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’.

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

19 replies on “Nokia et al: A continued diatribe”

Wow. I can seriously feel the heat coming off my screen. While I disagree, I have to say that this is the sort of thing that Nokia needs to hear/read. I agree 200% that music on S60 devices (even on N-series, which is supposed to be music-centric, or at least some are) is a painful experience to say the least.

I do, however, think that you might not be giving credit where credit is due. If you have the latest firmware on your N95, you’ll have A-GPS, with which I consistently get a lock in under a minute, whether I’m cruising down the freeway at 70 mph or lost in the shops in Chelsea, London (as I was last week). The problem, I’ll agree, is how do regular users get that firmware upgrade?

Syncing is something I have done with my S60 devices since the 6620 several years ago. Syncing is one of the reasons I have an S60 and not a Windows Mobile. And it’s called Bluetooth, something the iPhone DOESN’T sync with. When I get to my front door, my phone senses that my computer is near and they automatically start talking, syncing my contacts/calendar/todo/notes/sms/mms/pics/videos. That happens without me having to touch either my phone or PC, so that by the time I’ve walked from my front door to my bedroom, it’s all done. Boom, just like that. No need to bother with clunky USB cords.

I’ll agree that the Mac community has, until recently, gotten the shaft from Nokia. I will also point out that the Mac community, until recently, has been incredibly small. Only since the iPod has there been a beginning of growth among the crowd, or at least the mainstream consumers noticing Mac.

On a side note, and halfway tongue-in-cheek, you mention that the “proprietary rubbish” of Nokia’s PC Suite and “proprietary leads” are unacceptable, but I do recall that my iPod (and thereby, iPhone) HAVE to sync with iTunes, and ONLY with the special port found on iPods/iPhones. Interesting…..

I do, however, Ewan, agree that for the most part, Nokia and every other manufacturer have done very little innovation and very much simple improving of features (VGA to 1MP to 2MP and so on). I also know that the iPhone is all the rage. But why? Merely because of the UI.

I will also agree 100% that the UI on cellphones has needed an upgrade for a while. However, I don’t agree that the iPhone is exactly how the UI should look. It’s great for beginners who are trading up from their RAZR. However, power users like to be able to actually do things on their device.

However, I totally disagree that Apple is the king of mobile phones and that every other manufacturer is dead in the water. I’ve played with an iPhone and frankly, it doesn’t offer a tenth of the functionality that I NEED on my phone:

I use my N95 as a podcatching device. I actually DON’T have any podcasts subscribed in iTunes (though I do use iTunes on my desktop for music organization). I have ~10 on my N95 and I listen to/watch them there. Why? Because I can update and download them ANYWHERE. I record an entire video podcast on my N95. Twice in the past week I’ve used the built-in GPS to save me time and money. You can read the exploits of that later this week. My Nokia uses bluetooth the way it should be used – FOR EVERYTHING. I can listen to music via bluetooth, I can sync via bluetooth, I can use a bluetooth keyboard, I can transfer files via bluetooth. I can control my computer via bluetooth. Can you do ANY of those with the iPhone? Negative.

Apple was too concerned with making it dead easy for your grandma that they forgot the functionality for the rest of us. Now I realize that not everyone wants to do all that with their phone. Heck, most people don’t even comprehend that their phone COULD do that. But there’s a very large portion (read = most of the MASSIVE S60 community) that DO want to use their device for everything.

So basically, yes, I agree 300% that Nokia’s current music….environment… beyond measure. Absolutely. Do I think they’ve addressed that with the upcoming Nokia Music Player (not the store, the desktop app)? From what I saw (a flash demo), yes. Will it be the same in practice? Hopefully. Do I agree that Apple is going to fix EVERYTHING wrong with the mobile handset industry? Absolutely not. They WANT you to be tethered to your PC. How many generations of iPods are we up to? 5? And how many have any sort of wireless functionality out of the box? None. Who’s innovating?

My question is, are you buying an iPod with a cellphone crammed inside, or are you buying a cellphone that is truly versatile?

