Category Archives: Editorials

The Nokia N8 v Nokia C7 Debate

The Nokia N8 has been available for just two weeks and there’s already a new Symbian^3 handset that’s hitting the market in the form of the C7. Both of them run the same OS, share the same guts and are priced pretty near to each other. So if you are in the market for a new Nokia, which one should you be looking at?

The Nokia N8 v Nokia C7 Debate

What’s same:

  • The internals. Both devices have the same processor, GPU, pentaband chips and so on. This means that there will be no performance differences between them.
  • They also share similar capacitive touchscreens which are roughly 3.5″ in size.
  • They also have the same 1200 mAh BL-5K battery, which in the C7’s case is user replaceable.

What’s different:

  • NFC. The C7 has some hidden hardware. It packs a NFC chip that the N8 doesn’t, but as of now its just lying there serving no purpose. May be a future firmware enables it, but considering the fact that there won’t be many NFC use cases in the near future, its not a major win for the C7 in my book.
  • Dimensions. The C7 is also slimmer at 117.3 x 56.8 x 10.5 mm compared to the N8’s 113.5 x 59 x 12.9 mm. Its also lighter by 5 grams, 135 g on the N8 to the C7’s 130 g. This might not seem much, but the C7 does feel a lot thinner in the hand and the pocket bulge is virtually non existent. That being said, the N8 has reasonable dimensions itself and feels great to hold in the hand. Plus the metallic feel adds a premium element to it.
  • HDMI. The C7 is also missing the N8’s HDMI out slot. It still features the ability to use TV-out via the 3.5mm jack.
  • Price. The Nokia C7 is just about 3000-3500 INR ($70-80) cheaper than the N8 in the real world and that’s as far as Nokia can probably push the price difference on bill of material costs alone. The only major things they save on are the camera module, HDMI port and the part plastic construction as both phones have practically the same guts.
  • Storage. The C7 comes with 8GB on inbuilt storage, compared to the 16GB on the N8. Both have support for microSD cards of upto 32GB.

Camera:

  • The real toss-up for most people would be whether to go for a slightly cheaper, thinner C7 with its 8 Megapixel EDOF camera or pay a little more for the metallic N8 with its best in class 12MP auto-focus camera. EDOF stands for extended depth of field, this means that most images taken from the C7 will be in perfect focus provided you are not taking close-up shots. It will also mean that the shot to shot time on the C7 will be pretty good because the camera is not having to focus everytime you take a shot. More on EDOF cameras by Nokia’s camera boss Damian Dinning right here.
  • Both devices shoot video in 720P HD at 25 frames a second and the quality should be comparable. But because the N8 has an auto-focus camera, it is possible that future firmware updates or even hacks bring the ability to focus during video capture at objects up-close. The C7 will never be able to do this.

If you are not going to be taking pictures of documents or other objects placed close to the camera, the C7 will do just fine. It doesn’t have the N8’s wide angle lens or huge sensor so don’t expect great shots in low light but compared to the competition, the C7 will do just fine.

Personal Observations:

Having played with both devices, I may be one of the few people in the world who doesn’t like the C7’s design too much. Based on that alone, I would pick the N8. Its far better looking, feels great in the hand, because of the aluminum has greater resistance to scratches and in black looks outright classy. The C7 with its slightly plastic design and plentiful curves isn’t bad, but why get the second best, when you can have the N8. That being said, if you like the way the C7 looks, feel free to ignore this paragraph, the C7 too, after-all does feel solid in the hand.

The Nokia N8 v Nokia C7 Debate

To sum up, lets see what does the extra $70-80 get you:

  • A far superior camera, capable of some great results.
  • HDMI out, turning your smartphone into a virtual DVD/Blueray player replacement. Not to mention the Dolby support.
  • Premium design in an aluminum construction.
  • An extra 8GB of onboard storage.

In my book, all of those together are easily worth the extra money. No point compromising for such a small price difference. It is only when the difference reaches about $120 that you should weight your options, otherwise the N8 wins, hands down.

Behind The Scenes At Nokia: Tales Of Office Politics & Bureaucracy

Nokia has been riddled with controversy. Their stock has collapsed and despite still being the biggest mobile phone manufacturer by far, they continue to slide down when it comes mindshare. A lot of us believe that they can come out better, stronger and more efficient from the hole they are in, but why in the first place did they go down that hole? Why did a company that was the pinnacle of innovation suddenly become the one doing all the catching up, for years at that?

