Nokia is listening to you

Nokia invited me to attend a media event in Dubai recently. The focus of the event is the new flagship device, the Nokia N97, and the recently launched Ovi Store. The media event gave me an opportunity to learn more about Nokia as a company and that appealed to me tremendously, perhaps as much as what I learned about Nokia’s perspectives on the N97 and the Ovi Store.

The media event kicked off in ernest with presentations by Chris Braam, Nokia’s Vice President of Sales for the Middle East and Africa region, and JP Sipponen, Nokia’s Director of the Ultimate Product Group, Nokia Nseries. The presentations largely focussed on Internet usage trends with an obvious focus on mobile Internet usage.

Braam said there are roughly 1.3 billion Internet users in the world. Over 40% of these Internet users are accessing the Internet on mobile devices. In 2008, the number of people accessing the Internet using mobile devices doubled. Braam said that by 2012 the number of mobile Internet users is expected to rise well above 1 billion users and we can expect mobile computers like the N97 to overtake conventional PC’s/laptops as the dominant form of device used to access the Internet. Users are currently willing to spend more time without their laptops and use a mobile device like the N97.

Sipponen pointed out to me that consumer demand is a key determining factor in how Nokia designs its products and services. Nokia spends a fair amount of time speaking to consumers both internally and externally.

I found it really interesting to learn from Sipponen that Nokia has a vibrant community of internal bloggers and other employees who provide feedback on Nokia’s products and services (sometimes fairly brutal feedback). There is apparently a fairly high correlation between internal and external user profiles so the comments Nokia receives internally do seem to match up with what Nokia is hearing from the rest of us.

I had an opportunity to interview Sipponen after the initial presentations. The audio from the interview is available through the player below and you can also download a higher quality AAC version of the interview with chapter markers here.

One of the things that came out of the interview which appeal to me as a blogger is the degree to which Nokia pays attention to its users’s blogs, tweets and other public statements, comments, criticisms and praise (Sipponen tweets as @jpzip). My presence at the Dubai event is a pretty clear indication of Nokia’s perceptions of bloggers’ value as contributors to its marketing and development process (I wasn’t the only person there from South Africa, I accompanied Nicholas Boerma from PC Format magazine).

I asked Sipponen about the influence devices like the iPhone may have had on product design and he told me that while Nokia doesn’t slavishly copy competing devices, those devices influence consumers’ expectations (which filter through into Nokia’s focus groups) and Nokia does pay attention to what seems to work in the marketplace. Bottom line here is that the iPhone does seem to have had an impact on Nokia’s product development process and, if anything, it has emphasised the importance of touch-screen devices (I had a couple very unofficial and informal chats with Nokia people who shall not be named who gave me a certain look when I rambled on how great it would be to see a touch-screen in something like the E71 or other devices that don’t traditionally have touch-screens – then again they could have had dust in their eyes).

Above all, the media event and my interactions with numerous Nokia representatives impressed on me Nokia’s respect for consumers’ opinions and desires. This doesn’t mean Nokia is going to produce the “nPhone” and leave it at that but it is placing particular emphasis on empowering users. This is one of the driving forces behind the Ovi Store (more about this later).

As an aside: As much as I love my MacBook and as much as the iPhone 3G S appeals to me, I have far more respect for Nokia than I do for Apple as a consumer. My critics complain that I sound like Nokia PR on this blog. It is true that I evangelise Nokia products and services but one of the primary reasons for that is Nokia’s focus on my opinions and my desires. I haven’t seen anyone from Apple respond to my musings on Twitter. Nokia’s interest in my opinions as a consumer inspires my passion for Nokia’s products and services.

Paul
Enthusiast, marketing strategist, writer, and photographer. Passionate about my wife, Gina and #proudDad. Allergic to stupid

19 Comments

  1. Great comprehensive feedback Paul – sweet and short. Was wondering when will you post this debriefing of your visit. Reading this while waiting for my flight – using my work’s E61 (still going strong).

    “nPhone”, lol, you had me laughing there, but you right. A lot of users all complain about the N97’s touch UI and that Nokia should have done better. Havent tried the phone as yet and I play away from the iPhone – just doesnt have the pull factor for me. Its important that Nokia, as mush as their touch devices mabe be influenced by Apple, they should really nail it – otherwise, it will always be, just an nPhone.

    I also like the fact that Nokia is constantly trying to learn more about users’ feedback and try to incoporate that in their upcoming devices. Maybe thats definitely why they are still the #1 phone brand. They are alwys in touch with their users. This just reminded me of #Mbeki and #Zuma, lol.

    *dont mind the grammar errors – no spelling on E61.

  2. Great comprehensive feedback Paul – sweet and short. Was wondering when will you post this debriefing of your visit. Reading this while waiting for my flight – using my work’s E61 (still going strong).