Excellent, excellent response Ricky. We’re in agreement. I don’t think I emphasised enough that I’m not enitrely blown away by the Apple. (For instance, you’re absolutely right to highlight the proprietary nature of iTunes – and we could be here for a long time listing the challenges with the iPhone).

I wonder if you’ll agree with me on this summary point:

iPhone isn’t the solution and there are and will be many complaints with it, particularly from power users. However, the interface and platform innovation is, in the context of the mobile device industry, staggering. I’m sure you’ll agree that using photos, using music and using the web on the iPhone is how-it-was-meant-to-be. At least, today. When I saw Jobs navigating around a website with his device, it was a natural connection for me. Great. Same with photos, same with music.

I think there’s probably a better interface and solution and there are many shortcomings — however not one mobile manufacturer has presented anything like iPhone in the last 5 years. Nothing as challenging, nothing as inspired, nothing as intuitive.

The iPod interface is well known as being excellent. Stick that in a handset and I’m bound to like it. But where’s Nokia’s answer? They’ve a smart team of geniuses, I’m sure. Apple doesn’t have a monopoly on innovation. Music works well on an iPod and an iPhone. It isn’t the only answer though — and I’m intensely annoyed that Nokia hasn’t bothered innovating.

So on reflection, I now feel a little cheated that I wasn’t offered the best by the incumbent mobile device manufacturers. They’ve continue to shove mediocre rubbish at me for years and — well, none of us knew any better really. I’ve oft complained about music on handsets being appalling (Just using that as an example, don’t get me started on Sony Ericsson PC-to-phone interfaces). Power users such as yourself, Ricky, are fine. I CAN make my devices work – if I can be bothered. It’s the other huge majority of non-power-users that I’m annoyed for.

The arrival of the iPhone demonstrated the mediocrity that we were being served with. For that, I’m delighted. Now, I want to see innovation from the other players.

And I can’t tell you how disappointed I was to read about Nokia’s iPhone-like device — I forget it’s name — which is due out in a year. A YEAR? Dear me. Dear, dear me.

This isn’t difficult. I’m no particular genius. If somebody brings out a nice music interface, i.e. Apple, AND they have huge success with it, I’d get my design team to pay attention. ‘Look at this one guys.. why doesn’t our music player work better? Eh? Come on, fix it.’ … I wouldn’t just leave the existing shit and shovel it out on every new model. I’d be taking the good things — the bits that Apple got right — and that all the other manufacturers got right — and I’d be enhancing it; I’d be running 100 miles per hour with my design team, pushing the boundaries in the hunt for better and better devices for my customers. That’s the natural job, surely, of market leading mobile manufacturers?

Well no. Not quite. The reality is, if you’ve got a market position, you can, generally speaking, defend it reasonably easily. Just shovel out a few new handsets a year, keep the cash coming in. You know many of your customers (the operators) are going to want to offer their customers a shiny new handset every 12-18 months, so just knock’em out. What’s the difference between the N95 and the N73? Next to nothing. Someone deliberately chose to put a 3.2 mega pixel camera in the N73, and a 5 mega pixel in the N95. Just differentiation. Just going through the motions. Make this one pink, make that one black, stick an ‘i’ on the end of this one. They’re all the same thing, with a tiny, tiny marginal difference.

So I’m pleased the status quo has been challenged; I’m pleased Apple had the balls to do it — and all they’ve done is challenge. They haven’t, unfortunately, delivered the be-all end-all winning device. Oh no. I’m so pleased they came to market with it though — to highlight the rubbish we’ve been offered by the incumbents for so long.


You wrote: “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.”

Have you ever played with an iPhone? Or are you just describing how it might work based on what you have read? Do remember that most of the reports that we have been exposed to have come from the US, where the majority of mobile phone users are exposed to Motos, Samsungs (because of their network format) or the Palms, iPaqs, Treos…those sorts.

Reports are now starting to come out about how the euphoria has quickly died down – and how people ARE indeed getting frustrated with their iPhones. You say photos – the iPhone can’t take a simple satisfactory shot to save its US$499/US$599 life. It doesn’t enable the user to navigate. Syncing is not a breeze. The majority of Americans have not been exposed to symbian – which is why anything other UI would be a god-send.