Mikko-Pekka Heikkinen of Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat sat down with 15 former Nokia employees to try and find out what really happened over a four part series of interviews. It makes for a very interesting and thought provoking read, specially if you’ve followed the company for a long time. Here a few key sections from the series that I think you must read.

Behind The Scenes At Nokia: Tales Of Office Politics & Bureaucracy

Lets start with what stifles innovation.

A designer responsible for the mobile phone’s integrated digital camera works out how the picture quality could be improved by a change in algorithm that would demand a couple of weeks’ work to sort out. He reports on this to his immediate superior, who then feeds the matter into the requirements analysis matrix.

A week later the matter is noticed at an RA follow-up session and further information is sought: if this were to be done, what other things would be omitted or would come in behind schedule as a result? The team replies that their error-fixing capacity would temporarily be reduced. Another week goes by. The next RA follow-up session looks at the answer and decides to send the request on for prioritisation.

After a week, the requirements are examined in a prioritisation meeting, and a decision is made to go back to the team to check out the errors status, in order to be able to understand what the scale of risk involved in reducing error-fixing might be.
The team comes up with a risk analysis in a day or two. Another week goes by. A prioritisation meeting resolves to approve the initial request, if a suitable “lead product” can be found for it – in other words, a phone model into which the improved algorithm can be installed.

A month later, one product reports back that, yes, we could take the improvement on, if it does not add to the risk of a timebox overrun. Back to the team. Is there an increased risk of the timebox not being met? The team replies that no such risk exists if work is started straightaway. Another week goes by, and the prioritisation meeting gives the second-highest priority to the camera request. It determines that the algorithm change can be embarked on ,just as soon as any more important work has been completed.

The more important matters take two months.

By the point when the algorithm team should then be getting down to work, it turns out that the scheduling of the lead product has progressed too far and the timebox window has closed. Another lead product must be found instead. And so it goes on, until a competitor gets rave press reviews for the improved image quality of its integrated camera.

And someone expresses shock, and wonders why it is that Nokia has not come up with a similar improvement.

“Sometimes one got the sensation that people were more concerned about how what we were doing and the product we were working on related to rival groups within the company than about the relationship to our real competitors. The products using a certain software platform were not permitted to implement the newest or the cleverest things, because this might make the device in question a competitor to some other Nokia phone using a different platform.”

The man recounts a “thoroughly typical” example: A novel application or feature has been dreamed up that should end up installed in a phone a year from now. This is the beginning of a long day’s journey to nowhere. The first thing that is missing is the conceptualisation of the feature in question, and then comes the design phase, and after that the bedding of the feature into the phone.

People have to sign off on actions at every stage in the process for it to go forward.

Behind The Scenes At Nokia: Tales Of Office Politics & Bureaucracy

According to the ex-manager, everybody who knows anything about this particular feature approves of the idea, albeit with one or two modifications.

“But then you run up against some Vice-President who gets cold feet, because he doesn’t know the subject-matter. The innovation is going to tie up money and resources if it gets the go-ahead. He is very aware of this, and he sits on it. He might for our purposes be an engineer with a background in HVAC or systems engineering. He doesn’t know squat about user interface software design.”

“What he does know, mind you, is that developing this particular feature is going to require the input of fifty people for the next year ahead. He does not dare to commit people to the project, because they might be required elsewhere. For him, it is safer to freeze the innovation process or at least keep the handbrake on. Then in time the innovation will no longer be so novel after all, and it will not make any sense to carry it forward.” According to the ex-manager’s own calculations, there are around 300 vice-presidents and SVPs within the Nokia organisation.

But if we are to believe the former Nokia staffers and executives interviewed for this piece, Nokia’s woes began years before Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo’s tenure at the helm, back at the beginning of this decade.

During Chairman and CEO Jorma Ollila’s time.

And in 2003, Ollila did something that put the Finnish mobile phone giant onto the wrong tracks. In the considered view of the ex-Nokia man, “the key reason” for Nokia’s present problems is there: Jorma Ollila’s matrix organisation, which came into effect from January 1, 2004.

“What emerged was a leadership vacuum. Right there and then the seed of gradual internal decay was planted. The various units began to compete tooth and nail with each other for the same resources and the same markets. By contrast with the brickbats dealt out for the management structure, the former manager has nothing but praise for the people working at the coal-face, Nokia’s engineers.

“Nokia has a complement of totally outstanding engineers! It’s not down to their skills.”

“But it is the product management side of things that has been so weak and so diffused. And the CEO ought to have recognised this. There should have been a product director. and a strong one at that.” “But there was none.”

So neither Jorma Ollila nor Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was the sort of corporate water-bringer for the 2010s that Apple enjoyed in its own CEO, Steve Jobs.

