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.

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