Let’s go back a couple of years and look at the Razr. It made a lot of noise thanks to its design. But if you follow news reports (and I’m assuming that that’s the least that you do to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world of technology), you will realise that Moto isn’t exactly in a happy place right now.

If you want credibility mate – don’t base your arguements on hearsay. Play with the products and compare them, feature for feature – then we’ll believe you.

I’ve got an iPhone sat on my desk right here Ramesh — here is a photo. I’m not doing a blow-by-blow feature comparison because that’s not my interest — I’m not maintaining the iPhone is a brilliant device, not at all. I see it’s shortcomings myself every day when using it. My point is that the other manufacturers — as you well point out with Moto as the example — haven’t bothered innovating much at all over the past few years, especially with the interfaces.

I’m not asking anyone to ‘believe’ my viewoints at all — it’s just freely offered opinion.

Great debate.

I’m embarrassed for Sony Ericsson. The performance of the K810i I just foolishly bought is horrendous. Literally 3-4 seconds between pressing a button and the interface doing anything.

How can anyone release a product like that?

However, regarding Apple – I am torn. My iPod video drizes me CRAZY with the proprietary nonsense.

I have music, photos and video scattered across 2 laptops and a desktop. I can only synchronise with ONE. I can only load video in QT format (I think) and only through iTunes. Why can’t I drag-and-drop content from anywhere?

Very frustrating – I am going to look at some iPod clones like Creative that are more open, and perhaps wait for an iPhone clone in a similar manner!

It seems very likely that mobile phone evolution will follow the PC path. We’re a long way down that road already. I suspect it’s to do with the economics and risk management approaches of corporates (which pays many peoples’ salaries…). I’m wondering if there’s an avenue for an MVNO to lead the way with offering “phones that just work”. They could probably afford more than other mobile service providers to take this distinguished path. If customer’s agree with this position then they will gravitate towards that MVNO and the oil tanker corporates would then have to follow. Perhaps Sonopia will bring in such a change i.e. a raft of mini-MVNOs when they launch in Europe. Perhaps Blyk will bring in sufficient shift in position. It’s going to take someone to make as bold a move as Apple with the iPhone to make mobile phones less like PCs (and more useful to the individual).

I have both the iPhone , N95 and N800 and have also played with the N95 8gb. The iPhone user experience is derived from a “ground up approach” where the hardware/chipsets/screen etc…, OS(X) / firmware and then the native applications themselves are all optimised (iPhone Google Maps was developed by the Apple engineers not Google engineers). This is what makes the iPhone just work so well in my opinion.

Nokia’s current approach on the smartphone side could be said to be constrained by Symbian and S60 choice (which is a top down approach to the OS and firmware) and the hardware they choose to put into the device, particularly the processors and RAM. There are of course tradeoffs in any design, but Apple seem to have chosen these tradeoffs carefullyand with some thought.

The Aeon form factor phone concept and some of the design videos Nokia have produced are **very** innovative from a user experience and functional point if view. … but, and here is the main point … it’s all in the execution. Apple have executed their vision. It’s fine to have nice videos but making them reality is where the crunch comes. I think Apple will get it right iteratively by Version3 / Version4 but by then the other manufacturers will have their touch-based smartphones in the market (Nokia / Motorola / Samsung) and LG will be on iteration 5 by then ! Let’s see who makes the mistake of just putting a touch interface on top of their existing OS without the hardware and individual application optimisation !

My 2c.

I think I may have mentioned this elsewhere . . .

One of the things that Apple seem to understand better than anyone else is refinement. Apple introduces features and abilities as when they are good and ready, and not before. With it’s OSX foundations and large touch screen, the iPhone can become whatever it needs to become – but only when it’s ready, when it’s refined. Apple is not perfect, so there are of course some acceptions, the camera is app is just too basic and the lack if landscape keyboard, spring to mind.