Said like this it is quite easy to understand what happened and not only that, it is also easy to see how a big company could easily fall into the same trap as Nokia. Come 2010 we have started to witness visible changes in how Nokia’s changing, this realization would (should?) have come internally much earlier and also acted upon. If that were to hold true, we’re in for a very interesting 2011.

I know a bunch of brilliant, hardworking, dedicated and forward looking people working around the world at Nokia, I can imagine how frustrated they must feel, riddled with layers of management and of course Power Point!

Never Say Never, But Nokia Is Never Going To Make An Android Or Windows 7 Device

The rumors about Nokia making an Android or even a Windows 7 phone (now that they have an ex-Microsoft CEO) never seem to die because there is always someone fueling the fire. Soon after Ari Jaaksi’s resignation, TechCrunch put out a story about how Eric Schmidt and Stephen Elop were talking about a ‘possible’ Nokia Android device.

“We’ve heard from a good source that Google CEO Eric Schmidt has called Elop to discuss the possibility of Android running on Nokia phones. We actually heard this information about a week ago, but today’s news makes it potentially more interesting. Around the time Jaaksi was resigning, Elop and Schmidt were talking.”

You have to admit, it makes for a very juicy story and an interesting point to mull over. But before you waste time thinking about this, let me put some things in perspective.

Never Say Never, But Nokia Is Never Going To Make An Android Or Windows 7 Device

Nokia for years has now said that it wants to be a internet/services company and they have spent millions of dollars trying to do just that. They didn’t get off the floor too well, but now their services are beginning to take good shape. If they put Android on a Nokia device (lets call it the N10), where does Ovi go? Lets look at it in the light of their most successful Ovi services, Maps and the Store. Will the N10 suddenly run the Ovi Store instead of the Android Market? Will Google let Nokia replace Google Maps with Ovi Maps? People will say sure, they are free to load their own version on top, Android is ‘open’ you see. But does it make sense for Nokia to try and compete with Google on its own turf? An Android device needs you to sign in with your Google Account to get started. Will Google let Nokia replace that with an Ovi sign-on? Even if they do, it’ll be a huge mistake for Nokia to plan into their hands.

Now lets look at applications. Nokia recently spent over $150 million to acquire a company called Trolltech. Why? Because they were the ones behind Qt, the cross platform development environment. Nokia is telling developers, ‘make your app with Qt, here’s our toolkit and deploy to millions of Symbian, Maemo and MeeGo devices’. They are literally throwing millions at developers. With my own eyes I saw Stephen Elop handover the $1 million prize at Nokia World. Not to mention the $10,000 for this and $10,000 for that kind of awards that handed out in addition. One thousand free N8’s? Who can forget that.

Forum Nokia has been having developer conferences all around the world and they’re targeting America hard. Just yesterday, they gave all attended of the Nokia Developer Day a free N8 as well. You will not see it today, but the developers are really warming up to the idea of Qt and developing for Nokia in general. If Nokia even makes one Android device, all of that is gone. No developer will ever come back. Millions wasted.

Assuming Nokia does make the N10 (our fictitious Android device), what would it be like? Like a Nexus One or a Galaxy S with a better camera? Or perhaps like the new HTC QWERTY Android device with a better camera? Is there anything else they can add to the experience? Lets assume they hire Android engineers and put them to work on a slightly custom Nokia UI for Android. It will take at least 8-10 months before something even remotely usable can come out. Also by then, Nokia would have relegated themselves to being virtually a box manufacturer.

In the time that happens, MeeGo will be ready to take on the world anyway, backed by Qt. Making the apps that devs have already written for the N8 and other Symbian ^3 devices run on MeeGo is not a huge jump at all. They will also have sold a ton of Symbian ^3 devices, with Symbian ^4 on the way. After using the ‘new’ Symbian, the general distaste people have for it these days would have died down as well. 2011 is a perfect time for Nokia to reap results off their long term strategy.

Symbian ^3 for the low-mid end, with devices like the new C6 announced at Nokia World. Symbian ^4 for the mid-high end, debuting with the N8 successor perhaps. MeeGo for the absolute high end with Qt bridging the gap, and seamless Ovi Services keeping people happy.

Why would anyone want them to go Android is beyond me. Aren’t similar device from Motorola, Samsung, HTC enough? Anssi Vanjoki already told the world what he thought of other manufacturers using Android, ‘Like young boys peeing in their pants for warmth’. Sadly, he will soon be gone.

[Image via Engadget, Quote via TechCrunch]