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Opinion: What's next for Nokia?

Posted: 05 May 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Nokia handset market? open-source? Symbian Foundation?

The recently concluded Nokia Developer Summit did not answer many big questions, nor was it expected to. But it raised a few.

The biggest is: What's next for Nokia? And, almost as big, among all of its competitors, who should Nokia be most worried about?

Is it Apple and iPhone? Or RIM's Blackberry? Or, should Nokia honchos be losing sleep over Google's Android and this whole open-source community thing?

Okay, trick questions. The real answer is: None of the above.

Nokia's biggest enemy is Nokia itself. And it's about time for the world's largest mobile phone vendor to address the issue.

Sure, as any corporate executive at Nokia would tell you, "Nokia's global reach and scale" is something no rival can offer. Nokia uses this argumentthe largest installed base of Nokia phones reaching a huge global marketas the key reason it is too attractive for developers to ignore.

I disagree. The large installed-base of the company's products could cut both ways. Its bigness can easily make Nokia lose focus, while spreading resources thin over too many different projects.

I appreciate that Nokia understandsthere is no one-size-fits-all mobile phone for every social, geographical, cultural and economical stripe of consumers on the global market.

But Nokia's efforts to manage so many different product portfolios, sometimes on different legacy development platforms, seems to be slowing Nokia down when it must quickly respond to specific needs or requests by developers who may be on their way to develop the next big killer app.

Remember. Despite being the world's largest mobile handset vendor (and Nokia is among the five most-recognized consumer brands in the world), Nokia hasn't recently had one really "iconic" product that everyone on earth instantly associates with the Nokia name.

Sure, the "coolness" argument may be overrated. And yet, it is still important if the company wants to be recognized as a nimble, fresh, aggressive and revolutionary entity poised to take the market by storm with its next product.

Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that Nokia doesn't have plans along these lines.

Will Ovi deliver?
In fact, if the evidence the company presented at the Developer Summit is any indication, Nokia, remarkably, has put in place plans necessary to compete against its competitors' every upcoming move. The real question is all about execution. Can Nokia really deliver on all of these promises?

For example, Nokia is expecting its Ovi Store, when it is finally launched next month, to pit Nokia squarely against Apple's App Store. The Ovi Store will have at least 1,000 applications on opening day, according to the company.

But as Srikanth Raju, director of product marketing for Forum Nokia, acknowledged, "With Ovi Store, we've just built a WalMart." The real hard work has only begun. "We need to keep stocking the shelves with more applications with regional relevance at the right price."

With the N97 handset scheduled for launch next month, Nokia is putting inside its latest model a cool home screen that rivals that of iPhone, in addition to a QWERTY keyboard that matches with Blackberry.

Eric John, director of marketing at Forum Nokia, noted, "I am anxious that 'cool' will be re-defined with our new N97."

Raju also predicted that N97 will become "an iconic device." He said, "It hits upon some of the top segments of users' needsthose who are style-conscious, those who can't live without multimedia, and even those who need it for enterprise applications."

Undoubtedly, Nokia is betting big on N97 and betting on the developers' community to come up with apps that ultimately differentiate N97 from competitors' handsets. But we all know how finicky consumers could be. The jury is still out 'til N97 actually hits the market.

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