    “nPhone”, lol, you had me laughing there, but you right. A lot of users all complain about the N97’s touch UI and that Nokia should have done better. Havent tried the phone as yet and I play away from the iPhone – just doesnt have the pull factor for me. Its important that Nokia, as mush as their touch devices mabe be influenced by Apple, they should really nail it – otherwise, it will always be, just an nPhone.

    I also like the fact that Nokia is constantly trying to learn more about users’ feedback and try to incoporate that in their upcoming devices. Maybe thats definitely why they are still the #1 phone brand. They are alwys in touch with their users. This just reminded me of #Mbeki and #Zuma, lol.

    *dont mind the grammar errors – no spelling on E61.

  3. Hi Mhlongwane, I’ve been asked to hold back on some of the detail from the Dubai event until a local launch here in SA next month. This post is really derived from about half a page of about 2 and a half pages of my notes from the event. There is quite a bit of exciting stuff about the Ovi Store and the N97 which I am yet to write about (and I will!).

    The more I think about it the more I agree with people like Peter Rojas and Ryan Block that the big challenge facing Nokia devices and the N97 in particular is S60. The iPhone, Palm Pre and Android devices have next generation operating systems and while S60 5th Ed works well enough, it isn’t appealing to users who want an iPhone-like user interface. That means that the N97 probably isn’t going to take off like its competition in UI sensitive markets like the USA.

    At the same time I enjoyed using the N97 preview model I had recently and I look forward to owning an N97 when they come out. I am not that bothered by the UI but then again, I am hardly representative of all users. If I was the N97 would be toe to toe with the iPhone 3G S.

    My big take away from the media event is Nokia’s approach to its consumers. I have already read reports about how the Symbian OS is going to receive an overhaul and with the N97’s (and, soon, other Nokia smartphones’) ability to update its firmware and apps over the air, the problem of a dated OS may well be a thing of the past soon enough.

  4. Hi Mhlongwane, I’ve been asked to hold back on some of the detail from the Dubai event until a local launch here in SA next month. This post is really derived from about half a page of about 2 and a half pages of my notes from the event. There is quite a bit of exciting stuff about the Ovi Store and the N97 which I am yet to write about (and I will!).

    The more I think about it the more I agree with people like Peter Rojas and Ryan Block that the big challenge facing Nokia devices and the N97 in particular is S60. The iPhone, Palm Pre and Android devices have next generation operating systems and while S60 5th Ed works well enough, it isn’t appealing to users who want an iPhone-like user interface. That means that the N97 probably isn’t going to take off like its competition in UI sensitive markets like the USA.

    At the same time I enjoyed using the N97 preview model I had recently and I look forward to owning an N97 when they come out. I am not that bothered by the UI but then again, I am hardly representative of all users. If I was the N97 would be toe to toe with the iPhone 3G S.

    My big take away from the media event is Nokia’s approach to its consumers. I have already read reports about how the Symbian OS is going to receive an overhaul and with the N97’s (and, soon, other Nokia smartphones’) ability to update its firmware and apps over the air, the problem of a dated OS may well be a thing of the past soon enough.

  5. @Paul Ok, looking forward to reading the rest of the debrief then. I myself am particularly excited about the Ovi store, as much as I read that its nowhere near the App Store w.r.t the interface, user friendliness and quality of apps – I still have faith in the Ovi Store that given time (which some users don’t have) it will be comparable if not coming second to none.

    But I also agree with many critics that the S60’s OS is dull, this was of course exposed by none other than Mr Steve Jobs himself when he unveiled the iPhone. Once again, I have never had a chance to play with the iPhone, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure that the iPhone’s OS kicks some ass.

    As a believer in Nokia, I am still willing to give them some time to polish their S60 OS, a reality that I believe that the guys in Espoo are well aware of – lest they risk loosing a fair share of users to Apple. So, when u speak of the likeliness of the S60 OS getting a complete overhaul, thats music to my ears.

    When I look at the Messaging system of the E72, it makes me realise the potential of what a Smartphone should really be.

    Ok, think I just exposed my ‘geek-ness’ here, if not my passion for Nokia. Enough for today, lest I risk writing a mini-thesis.

  6. @Paul Ok, looking forward to reading the rest of the debrief then. I myself am particularly excited about the Ovi store, as much as I read that its nowhere near the App Store w.r.t the interface, user friendliness and quality of apps – I still have faith in the Ovi Store that given time (which some users don’t have) it will be comparable if not coming second to none.

    But I also agree with many critics that the S60’s OS is dull, this was of course exposed by none other than Mr Steve Jobs himself when he unveiled the iPhone. Once again, I have never had a chance to play with the iPhone, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure that the iPhone’s OS kicks some ass.

    As a believer in Nokia, I am still willing to give them some time to polish their S60 OS, a reality that I believe that the guys in Espoo are well aware of – lest they risk loosing a fair share of users to Apple. So, when u speak of the likeliness of the S60 OS getting a complete overhaul, thats music to my ears.

