Nokia’s amazing drop in smartphones

Tough competition from Android smartphone vendors and Apple iPhone combined to Nokia’s announcement to eventually kill Symbian has resulted to something which would sounded unbelievable a couple of years ago: During Q2 2011, Apple passed Nokia as the largest smartphone vendor.  Nokia shippad about 16,7 million smartphones, against 25,2 million Apple iPhone shipments.

Nokia’s smartphone shipments dropped 34% YoY (from Q2 2010), and 31% from Q1 2011.  Their whole business was only barely profitable, thanks to the 430 million euros patent payments settlement with Apple.

Samsung has not yet reported Q2 2011 results, but it has been estimated they have shipped about 19,5 million Android and Bada smartphones. This would mean Nokia has dropped to third position in smartphones. There’s is a good graph about smartphone shipments and market shares since Q3 20008 at All About Symbian.

I’m still puzzled by Stephen Elop’s announcement in February to ”slash Symbian” such a long time before they would have any Windows Phone devices.  He didn’t even have some prototype with a Nokia logo to show back then.

Who would want to develop applications and games for a platform with such an uncertain future? Or buy those apps? Personally I’ve noticed I don’t want to pay for Symbian apps anymore, because it feels like the platform will be discontinued too soon, even though it will probably remain active for many years.

I would have expected Nokia to announce they will at first bring Windows Phone devices to selected markets, such as France, Germany, UK and  especially USA, and later when they have seen much well WP can compete against Android and iOS, move further to replacing Symbian.

Nokia has promised support for current Symbian phones and new phones, but until now their actions haven’t been very convincing. We haven’t seen a new high-end Symbian devices comparable with the top models from HTC and Samsung, and Symbian Anna updates for current Symbian 3 smartphones have been delayed too many times. Slightly updated software won’t bring Nokia N8 or X7 to same level than HTC Sensation or Samsung Galaxy S II.

I assume Nokia will have to lower prices a lot to sell at least some more Symbian devices this year, but then there Huawei and ZTE offering very affordable Android smartphones.

To become the market share leader in smartphones again, Nokia will have come up with some very impressive Windows Phone devices, not just copies of what we have already seen from other vendors.

 

Google+ app for iPhone, but not yet iPad or iPod touch

Yesterday Google released a Google+ app for iPhone 3G/3GS and iPhone 4. It’s in early beta, and Google+ developers have admited there still are many bugs. I tried it immediately on iPhone 4 with a recent iOS 4.x release, but for some reason I can’t even get in. The login says I “appear to be offline”. I could download the app from App Store and I can access plus.google.com on Safari, so there should not be any problem with my connection.

A big disappointment is that G+ only became available for iPhone. You can’t install it on iPod touch or iPad. App Store does not even show it in iPhone downloads for iPad.

Could this be a weak signal of iOS getting fragmented a bit in the same way as Android has? Of course, this kind of an release has been decision made by Google, not Apple. Will Google want to favour Android users against iOS users?

As a nice detail Google+ Mobile Lead Product Manager Punit Soni has been actively posting about their development. They have got a lot of feedback and answered to many bug reports and feature wishes too.

My primary device is still Nokia N8, but I haven’t noticed Google to promise a G+ app for Symbian 3 yet. I have a bad feeling Symbian is losing support of software developers very fast, and if this happens, many users will quickly want to change to Android, iOS or Windows Phone.

Wish list for Nokia Windows Phone

There’ve been a lot of rumours and speculation about Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) phones from Nokia after the leaked (?) video where Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop showed a device looking like Nokia N9 running WP7. A couple of days ago there was a new video, apparently from some (Compal?) Chinese factory. This bad quality video shows some device opened and WP7 booting. This video has been removed from many sites “due to copyright claims by Nokia”, but there still are some copies on YouTube, such as this one embedded on PCMag.com.

Windows Phone in Nokia E7 case. Could Nokia's WP7 Mango smartphone look like this?
Windows Phone in Nokia X7 case. Could Nokia's WP7 Mango smartphone look like this?

