Nokia World 2009: The Analysis: Things could have gone a bit better than they did

While I wasn’t at Nokia World 2009 this year, I did live in front of my laptop last Wednesday and Thursday, hitting the refresh button in my browser repeatedly, and gathering information from as many resources as I could find on the internet to mash it all up into the “IntoMobile’s Official Nokia World 2009 Coverage Blog Post“. Now that I’ve had a weekend to chat with some friends about Nokia World, play with a Nokia N900 at the Nokia Flagship Store in Helsinki, and lay in bed collecting my thoughts, I’ve got to say that I’m a bit disappointed.

First let us talk about the hardware:

At 450 Euros ($645) before tax, the Nokia N97 Mini is priced way too high for what you’re actually getting. Nokia was walking a tight rope when deciding the price of this device. If they priced it too high, it would not sell — people would just pick up the bigger brother, the N97. If they priced it too low, the N97 would not sell since people would just pick up the Mini, which is just as capable. If the N97 Mini was 350 Euros, or even 375 Euros, I would have been throughly impressed. Sadly, this was not the case.

The N900 is coming out next month for 500 Euros before taxes, and we’ve already seen that it’s available for preorder in Italy and Germany for 600 Euros, France for 650 Euros, and America for $650. It’s the first device the company is offering that has a new, incredibly fast, ARM Cortex A8 processor, the only other mobile devices that use this processor today are the Apple iPhone 3GS and the Palm Pre. The size: it’s bloody huge at 110.9 mm × 59.8 mm x 19.55 mm and heavy at 181 grams. The keyboard layout is also similar to that of the Nokia N97, which still gives people problems since entering a space or proper punctuation is unintuitive.

The software, Maemo 5, is a pain in the ass for developers since Nokia has admitted in public that Maemo 6 will come out in a year and it will break compatibility due to a switch from the GNOME environment to Qt. The browser, built on top of Mozilla technology, the same code that powers Firefox, is a step away from WebKit, the browser engine that powers Safari in the iPhone, the browser in Symbian, the browser in Nokia’s dumbphone OS known as S40, the browser in Android and soon the browser in RIM BlackBerry devices. Why is Nokia supporting something contrary to what the industry has already accepted as best in class? What’s the strategy?

I played with a Nokia N900 this weekend, and from the brief 15 minutes I had with the device I was not impressed. I would say more, but I’m not going to since the device was clearly labeled as beta and the software was obviously final. I’ll wait until I get a review unit in my hands to pass judgement on what many are calling the device and operating system that will power Nokia’s future high end device lineup. I don’t know what sort of magic Nokia can pull in the few weeks left until this device ships, but I remain optimistic since the Maemo boys have a lot to prove.

The X6 is a “Comes with Music” device meaning you can only buy it in territories that offer the “Comes with Music” service. Yes, it is Nokia’s first capacitive touch screen device, but that doesn’t change how unfriendly S60 5th Edition is to new consumers and S60 experts/fanbois. It will cost 450 Euros ($645) before tax, which is again, quite a lot of money for nothing more than a minor upgrade to the Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. My opinion of this device would have surely changed if it was offered without the “Comes with Music” tax, which is roughly 110 Euros. At 340 Euros ($485) the X6 would have been fantastic, but no, Nokia wants to push their services on to you, even though you probably already have an extensive music collection, and if you live in Europe or Asia you probably pirate so much that you have at least one external hard drive. I have two.

The X3 is a cheap slider with a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and it’s quite attractive. At 115 Euros ($165) it is priced to move, but why doesn’t it come with GPS? The Nokia 3710 Fold, which was announced earlier this summer, is 25 Euros ($35) more expensive and it has not only GPS, but 3G as well. The only bad thing about the 3710 Fold is the 2.5 mm headphone jack. Now I understand the need to make cheap devices for consumers in emerging markets, but the X3 could have been so much more impressive if it just had a GPS chip inside. Once you experience the power of knowing where you are on a map at any given moment, you can never go back to a device without GPS or the awkwardness of using a paper map.

I don’t know where to begin with the Booklet 3G. The hard drive: 1.8 inches, 4200 RPM, it’s the same hard drive found inside the iPod Classic. I once had a computer with a 1.8 inch 4200 RPM hard drive, the IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPad X40. It barely ran XP well enough, but I didn’t mind since I used it purely for taking notes in class. With WiFi off I used to get 7+ hours out of that thing, which was unheard of back in 2004. They say the Booklet 3G will get 12 hours of battery life, but I’ll wait for independent reviews to confirm that fact. Back to the hard drive: replacing a 1.8 inch hard drive is difficult due to the limited availability and choice of going with a non standard hard drive size. A majority of the notebooks on the market today have a 2.5 inch hard drive. The RAM: 1 GB, soldered in, not upgradeable. I would have been fine with 1 GB of RAM if I could crack open the case and shove a 2 GB stick inside, or better yet had an option to get a Booklet 3G with 2 GB of RAM inside, but nope, you can’t do that. The price: At 575 Euros ($820), what the fuck was Nokia thinking?

