Fleishman-Hillard and Nokia South Africa invited me to attend the launch of the Nokia 5800 Xpress music phone at Movida in Sunninghill last week Thursday. The media event began at about 6:30pm with presentations by a few Nokia executives (in order of appearance):
- Brad Brockhaug – Vice President – Nokia Sub-Sahara Africa
- Mathia Nalappan – General Manager – Nokia South Africa
- Patrick Henchie – Program Manager – Nokia South Africa
- Jake Larsen – Head of Music – Nokia Middle East and Africa
We were also promised an evening of music and entertainment care of two DJs, our very own Mark Pilgrim and the sexiest DJ in the world (its her tagline, really), Colleen Shannon.
Here is a video of the event featuring the presentations we received and a couple videos Nokia produced (A better quality version of the video is available on Blip.tv if you are not bothered by a large file size):
Brad Brockhaug, literally fresh off the plane from New York, kicked off the media event with his overview of the Ovi suite and the many avenues Nokia is pursuing in South Africa. These avenues include rolling out its music services in South Africa.
I want to raise a longstanding concern I have about what Nokia is doing in this space and generally before I move on to the more positive things to come out of the event. One of the videos I inserted into my video of the event is Nokia’s “We are playlist people” music video. The video implies that Nokia users can remix music and share it with their friends. I found this both amusing and ironic because Nokia’s video resembles a Creative Commons video called “Building on the Past“. Creative Commons licenses are almost the antithesis of the licensing regime Nokia has adopted for its music store. Nokia music is heavily DRM’d at the moment and remixing that music would be a copyright violation. The slogan “Your music. Your way.” sounds great but this is misleading.
Nokia’s approaches to DRM and platforms other than Windows bugs me as a Nokia fan and as an open access advocate. While I understand the reasons for these approaches, as I understand them, I believe that Nokia is doing itself and its fans a great disservice in the process. Anyway, I wrote in my interview with Mathia Nalappan a short while ago, the music store is only going to be available to Windows Media Player/Internet Explorer users on the desktop. The rest of us will have to stick to our mobile phones (we won’t be alone: Jake Larsen revealed that 35% of the people who access the Nokia Music Store worldwide do so via mobile access, a third via wifi or 3G).
When asked about DRM, Jake Larsen confirmed that Nokia is committed to going DRM-free in 2009. I did ask Mathia Nalappan why Nokia didn’t go DRM-free in the first place and the answer boils down to the music industry and its licensing requirement. The fact that Nokia is committed to going DRM-free is obviously significant. Nokia has been described as the top computer manufacturer in the world if you consider that its smartphones are really computers. The shifting emphasis to mobile instead of laptops and desktops places Nokia in an enviable position and making music available more widely could well place it alongside the likes of Apple and Wallmart when it comes to music sales. Opening its software up to other operating systems will only make it more appealing to an even broader audience.
Anyway, back to the fun stuff. Nokia promises a total music experience beginning largely with the local Nokia music store which is due to go live in SA on 24 April 2009. Fans will be able to move music between their phones and a Windows PC. The content presented on the music store will be locally relevant content. User preferences will be analysed and preferred content will be prioritised on the store. This means a lot more content specifically geared for a South African audience and this should only drive adoption. The pricing model for music downloads hasn’t been decided on yet and this will obviously have a significant impact on how quickly South Africans embrace the service. One idea is to give music packages to phone owners depending on phone. Another is the now traditional price per track/album (although Larsen mentioned pricing based on the UK store which is somewhat more expensive that competitors like the iTunes store which is also expected to launch more fully in South Africa this year). I like the music store’s clean interface too. For a change it doesn’t attempt to copy iTunes too closely. The store will be available at music.nokia.com when it launches.
Windows users will also be able to install Nokia’s music software (I believe Tania Steenkamp, Nokia’s Communication Manager for South and Southern Africa mentioned something about a possible Mac client soon). Nokia devices can sync with iTunes on the Mac using the Media Transfer software at the moment too.
When it comes to the Nokia 5800 Xpress itself, there are a number of appealing features (click on the link for a full datasheet).
(apologies for the quality, I shot this with my Nokia E71)
The most obvious is that it is a touch screen phone. There is no experience of pushing a button like the Blackberry Storm but there is a vibration effect to let you know you are doing something on the screen. The contacts bar is a nice touch too. It integrates options and information about more recent contacts into one convenient experience. There are a couple input options ranging from a landscape and portrait oriented on-screen keyboard which you can make use of with your fingers, a stylus and a plectrum (very music!). You can also use text recognition which we were told will learn your handwriting.
People tend to compare the 5800 Xpress with the iPhone or the iPod Touch. I don’t think this is accurate at all. The 5800 Xpress is a smartphone, true, but the emphasis is on its music and media functionality. It also lacks the advanced features and software the iPod Touch/iPhone enjoy so comparing it to Apple’s devices is only setting the 5800 Xpress up for failure. If you are going to compare a Nokia device to the iPhone, wait for the N97 (due out in the next few months).
It is obvious that Nokia is serious about music and its other services which it has and will be introducing under its Ovi brand. Many of Ovi’s services are already available to us down south and I think we will see Ovi emerge as a serious competitor to other similar services in the near future. The interfaces and functionality still feel a little raw to me at the moment but then I tend to be picky when faced with the choices I have on or through my Mac and elsewhere. As an aside, another area Nokia is serious about is mapping and location based information. I think we will see some interesting developments there too going forward (at least I hope so – mainly I just want Nokia Maps to be more reliable on my E71!).
Here is a slideshow from the photos I took at the event.
Included in this slideshow are photos of Colleen Shannon. I didn’t get to hear her music set but I did enjoy the beginning of Mark Pilgrim’s set which he played using two 5800s.
Thanks again to Fleishman-Hillard and Nokia for inviting me to the event. I got a kick out of the press kit, by the way, very cool.