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Nokia et al: A continued diatribe

Picture 6
Ricky posted this on my earlier ‘Help, I’m shunning Nokia’ post and I wrote a response…

Link: SMS Text News » Archives » Help, I’m shunning Nokia

While not attemptin to blindly defend, it should be noted that the slowness in menu and photo capture that you mention has been addressed in future devices. The N76, E90, N81, and new N95 versions (both 8GB and US 3G) have 40MB of free RAM to the user, which I can attest contributes greatly to the speed of, well, everything.

The UI can’t be argued, but I have to ask, is Nokia’s S60 really intended for the same market the iPhone’s UI is?

As to the diatribe below — I got started before I knew it, the one line reply to Ricky turned into paragraphs. Instead of posting it as a comment, I’ve decided to post it here. I don’t intend the following as an analysis per se. Just a (frustrated and slightly haphazard) brain dump.

Ricky — fascinating points; I don’t quite know where my frustration is coming from. I’m having trouble putting it into words. I’m intensely frustrated that a billion dollar company such as Nokia was issuing announcements saying they we’re (I’m putting words in their mouth) ‘delighted that they’d be forced to rethink things’.

Why weren’t they thinking already?

I just can’t get over how stupid it is to put a 500 quid N95 in someone’s hand and expect them to use it like a multimedia computer. However you look at Symbian — whatever perspective, whether it’s from ‘ease of development’ (a joke?) or it’s ubiquitous nature around the world…… it’s rubbish. Rubbish compared to the Apple iPhone interface. I mean the whole interface. The whole package. You plug it into your computer; photos sync, music syncs, contacts/calendar/whatnot syncs. You don’t have to lift a finger. It just works.

It took Nokia years and years and years of arsing around… I mean, we’ve only JUST got it — recently, in the last 2 years — so that you can sync your Nokia nicely with an Apple desktop. It’s still total shit syncing with a Windows machine. You have to use their (until very recently) extremely clunky, proprietary nonsense to sync. Until recently, you had to use proprietary leads. Rubbish. Just rubbish.

Users WANT to use all the specs of the handsets we buy. We all read about the potential, the abilities, the features… but they’re all generally not fit for purpose. You can’t put a mobile handset in someone’s hand — something like the N95, E65, whatever — and expect them to bend around it. By hook or by crook, with a shit load of effort, you can get a Nokia to play music. But it doesn’t WORK the way you and I do. It’s not natural. It’s slow, it’s highly limited; it’s really, really annoying to use.

Steve Jobs and the team at Apple aren’t gods. They just thought the process through — the NATURAL process for taking a picture; for storing and transferring pictures; for using your device like a ‘multimedia computer’.

Any 15 year old could see that Symbian was flawed; is flawed. It’s not in the code, it’s in the execution. It’s the way they’ve put it together. No one’s taken a step back and though ‘hmm, the music is actually really difficult to use’. Or, if they have done, they’ve just carried-on-as-normal. It took Apple to fix it. To be brave enough to sort it.

It’s not just Nokia though. It’s the whole mobile phone industry. It’s been sat in a stagnant malaise for years, for YEARS. That, I think, is possibly at the route of my issue.

I knew, subconsciously, this was the case – that the industry had totally stagnated. I think we all looked the other way though. What the hell was I doing buying an N95? Great phone. I love(d) it. But it’s not actually very difficult from a bog standard mp3 enabled, photo enabled Nokia 6000 series from, say, 3or 4 years ago. The picture quality is better. There’s more memory, sure. There are one or two more features…….. but it’s been lazy. Hugely lazy. Let’s stick a better camera on it and shove it out the door. Let’s add GPS even though, let’s be clear, it’s a bit shit. 3 minutes to lock on a signal? Well, screw it, at least we can put ‘GPS’ on the feature list, right? Ahh let’s add 20 meg more data. Let’s put 90mb ‘on board’. 90 meg? I mean, I can buy a gig memory stick about an inch long for a tenner. Why hasn’t my N95 got a gig in it? 2 gig? 10 gig? It’s ok vomitting the devices out nowish… but what about LAST YEAR? What about 2005? What about INNOVATION? And why hasn’t someone admitted music sucks on Nokia and sorted it? I’m focusing on the music as an example, but really, the whole platform is to be found wanting. Whether you’re talking Sony Ericsson, Samsung, whatever. It’s all placed mediocre as a result of the arrival of the iPhone.

