Rich Mulholland kicked off the session with a discussion about future tech and the kind of thinking we need to truly innovate. He showed us a quote by Alvin Toffler which sets the tone for this sort of thinking:
The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.
Rich spoke about how Nokia saw the need for different phones for different tastes and uses which gave Nokia a benefit in the mobile phone market. He brandished a demo N900 for much of the time which gave me chills (it is a very nice device!). He talked about a possible transition from the laptop/desktop form factor we are accustomed to now to a far more mobile form factor where a high powered version of your mobile device becomes your hub and you connect to available peripherals to take advantage of larger interface options. The bottom line here is that mobile devices are eating away at larger devices’ utility and will make even further inroads as these mobile devices become more powerful and more capable.
The model of building a business model around customers and developing new devices for customers’ needs is giving way to a model that revolves around developers. Rather than develop new devices to fit customers’ needs, create a device that can support a wide variety of applications that developers create to meet users’ needs. Nokia’s strategy has historically been to build a variety of devices although its Ovi Store and devices that support the Ovi Store fit in with the developer oriented model more. Developers still have the challenge of having to develop multiple versions of their apps to fit this variety of form factors and devices. It is still a challenge. Rich said that what Nokia should do is create a handful powerful devices that comply with strict standards that deal with things like screen resolution, location of certain buttons and so on to give developers fewer form factors and specifications to develop for.
What intrigued me is that Rich is a N900 fan (I think it is fair to say that). Rich sees the N900 as being pretty close to the platform ideal he believes would be more successful for Nokia (Nokia seems to agree based on the video above). This is telling because Rich is generally pretty critical of unsatisfactory user experiences.
Our next presenter was Nokia’s Patrick Henchie who started by taking us through recent developments in the Nokia/Symbian ecosystem including the Calling All Innovators competition and Symbian going open source under the Symbian Foundation. Maemo 5 and the Qt framework also make for a potent combination (Qt itself enables some pretty interesting cross-platform development which we are starting to see on Symbian and Maemo devices).
Patrick spoke about Nokia Maps (free and you pay for turn by turn directions) as well as the Nokia Maps Player that gives developers and users options that look a bit like Google Maps embedding and development options.
Location based services is a category of services that is attracting a lot of attention and for good reason. It is going to be a very exciting space and Nokia is probably going to have a range of good looking, powerful services. We will apparently see Nokia’s new lifecasting/lifestreaming app when the N97 mini is launched in early 2010 and that should begin to usher in more of a location-based experience for users.
As I mentioned above, I got to spend a little time with a demo N900 at the event and while I am a little cautious after my rollercoaster ride with my N97, the N900 looks pretty promising. The one thing I like is that it supports multiple calendars and given my fetish for contextual calendars and multiple Google Calendar accounts, support for all of these calendars would immediately put Maemo ahead of Symbian for me (as well as Android for that matter) as a productivity device. Add to that the Evernote application and a Maemo device like the N900 starts to come close to obviating my laptop when I go to meetings or go out of town for short trips. There are still a few limitations but my attachment to my laptop at those times would be somewhat diminished.
Its always a little difficult to predict what will happen in the future. I do think we will see more powerful mobile devices start to take away from laptops and desktops but exactly how we will use those devices and what form those devices will take remains to be seen. For the time being, there are some very interesting trends!