    When I look at the Messaging system of the E72, it makes me realise the potential of what a Smartphone should really be.

    Ok, think I just exposed my ‘geek-ness’ here, if not my passion for Nokia. Enough for today, lest I risk writing a mini-thesis.

  7. Oh, one more thing, w.r.t FOTA, back in 2006 I was delighted when my N80 was able to do FOTA. Honestly I really thought this would be a standard feature in all S60 phones going forward, but we all know what happened don’t we.

    @MHlongwane

  8. Oh, one more thing, w.r.t FOTA, back in 2006 I was delighted when my N80 was able to do FOTA. Honestly I really thought this would be a standard feature in all S60 phones going forward, but we all know what happened don’t we.

    @MHlongwane

  9. @MHlongwane : I understood that there may be an app of some sort that will enable firmware updates over the air for a number of Nseries (and presumably Eseries) devices down the line. I didn’t explore this in detail but that could happen. It would certainly be consistent with how I think Nokia views some of these smart devices.

    Apple has made a number of comments about Symbian and I’ve learned that Apple tends to portray itself as the big innovator even when all it is doing is playing catchup. That being said S60 isn’t as smooth and good looking as the iPhone OS. I don’t know how much of it is functionality and how much is simply user interface but both are obviously important for various reasons.

  10. @MHlongwane : I understood that there may be an app of some sort that will enable firmware updates over the air for a number of Nseries (and presumably Eseries) devices down the line. I didn’t explore this in detail but that could happen. It would certainly be consistent with how I think Nokia views some of these smart devices.

    Apple has made a number of comments about Symbian and I’ve learned that Apple tends to portray itself as the big innovator even when all it is doing is playing catchup. That being said S60 isn’t as smooth and good looking as the iPhone OS. I don’t know how much of it is functionality and how much is simply user interface but both are obviously important for various reasons.

  11. I am very fond of Nokia, but recently i have mixed feelings about the company as a whole. My first problem started with the N96, wat were they thinking? Patience i have plenty off, but time is too precious to waste. I hate the lags in the S60 OS! Ok, well the latest firmware kinda remedied the problem. Secondly, I recommended the N85 to 2 family members based on specs and reviews, both are unhappy with the device because of hardware faults(i don’t know if u realized but Nokia’s aren’t the cheapest devices on the market). I remember the Nokia service centre in Vodaworld to be very professional and customer focussed. On taking one of the N85’s there this time, i was greeted by a modern setup with snobbish -wat would u call them- representatives, very unhelpful and with no professionalism! I was disgusted by their display, apart from the 5800 that was still like new, many devices were damaged and poorly displayed(the least they could do is update the firmware)! Lastly, i know we don’t have ovi store yet but what happened to the few FREE downloadable themes and content that we used to get before(must we pay for everything)? There are many free 3rd party themes available but i’ve noticed they consume considerably more battery life! Nokia will always be part of my family, with the N97 being the next addition but i feel, being a power user, what happens to all the consumers that aren’t so clued up about the device they are using, will they return to the brand? Is Nokia really listening to us?

  12. I am very fond of Nokia, but recently i have mixed feelings about the company as a whole. My first problem started with the N96, wat were they thinking? Patience i have plenty off, but time is too precious to waste. I hate the lags in the S60 OS! Ok, well the latest firmware kinda remedied the problem. Secondly, I recommended the N85 to 2 family members based on specs and reviews, both are unhappy with the device because of hardware faults(i don’t know if u realized but Nokia’s aren’t the cheapest devices on the market). I remember the Nokia service centre in Vodaworld to be very professional and customer focussed. On taking one of the N85’s there this time, i was greeted by a modern setup with snobbish -wat would u call them- representatives, very unhelpful and with no professionalism! I was disgusted by their display, apart from the 5800 that was still like new, many devices were damaged and poorly displayed(the least they could do is update the firmware)! Lastly, i know we don’t have ovi store yet but what happened to the few FREE downloadable themes and content that we used to get before(must we pay for everything)? There are many free 3rd party themes available but i’ve noticed they consume considerably more battery life! Nokia will always be part of my family, with the N97 being the next addition but i feel, being a power user, what happens to all the consumers that aren’t so clued up about the device they are using, will they return to the brand? Is Nokia really listening to us?

  13. Paul thank you for a great post πŸ™‚ Jaimal thank you for bringing your issues to our attention via Paul’s post – I am looking into the issues that you raised and will get back to you with feedback – Apology for the delay in responding, had a few technical issues over the past 48-hours πŸ™

    Regards
    Tania
    Nokia South Africa
    Communications

  14. Paul thank you for a great post πŸ™‚ Jaimal thank you for bringing your issues to our attention via Paul’s post – I am looking into the issues that you raised and will get back to you with feedback – Apology for the delay in responding, had a few technical issues over the past 48-hours πŸ™

    Regards
    Tania
    Nokia South Africa
    Communications

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