The big question is how much Nokia can differentiate from other Windows Phone vendors? At the moment Microsoft has a tight control over hardware specifications, physical buttons, screen size, user interface and so on. Stephen Elop and CTO Rich Green (at the moment on medical leave, according to WSJ) have claimed Nokia has agreed with Microsoft they can modify the platform with their own applications and UI enhancements.

Then again, the famous Russian mobile blogger Eldar Murtazin said in an interview earlier this week the first WP7 Mango prototypes from Nokia would be no different from competitors from Dell, HTC, LG, Samsung, and others.

So I put together a couple of thoughts how Nokia could and possibly will compete against other Windows Phone vendors. I call it unimaginatively Nokia W7.

Hardware features

  • Physical sliding QWERTY keyboard similar to Nokia E7 and localised to different languages, such as Arabic, German, Nordic etc. This is the best keyboard I’ve used in a mobile device so far. Most WP7 devices currently don’t have a physical keyboard.
  • Physical camera button (compulsory in all the Windows Phones, compare to Nokia N9 which lacks this).
  • MicroSD memory card slot.
  • 4,0-inch capacitive AMOLED touch screen with 800×480 pixels (the only supported resolution at the moment).
  • 8 or 12 megapixels. wide angle camera with Carl Zeiss optics, max aperture size of F2.2 (similar to Nokia N9), autofocus and Xenon flash.
  • Mini-HDMI interface.
  • 3,5” AV connector.
  • Connectivity: WLAN (802.11b/g/n), Bluetooth 3.0 and HSPA/HSUPA support

In my opinion Nokia E7 and N8 are a couple of the most stylished mobile devices at the moment with their aluminium unibody casing. I have dropped my N8 on different kind of floors many times, and it only has a couple of small scratches. The negative side is that the battery is under those screws and can’t be swapped easily.

Software features

  • Nokia Maps “4.0” with free pedestrian and car navigation, maybe even with those nice 3D maps like in the web service?
  • FOTA (firmware updates over the air).
  • Data encryption for all the on-device data.
  • Support for most Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) policies for enterprise use.
  • Full landscape and portrait mode support in UI, also in the main menu of WP7. I guess this won’t happen very soon unless Microsoft decides to support it.

Obviously it should have decent multi-tasking, as all the Windows Phone Mango devices. I guess this won’t be a problem, since Microsoft has defined the mininum CPU and memory specifications.

I have heard positive comments about multi-tasking from the users of Mango beta. I also hope to see Spotify, Skype and many other applications still missing from the platform.

However, Nokia’s Rich Green said in an interview in February at MWC they are first focusing on getting Windows Phone smartphones to market as fast possible, and later we can expect modified UIs and other Nokia specific enhancements in the Windows Phone platform. If this is still the case, the first WP devices from Nokia will probably be pretty identical to competitors.  Hopefully some of them will have at least as good camera as in Nokia N8 or N9.

What would you like to see in Nokia’s Windows Phone Mango devices?

Murtazin: Nokia betting on a dead horse

The Finnish national public media Yleisradio (YLE) news has interviewed Mr Eldar Murtazin, the owner of the Mobile-Review.com site. Murtazin claims Nokia is ”betting on a dead horse” by giving up MeeGo and Symbian and moving to Windows Phone 7. YLE reports Murtazin said Nokia is ”clinging to a system with a smaller market share”. The original article was in Finnish, and the report was broadcast yesterday evening on YLE TV1 headline news. The article is also available in English.

Many analysts somewhat disagree. For example research company Gartner has estimated Windows Phone will get a 20% market share by 2015, ahead of Apple iOS with 17% market share, but clearly behind of Google Android with the estimated 48% market share. While visiting to Helsinki in June 2011 Research VP Carolina Milanesi from Gartner said Nokia would represent 90% of Windows Phone shipments by 2015.

Nokia responded to YLE news Murtazin is not an objective party, because he would have admited himself to consult Nokia’s competitors. According to YLE news, Nokia also has requested the Russian police to investigate Murtazin about his product leaks. Murtazin says product leaks have only increased, because Nokia’s staff would not satisfied with the new management of CEO Stephen Elop.