Back in the day, PC people would make fun of Apple people because they spent more on their hardware. It was called the “Apple Tax”. Today prices have more or less equalized between machines of similar specifications. Now it is Nokia who thinks they can impose a “Nokia Tax” and get away with it just because they have a top brand name. It’s ridiculous. Had the Booklet 3G been 400, or even 450 Euros, I would have bit my lip and lived with the low system specifications, but again, the company has failed to find an attractive price point.

The 5230 is the only device I actually liked. It’s cheap at only 150 Euros without “Comes with Music” or 259 Euros with “Comes with Music”. I love that as a consumer, I have a choice. It has 3G, it has GPS, it has a 3.2 inch touch screen, and sure the camera sucks at only 2 megapixels, but for 150 Euros I’m more than willing to forgive Nokia for that. This thing will be in the hands of millions. If I wasn’t doing too well financially and needed a new phone, this would be the one I’d pick up.

Now the services:

Nokia Money is brilliant on paper, and I was expecting a hell of a lot of demos and more detailed information about the service at Nokia World, such as fees per transaction, but instead heard absolutely nothing that already wasn’t mentioned in the press release that launched a week before the show. That was a disappointment.

Nokia-Facebook tie up: Only works if my friends have a S60 5th Edition device; not to mention that I recently closed my Facebook account. Useless.

And that’s it … which is weird. You’d think they would have more services to announce and talk about being an internet company, solutions company, or whatever they’ll call themselves by this time next year.

Conclusion:

I hear people say Nokia is dying, Nokia is dead, or some other ignorant statement similar to that, more and more often now thanks to competition from the iPhone and Android. Nokia knows that they’re not competitive on the software front, so they’re competing with the one thing they have they do have: scale.

In time, Nokia will become more competitive; I’m sure of it. Anssi Vanjoki’s keynote alluded to the fact that the next version of Maemo, coming out in roughly a year, will finally materialize the company’s vision of mobile computing. We also have yet to see the DirectUI user interface that will replace the over half decade old Symbian UI that bloggers and geeks love to hate. Nokia is a company in transition right now and from the outside it looks like the transition is not going very well.

Apple has set a bar that Nokia has not yet passed, and every year that goes by and Nokia doesn’t meet or exceed that bar, people become more and more restless, frustrated and unsatisfied. Nokia World 2009 was the company saying “we need more time” and that is why I’m honestly disappointed.

[Photo above from Flickr user destinyuk*]

  • Ewan MacLeod

    I think these are all fair points Stefan. We need to give the company some time.

  • dumbjock

    hahahahahaha… you should rename the title of this article as “criticism” NOT “analysis”, better yet check your dictionary just in case you’re confused between the usage of these words. Sure, Nokia’s not faring well but Nokia’s way better than your grammar. tsk tsk tsk..

  • carlosb

    May be your problem is just the dollar exchange rate. I live in Europe, and for me 575 euros for the 3g netbook with those features is ok¡. I am going to buy one, and possible I will buy also a N900, which I thing is far away from any other mobile phone, or may be an X6

    • Stefan Constantinescu

      I’m in Europe too, Finland, which has a higher VAT than Spain (according to the .es in your email address that only I can see), and you can get a 3G equipped netbook for less than 400 Euros.

      • carlosb

        Please tell me one, with the same specs:
        1.Battery: 12 hours, with 16 cells, or so is announced.
        2.Aluminium case. not plastic¡
        2.Screen resolution.1280×720 pixels
        3.3G/ HSPA with hot swappable simcard (this last “is” important).
        4.Assisted-GPS
        5.1 x HDMI 1.2 out
        6. Windows 7.
        I think that if you compare, you should do it with the same specs, becasuse certain things, like the battery for example are not precisely cheap.
        I agree that Nokia prices are too high, but if you want quality and design, you have to pay for it. If you just want design, you can buy an iphone

  • antonioj

    Carlosb for 575 you can buy a netbook with much better specs than the booklet…1GB of RAM is completely nuts

    Great analysis by Stefan…nokia fans/bloggers these days are gettings worse than the worst apple fanboys, it´s great to see someone seeing things has they are

  • alberto_i

    Stefan i use to like your articles but lately you started hating on nokia, what is your problem ?

    • ktos

      I know

      he just was not invited by Nokia for Nokia events coupe of times (as he admited was the case for Nokia World 2009) – here is the result

  • marees

    brilliant analysis Stefen.

    I agree with you on your entire/analysis conclusions, but I dont share your mood.

