is once the sparkling camera technology Nokia is so proud about. Thus the new Nokia Symbian Belle 603 and 700 is left with a below average 5 Megapixel full focus cameras with poor optics and sensors that are an absolute blurred mess (pun intended). Just read GSMArena's review of the 700 for some camera samples.
The N9 never got a human name; she was a test tube experiment that arrived too late to the real world. If she was in a movie, she will most likely star as Jordan Two Delta (played by Scarlett Johansson in the sci-fi movie The Island). The experiment was a success, she set a new standard in industrial design language; a beautiful one-piece polycarbonate body (the material also used in bullet resistant glasses) coupled with the Meego OS and the elegant smooth Harmattan user interface skin. However, she was only allowed to venture into certain parts of the world, such as to cold Nordic countries and to middle earth (New Zealand). The logic is evident, that is to avoid her real life clone appearing at the same place at the same time causing mass public confusion. In The Island, N9's real world clone (Lumia – more on her later) would be Sarah Jordon (also played by Scarlett Johansson).
The experiment was a bit cruel in some ways; the N9 was given a healthy 1GB of RAM, a decent 1 GHz ARM A8 CPU, but a slow GPU (PowerVR SGX530) first developed in 2005 (could it be just lab kit found in the recycle bin?). It is much slower than the first generation Symbian^3 GPU and the iPhone 4 GPU. Lab technicians had to work tirelessly, some say with sweat and tears to optimise Meego/Harmattan enough onto the hardware to get the user interface running close to 60 frames per second. The weak GPU still shows through somewhat, 720p H.264 videos struggle to play smoothly (H.263 is fine), and 720p video recording skips a frame here and a frame there.
The N9 was intentionally or unintentionally injected with some very advanced WiFi technology; something that the lab technicians didn't want Nokia to know. For the networking fanatics it has a 5Ghz radio in addition to a 2.4Ghz radio, when paired with a 802.11n Access Point that supports 5Ghz, it can avoid the busy urban jungle of 2.4Ghz pollution that is shared amongst neighbours, microwaves and their cats/dogs (the Japanese robotic ones). Now, that is an industry first for a smart phone.
The N9 will have its life cut short by the corporation which sponsored the experiment, most likely no later than 2015. A small number of supporters who treasure its onetime only existence will be trying all they can to keep her alive, even as a fragment of memory.
Lumia (she is not Spanish by the way) is the new wife of Nokia, she has strong roots from the wealthy family of Microsoft. She is very outgoing and socially capable like the N9 with deep Facebook, Twitter and Messaging integration. The Lumia 800 looks almost exactly like the N9, which is a no surprise. The allegedly leaked 20 min private engagement video showing off the Lumia 800 was widely available on Youtube many months before the Oct 2011 Nokia World official unveiling.
Lumia was raised with a different set of principles. She does things the Microsoft way and her husband only has a certain amount of "wiggle" room of telling her how he wants things to de done. However, Nokia hinted that in mid 2012 after more bedding-in time, she'll start showing certain Nokia traits too. To celebrate this achievement, they have even got a name for it – "Apollo".
The husband wanted everyone to be impressed. Therefore when Lumia is not dancing away at the Friday night party on flashing blue/red "disco tiles", he also wanted Lumia to be as capable as his ex-wife. Such as doing the daily chores like driving around and dropping the kids off (her stepchildren are named Asha's, I won't talk about them here, but they are the survivors of the divorce).
Belle is known for her tremendous navigation abilities, so Nokia wanted this to be the first point of differentiation in Lumia from the other individuals in the Microsoft Phoney family.
So just how well has this been working out so far?
Lumia vs. Navigation
Belle knew how to get to places; she is adventurous and knows how to use different routes, avoiding traffic if necessary. Belle knew the importance of getting to places in time and knows her ETA. Lumia on the other hand, is new to driving; she has always been chauffeured driven. So what does the ex-wife have (Ovi Maps v3.06+) that Lumia doesn't (first release of Nokia Drive/Maps on Windows Phone)?
- Choosing the type of route to use in navigation, such as avoiding ferries (This was demonstrated in a Youtube video where Lumia was taken out for a drive and got stuck in a ferry lane for 30mins).
- Choosing how to get there, such as the shortest route or the quickest route.
- Being able to just point to a location on the map and drive there, without keying in the address.
- Favourites that can sync to Nokia Maps online service and a "Home" button to quickly navigate home.
- Pronounce street names.
- ETA status during Drive navigation.
- Voice guided Walk navigation.
- 100% offline mode for walk and public transport direction.
No matter what the husband wanted Lumia to be or for the public to believe, she can't fully replace Belle for full time navigation, not yet anyway. However, Lumia does have a more welcoming Map interface. So what does this tell us? Belle is still not talking to Lumia, most likely to do with the bitter relationship over the break-up for a younger and a more metro model from a wealthy family who never got her nails dirty.
Lumia vs. Music
The second point of differentiation that Nokia gave Lumia is Nokia music, not only can Lumia sing, but she also struck a few recording contracts to save streaming music for offline listening (don't know if Simon Cowell was involved in this one, X-factor UK finalist were spotted with Lumia's).
Meanwhile Belle is happy with her FM and Nokia Internet Radio, while the N9 don't even have FM radio in-built software or Nokia Internet Radio (last time I checked, it had over 27K stations). The Utopian Facility in which N9 was made in must had been a disciplined place, or they just feared the influence of American pop music.
Predictions for Lumia in 2012
- The Lumia will come in more forms, directly evolved from the 800/N9 body, but it will be unmistakably Lumia. Just like how you cannot mistake a BMW for a Porsche or the Lexus L-Finesse design for a Honda.
- There will be a Lumia flagship to coincide with the Windows Phone Apollo launch; it will have a newer Qualcomm Snapdragon SOC capable of pentaband reception (like Symbian^3 devices) and a front facing camera for Skype video calls and perhaps NFC.
- Improvements to Nokia Drive, Map and Music.
Feedback to Nokia
- Have the Location & Commerce team work more closely with the team that is responsible for the Symbian version of Nokia Maps. No need to re-invent the wheel on core navigation functions.
- Manage future firmware rollouts professionally. The Symbian Anna rollout was a public relation mess, especially for US and Australia customers. One only needs to see the Nokia Discussion board for the frustrations vented. It should be easier to keep existing customers than to get new ones.
- Keep up the involvement in the social media and blogosphere community, such as sponsoring enthusiastic individuals to attend Nokia events. This has a bigger impact per dollar than typical marketing spend.
- Do not hold back on camera technologies and unnecessary handicap capable phones with poor cameras. E.g. Symbian Belle 603 has no autofocus and no flash, while the Lumia 710 on the similar body gets autofocus camera and flash. This doesn't benefit anyone.
- Do only announce products with imminent shipping dates, like the Lumia 800.
Did Nokia marry Microsoft for its money? Yes certainly part of the plan, Microsoft is sharing the load on marketing and advertising efforts.
Are they friends with benefits? For now it is one-way only. Nokia's Drive and Maps are just individual applications, they don't utilise Bing assets, or integrate with the People Hub. Nokia Music doesn't seem to have a lot to do with Zune Music. Windows 8 aren't released yet to see cross-platform benefits, nor are there large numbers of Windows Phone users.
Will the marriage last? Is Nokia back in the game? This is an interesting one, consumers will ultimately vote with their wallets. One thing for sure, 2012 will be an exciting year for the smartphone industry. But for 2011, what we have seen was more of a struggle internally at Nokia rather than a battle fought out in the public arena with market competitors.