Murtazin is famous for leaking information and pictures of future Nokia’s and other vendors’ smartphones even before they have been announced. He has also previewed and reviewed devices before they are shipping. For example, Murtazin reviewed (article translated into English) Nokia N8 already in spring 2010, many months before it would eventually ship.

Murtazin argued N8 would not bring such a big improvement to the Symbian user interface Nokia was promising. Back then Nokia’s executives, such as CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo and senior executive Anssi Vanjoki were saying N8 would end discussion of Symbian’s user interface problems. Now we know Murtazin was pretty much right. Nokia N8 finally shipped in the end of September 2010, many months late.  Improvement in user interface was smaller than Nokia had touted.

Today, almost 11 months later, Nokia N8 users are still waiting for the Symbian Anna update to Symbian 3 which would improve the user interface and performance. It’s supposed to become available by the end of August. Having tried Nokia E6 and X7 with Symbian Anna, I know the update is not revolutionary, but just a small step ahead.

Murtazin told YLE he has seen Windows Phone prototypes from Nokia. Earlier Murtazin wrote they would be manufactured by Compal, not Nokia itself.
Murtazin also claims in the interview made in Moscow that Nokia can not bring anything new to Windows Phone 7 platform, and could not modify it for their own applications and software.

This is a surprising argument, since even President of Microsoft’s Windows Phone division Andy Lees said in Mobile World Congress (MWC) in February during the Q&A of their press conference Nokia would be allowed to make modifications to WP7 and add their own software to it. However, Nokia is not supposed to change the basic user interface so that there will remain a common Windows Phone user experience.

However, Nokia’s CTO Rich Green told in an interview in MWC that at first their focus would be to get Windows Phone smartphones to market as fast as possible, and later they would bring more enhancements to the offering. When I interviewed Rich Green again in April, he hinted Nokia is planning big things especially in area of new material technologies.

Many wonder if Murtazin is a credible source. I’m not quite sure about that, but I think he has lost a large part of his credibility since he seems to have been on some kind of a personal war path against Nokia. Murtazin himself then again claimed YLE news Nokia has declared him as their ”enemy number one”.  In any case, this situation decreases his value as a source at least from a point of view of professional journalists.

Google+ and mobile access

I have been trying to get familiar with Google+, the so called ”Facebook and Twitter” killer of the search engine giant. It’s in early beta, so I don’t want to make any kind of judgement how good or bad it is. It will need more time and users to prove its place too. However, there are positive new things which make me want to follow it, especially Circles, a new way of grouping friends, family members, colleagues and just random people whose thoughts are interesting to follow.

Google+ on Symbian phones, such as Nokia N8, is a very simple mobile site.
Google+ on Symbian phones, such as Nokia N8, is a very simple mobile site. (I have blurred this image to hide names and pictures.)

However, one big problem is the modest mobile support at the moment. Google+ has a very simple and badly working mobile site for Symbian, and they have published a more sophisticated app based service for Android phones. The situation is quite bad compared to how you can connect with Facebook and Twitter on all the smartphone and tablet platforms in different ways. I have got addicted to Facebook pretty much, because they have a decent mobile site m.facebook.com which I’m checking many times a day typically when I’m waiting for something etc.

I assume Google is working hard to improve this. There’s a nice To-Do list in the UnwiredView.com article.

It will be interesting to see if Google will favour Android in the future too, or will iOS, Symbian and Windows Phone users get a good Google+ client, or at least a good mobile site. There have been some unofficial iOS apps already, but I’ve heard developers complain Google would need to open more APIs to get better third party support.

As Google+ is in early beta, many Android users (for example some using Samsung Galaxy S)  have complained the Google+ Android client has made their phone slower and unstable,

More and more native apps seem to be needed. Could HTML5 be a better solution? Building a native app for all the platforms of all the services doesn’t seem like a realistic future. TechCrunch had a good summary of the apps versus HTML5 situation back in February 2011. Research VP Ray Valdes from Gartner made some interesting points about HTML5 versus Adobe Flash already last year, but the situation has not changed pretty much since then.