Things were fine in December 2006. Come 2007 and the iPhone’s arrival, it was then made very, very, very clear that Nokia, Samsung, Sony Ericsson — whoever — have, more or less, been shovelling shit out the door. Gently upgraded each time. Better camera, slightly more memory, another stupid function that will never work just how we humans expect it.

Truth be told, I’m offended. I was under the impression that these organisations actually strived to innovate; that they actually had teams of boffins — passionate boffins — working on giant leaps, working on improving, testing, refining. I thought that’s what was happening. Then it iPhone arrived. It’s by no means entirely perfect but it’s a sign. It’s a demonstration that the industry was woefully, woefully under serving us all. It was a watershed moment — proving that the industry can’t sit back and shovel the same rubbish toward us.

I’m annoyed and slightly offended that I’ve paid all that money for these devices (most I just buy direct rather than operator-subsidised ones) when, really, … well, on reflection, what I thought was ‘wicked’ and ‘cool’ was just-another-production-line-model number. They weren’t working hard. They weren’t pushing the boundaries. And this annoys me because I want it. I want iPhone style qualities. The iPhone certainly isn’t there yet — but it moves mobile to a different, higher plane. It’s evolved things toward my expectations and desires. Just like I wrote half way through last year here.

Let me ask you this one — here’s a telling point: Ask every UK consumer if they’d like an iPhone on an 18 month contract. Whatever the actual financial mechanics — if you offered every UK consumer the choice between an iPhone and a RAZR2, which would they choose?

It ain’t the cool factor. Yes iPhone is cool. It’s the fact that it works. It works how you EXPECT it to work, how you WANTED it to work. Put it next to a handset — a glorified 1980s piece of technology with a 9 digit keypad — and the difference is stark and entirely shocking.

There’s a raft of issues with iPhone, I know. Keyboard typing? I wonder. Non-replaceable battery? Strange. Greasy finger prints all over the screen? Heh. The ‘issues’ not withstanding, the device works nicely. NON mobile phone users can understand it and use it. The really exciting factor is, I hope, the innovation that will come from it. Version 1 has it’s flaws, but version 2 is on it’s way — version 2 from a company that is hugely passionate about innovation. It’s also been devoured by other manufacturers, not just industry incumbents who are, hopefully, now feeling more comfortable taking bold leaps themselves.

So, Ricky asks: Is Nokia’s S60 really intended for the same market the iPhone’s UI is?

Yes. For the mass market S60 doesn’t get a look in when you’re talking iPhone. Perhaps one or two nerds ‘can’t cope without a Nokia interface’ but that’s a marginal segment.

Me? I want a unified device. I don’t want to carry about an iPod and a phone. It makes sense to link them together. Same with email. Make email work nicely for me on my phone. Give me Google Maps. Give me IM. Give me web browsing — proper web browsing. Give me the ability to extend the device capabilities with easy add-on programs. Give me a good quality camera (If I want brilliant quality, I’ll buy a separate device) but meantime, give me a decent unified mobile communicator. Make it work like science fiction. The science fiction writers usually got it right because they didn’t have to sod about with history. They weren’t forced to screw around with upgrade paths. They just considered exactly what would be cool, what we’d want — and they wrote about it. Think: The Star Trek communicator; the personal-communications-devices so famous across any number of sci-fi computer games, movies and books. The iPhone is a step toward that. An enthusiastic, positive nod in the right direction.

Your next Nokia Whatever isn’t. It’s yesterday’s model with 10% more memory and a 20ghz faster processor. Next.

It’s getting toward late 2007 and I still can’t adequately sync my music to my N95 NOR play it easily. The interface is clunky and shit. It needs a TOTAL revamp. It NEEDS to work like iTunes. Why? ‘Cos that works. OR come up with something better, Nokia. But DON’T just rebrand and rebadge the platform and shove it out the door as ‘what computers have become’.

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