    In india we are still living in 2g world and the cheapest Series 40 phone will do the job perfectly fine. Morever India is now Nokia’s biggest market. So that still gives Nokia some time.

    Hopefully Nokia will introduce a bigger version of the N900 tablet without the phone at a much cheaper price to compete with the iPod touch. That is the only thing I can see which is lacking currently in Nokia’s product suite.

  • name

    The more I follow this site the more I relize that picture presented by THE GUYS is blurred (not to say false)

    ie “ARM Cortex A8 processor, the only other mobile devices that use this processor today are the Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) iPhone 3GS and the Palm (NSDQ: PALM) Pre”
    it is just simply not true – samsung omnia HD is using the same processor (not an unknown device at all I would say)

    there are also another comments like about space bar on 97 which seems like wish of anti nokia person rather than reality

    aother comment “I played with a Nokia N900 this weekend, and from the brief 15 minutes I had with the device I was not impressed.” – so it seems you are the only person in the world

    and I could quote and quote and quote

    in addition they seems to be slightly away what europeans would call gentelmen “dumbphone OS known as S40″

    simply speaking – if you envy Nokia making best phones in the world suited to all consumer needs (as proven by sales figures) – do not write about them – but do not LIE and BE AROGANT

  • Inshard

    Very interesting read, again. At the rate Nokia is progressing, we’ll see a very competitive “Solution” by around mid-2010. I believe the ball is in Apple’s court now, because after almost three years of brilliant but evolutionary changes to iPhones, it is high time for the Cupertino lads to bring another STEP CHANGE in innovation to the industry. I’m excited to see mobile OSX 4.0, possibly around the same time that Maemo 6 comes out. However, if OSX 4.0 fails to reinvent the user experience substantially, Apple would probably lose its software edge over the competition.

  • ktos

    it was supposed to write:
    “and if you live in Europe or Asia you probably pirate so much that you have at least one external hard drive”

    so you would ike to say that we in Europe and Asia are all pirates

    thanks a lot

  • ktos

    “Apple has set a bar that Nokia has not yet passed, and every year that goes by and Nokia doesn’t meet or exceed that bar, people become more and more restless, frustrated and unsatisfied. Nokia World 2009 was the company saying “we need more time” and that is why I’m honestly disappointed.”

    nokia already put the bar signifficaznlty higher with N900 – on a level that for apple and other is out of reach

    Nokia World 2010 will be a verification “how far they managed to get close to nokia – undiputed market leader on all fronts”

  • don

    The fact and the matter is Nokia is lagging in UI/software to iphone! the iphone is some respects is years ahead of Nokia and in some years behind. Because people focus only on UI lately the iphone has set the bar and Nokia is 5years behind that and I donno if they will ever catch up. The only think Apple needs to do is come up with 5 different form factors and Nokia smartphones would be irrelevant.

  • don’t

    dear don

    comparing iphone with n900 is like comparing calculator with computer
    iphone is just mp3 player with some smartphone functionalities (but deprived the major ones like multitasking)
    n900 is computer squezed in your pocket

    so who is setting the bar now ???

    ps. even for ald good symbian – N97 can do so much more than any iphone was ever able to do and in the end it is what you can do with the phone that matters

  • don

    i agree that you can do many more things with the N900 and N97 than you can with the iphone but the way you do it is not as smoothed out as it is with the iphone. i am a Nokia user myself and would never buy the current iphone because of those things that you cant do with it, for example: can’t transfer files over bluetooth, cant sync to your pc over bluetooth, no multitasking, no memory expansion slot etc.

    One thing iphone does well is the things it does do.. the whole experience with the iphone is much better, the screen is much more responsive and the interface much more user friendly.

    Nokia has fallen asleep at the wheel and they are playing catch up.. N97 is just poorly designed, the keyboard is awful with space bar on the right. N900 is nice but its too big for a phone, has no significant apps as of now, should be capacitive screen, no reason why they went Maemo when they could have went Android since its also a free linux OS and has been much more embraced by the developer community than Maemo and has tons of apps around. the iphone has been out over 2years ago and there is still no answer from anyone in the market. Steve Jobs was right when he said the iphone was 5years ahead of the market because in some ways its true and many ways not but people are only looking at the wow-effect of it.

    i dont think we will see Nokia gone but they will lose significant market share over the next few years if they dont deliver something more user friendly.

    • GeceBekcisi

      They went with Maemo maybe because with a device running Android people would never forget “the Google brother watching you” feel?

      Also Steve Jobs was right when he said the iPhone was 5 years ahead of the market because … *he was mentioning the patents of their gestures (which I believe they belong to human nature, can not and shouldn’t be patented to company) and other stuff*

      I find this article and the comments below very useful, there are lots of great valid points exist just as “Nokia will lose significant market share over the next few years if they don’t deliver something more user friendly”

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