Here in Finland media companies and service providers are announcing with new apps for Android and iOS smartphones and tablets in fast pace, and many have published apps for Nokia’s Symbian smartphones too. Most of them are free, and there’s no clear business model. I would guess in the future we will see more HTML5 based services instead of native apps, but this is a big enough topic for another blog post.

Symbian Anna and faster web browser

Nokia fan site All About Symbian (AAS) has done a light speed test of web browsers of Symbian 3 (running on Nokia C7) against Symbian Anna (Nokia X7). Symbian Anna brings an updated version of the Nokia browser. The conclusion of AAS is that Symbian Anna browser version 7.3 is an average of 23,5% faster than the version 7.2 in Symbian 3.

They admit this is a not a comprehensive speed test, and with other sites and test methods the result could be different. Their readers have also commented it would have been good to see the same rseults compared to the often touted Opera Mobile browser. Of course, it doesn’t support Flash either which explains a part of its speed compared to the Nokia browser.

I could add it would be interesting to compare speeds without and with Adobe Flash too. My experience is Flash is often causing the worst speed and stability problems with mobile browsers, and fortunately it’s rather easy to disable Flash. Most sites still show some kind of a place-holder image instead of Flash content.

My experience of three weeks with Nokia X7 gave an impression the Symbian Anna browser is still slower than the browser of Android 2.3 with Flash enabled, but without Flash loading times of numerous sites were about the same. Although I can’t be sure, I figured this would be caused by an underpowered CPU and/or GPU of Nokia X7 compared to Android 2.3 phones from HTC and Samsung.

I would not compare speeds with the Safari browser in iOS 4.x either, because it does not support Flash too. Or at least the comparison should be done with Flash disabled. Even though Flash often causes problems, I prefer Google’s and Nokia’s way to let the users decide about using Flash.

Regardless of speed tests, version 7.3 of the Nokia browser is welcome, because it also brings an enhanced support for web standards, such as better CSS3 support and basic HTML5 support.

Windows Phone 7 Mango gets praising previews

I haven’t been very interested in switching to the first Windows Phone 7 devices from Dell, HTC, LG, Samsung I have tried. They all felt about the same, except for the Dell Venue Pro which has a decent physical thumb QWERTY keyboard.

However, the Windows Phone 7 Mango update, due out this fall, seems to get positive previews. Those who have got hands on with the developer beta which has become available to some developers and partners of Microsoft, have complimented multi-tasking. the new virtual keyboard and better Facebook integration. There’s a nice introduction to new features at Techie-Buzz.com.

I have also tried to get a copy of the Mango beta from Microsoft for testing on my device, but it hasn’t been available for jounralists at this early stage. However, some international media have got some kind of an hands on with it based on those previews. I prefer to believe when I can test it myself.

At the moment Windows Phone 7 lacks many important apps and games, for example Spotify to mention an important one for me. Although there are rumours it’s almost ready, waiting for the Mango launch.  The same some rumours have said about Skype too.

The UI in Windows Phone 7 is easy to learn and smooth, but it’s also a bit limited. In my opinion it’s annoying most menus don’t rotate to landscape mode. If I browse the web, check something from the startup view and return to web browser, I have to physically turn my device two times.

WP7 has one nice feature Nokia should quickly copy to Symbian too. When there’s security code lock in the iddle mode, you can still take pictures with the camera.  This way you don’t miss some quick moments. Apple already announced this feature will come to iOS 5 too.

Business users, and especially large enterprise IT managers have still been worried about the limited support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync policies and 3rd party management and security solutions, compared to Windows Mobile 6.x, or even iPhone 4.x and Symbian 3. WP7 does not even have encryption for stored data, and as far as I know, it’s coming even with the WP7 Mango update.

WP7 has an easy to use UI, but it still lacks many apps available on Android, iOS and Symbian.