Nokia, much like Apple’s closest rival Microsoft, tend to go for the ‘slap it all on and see what sticks’ approach, with the hope that the market place will decide if a feature is truly useful. Whilst this approach is pure heaven for geeks like myself, it’s often proves frustrating for most non-geeks (i.e. 90% of the market). Look at the N95 as an example. it has a 3D graphics processor which Nokia themselves have practically never used until now, no not even in their own UI or Maps app!! And the GPS? Well, let’s not even go there shall we, calling it just about passible is probably being kind.

Anyway, as I said before, it’s too early to tell the true impact of Apple’s grand entrance. By this time next year, we should have a clearer picture of how the mobile market is going to pan out for the next 3 to 5 years.

A fascinating conversation indeed.

So to sum things up:

1. We all agree that other manufacturers’ music offerings are crap and in desperate need of improvement.
2. We all agree that while Apple isn’t the god-send to the industry that they and their fanboys would like us to believe, it’s still done marvelous things to shake the industry up quite a bit.
3. We all agree that Nokia’s method is to put as many features as they can first, and refine them as you go, whereas Apple’s MO is to only put the features which are totally refined, however dated they may be.

Anything else?

There’s nothing quite like a good summary! (^_^)

If I may add just one more point . . .

4. We all agree that it’s conversations like these that make following the phone industry one of our favourite pastimes.

quote “Gently upgraded each time. Better camera, slightly more memory, another stupid function that will never work just how we humans expect it.”

If we had waited for SonyEricsson, Nokia and all the other players to make a iphone like phone, we probably would have to have waited for 5 years, good on you Apple to use this sort of tecnology now.

Personally I think we’ve got a problem not just with mobile phone interfaces but with user interfaces generally. We seem to be stuck on a set way of doing things and nobody seems able or (more likely) willing to come up with something *different*.

On the desktop PC we have the “desktop”, just the same as it was 25 years ago when Apple nicked it off Xerox, a few tweaks here and there but nothing truly revolutionary. You can talk all day about how OS X is better at this, Windows better at that, the various Linux interfaces better at this other thing, but really, they’re all crap in their own unique ways well as in many basic, fundamental ways.

A lot of what we expect from a computer seems to have spilled over into the mobile phone world, but where it’s different it’s usually just some functional rubbish we’ve been fobbed off with. I can’t speak for the iPhone as I’ve not used one, but Series 60 needs some serious work, as I’m sure Sony-Ericssons interface does and all the other manufacturers.

The advantage the mobile world has is that it’s not tethered to a quarter of a century of “this is how I’ve always done it, why should I change now?” like the PC world, but that doesn’t seem to have made it any more innovative. They just keep on building on the same basic structure with no thought as to how it could be. (Hell, I expect that Symbian’s just some variation of the Epoc OS which has been about since at least the early 90s.)

We need true innovation, not yet another bolted on toy, but bolted on toys is all we get. If Apple truly manage to create some change, then it will be a wonder, but I can’t see much happening any time soon, especially not in the wider IT world.

But all revolutions have to start somewhere, eh? 😉

I read this on my Treo and was quite mad that in coming to the site that I was given the mobile version and couldn’t comment. (pout)

I made it here, and considering my own dislikes of most mobiles, I agree with all that has been said so far. I have a N95 and a Treo 680 that I swap between all the time. The N95 is great, till the battery goes, a program or two crashes due to memory, or it becomes a cludge to just get to a program. The Treo is nice and works, then it stops and crashes, reminds me why I needed a 3rd party battery, etc. (pout)

I wrote once that innovation has nothing to do with features, it has to do with elegantly solving a problem in a way that looks simple, but is inheartly complex. Its not just what can you do, but what is the flow you take in doing it. Having not even as much as touched an iPhone yet, I understand exactly what others say about it, only because I’ve complained about it on my devices for so long.

Enough of my pouting about what works and doesn’t. I am not a manufacturer, and though I know I could do a heck of a job in product design and management, I’m not in that position. I use these devices because for what is here, this IS the innovative thing to use. Maybe we will get there one day, but I stopped holding my breath about this time last year. Change will happen or it doesn’t.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.