April 27, 2010

Nokia N8 - Hopefully not DOA in USA

Remember the Sony Walkman? Around 30 years ago, leveraging the revolutionary Walkman, Sony established de facto ownership of portable music, and held that position for the better part of a decade. But, hardware commoditization, new media, new competing memory and digitalization formats, etc. eventually made Sony just another player in portable music (from a hardware perspective), and, today, an historical footnote hidden in the vast shadow cast by Apple. It's not that Sony didn't keep up with technology. Rather, Sony drank it's own Kool-Aid. Sony thought it could set and drive global standards. Sony missed market trends. Sony got arrogant.

And with that as context...

Nokia today announced that the vanguard Nokia N8 will be shipped in the third quarter of 2010. Less clunky and chunky than recent high-end Nokia devices - indeed, quite sleek (if a little boxy) in it's one-piece aluminum shell, and quintuple-banded covering both U.S. GSM carriers (unlike the unfortunate N900) - this little mobile computer is a true wonder.

But will it sell in the global market-making U.S.?

From a hardware perspective, the N8 is a marvel. We're talking a twelve megapixel camera, Xenon flash, HD quality video, on-board video-editing software (an example of geeks designing for geeks - I have a hard-time imagining the average consumer using this feature all that often, if at all), HDMI-out capability (very nice), 16gb on-board memory expandable via micro-SD, multi-touch capability, etc.

On the experience side, the N8 offers the full range of hygiene functionality expected of any higher-end mobile, from navigation to streaming/on demand internet video, integrated social networking (and quite elegantly on the homescreen), email, and, thank God, multitasking (better hurry up on that one Apple...). And, of course, the N8 is optimized for all of Nokia's Ovi services. And, related to that, Nokia is also launching a new software development platform to make it easier to build apps and deploy across Symbian and the Nokia-Intel Meego version of mobile Linux. The N8 is indeed a Symbian-based device, and the first to feature the new, enhanced Symbian^3 software (Symbian^3 doesn't quite roll off the tongue like Android does it?).

So there's the rub. Ovi? Symbian? Yes, there is no doubt that the N8, if it lives up to it's specs, will experience success in markets where Nokia has dominated in the past, where consumers and developers are accustomed to the Symbian experience and have actually heard of and perhaps consumed Ovi services, and otherwise hve a long-standing branded affinity for all things Nokia. But, in the U.S., with a reported unsubsidized price point around $500, I don't see this device getting a whit of traction outside the uber-geek segment without a major carrier agreement, subsidization, and significant (big-time) marketing support, and that includes pumping up Ovi as well. Let's hope Nokia can break through that carrier barrier which has eluded them for the last few years when it comes to higher-end devices.

Going back to my March 2, 2010 post, the N8 appears to reinforce what seems to be Nokia's global strategy of delivering global products to global markets, regardless of the fact that the U.S. market, specifically the carriers, have simply not warmed to such generic products, despite some awkward stabs at customization.

If the N8 had been built on Android, I'd be willing to bet it would have had ready carrier takers and promoters in the U.S. Indeed, as argued in that March 2 post, if Nokia were to have focused it's U.S. efforts towards developing products specifically for the all-important world-shaping market that is the United States, in addition to an Android-based N8-like product, it would have delivered a small suite of additional Android based devices to halo around it. The carriers would have welcomed this. Developers would have been thrilled. Motorola, which has bet the farm on Android, would have quaked. RIMM, which fears Nokia ever scaling up high-end devices in the U.S., would have trembled. Even the mighty Apple would have perceived the threat.

But no. Nokia has invested a great deal in mixing one very deep well of Kool-Aid and seems hell-bent on serving it up (meanwhile U.S. carriers and consumers moved on to Red Bull years ago). Don't get me wrong, I wish Nokia luck, and I believe the N8 will succeed in select Nokia-dominated markets (e.g. Europe and some Asian and Near and Middle Eastern markets), but not likely as well as Nokia iconic product once did, because while Nokia has been busy in recent years driving volume product to maintain market share, a whole new field of value product competitors (led by Apple) have gained a beachhead in Nokia's backyard, one they won't likely surrender easily.

As for the U.S., well, pray for a powerful carrier partner with major marketing muscle (AT&T) and the N8 could mark a revival of sorts for Nokia in the U.S. (maybe even enabling the mainstream discovery of Ovi). Without a carrier (or a major, multi-million dollar Nokia marketing and open-channel subsidization campaign - which would be way cool), however, the elegant and superbly-featured N8 may very likely be, indeed, DOA in the USA.


April 19, 2010

Network Neutrality: I Repeat, the Market Knows...

A piece ran in the NYT yesterday - "Getting What You Pay For on the Mobile Internet" - that underscored the points I made and offered specific European operator examples of the market-based broadband (mobile) tiering model that I pondered in my post on March 11.

Bottom line: The market can contrive the appropriate and fair mechanisms, so long as competition prevails, which should perhaps be a greater concern for regulatory authorities than whether or not entire new governance structures need to be defined for an Internet age that will have evolved twice-over again by the time any "new" regulatory regime becomes reality...

April 06, 2010

Network Neutrality Developments...

Mere weeks after the FCC announced its plans to enhance and extend Americans’ broadband access to the Internet, the question of the FCC’s authority to police broadband Internet providers has become yet muddier. A Federal Appeals Court ruled on April 6, 2010 that the FCC exceeded its authority when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for deliberately slowing Internet traffic for some users.

The FCC’s plan, unveiled on March 15, 2010, is intended, in short, to realize the Administration’s National Broadband Agenda: 100 million U.S. homes with 100 million megabytes per second connections; U.S. leadership in mobile innovation; consumer choice of broadband provider; one gigabyte per second community-wide access for schools, hospitals and government buildings; ubiquitous first responder wireless broadband - and all with "green" tech in mind... As the Court’s ruling highlights, the FCC’s authority to regulate “information services” in addition to “telecommunications services” is unclear at best.

This debate is not a new one (I mean, really, just see the list of posts I've made on the topic as featured in my March 11 review), indeed, it has raged for the better part of a decade under the Network Neutrality banner, and in the context of the last sweeping overhaul of the FCC’s regulatory authority – The Telecommunications Act of 1996. That Act was years in the making, well beyond a decade in implementation, and, moreover, conceived in the days predating the commercial Internet. The Act’s application to today’s broadband reality is an ill-fit at best, as has been oft noted by critics over the last decade, and, more recently, in the wake of the FCC’s recent initiative.

The Court's ruling will likely bolster recent broadband provider initiatives (as led by Verizon) for Congressional review and overhaul of the communications regulatory environment – a very lengthy process. Indeed, Proposing Congressional renew of the nation’s communications policy framework should not be done lightly. While such suggestions are well-intended, another decade spent formulating policy, legislation and adjusting regulatory authority will likely result in a product which is as ill-fit for 2020 as the Act of 1996 is today.

The Court’s decision will also likely renew Congressional debate and Administration championship of repeatedly introduced bills to grant the FCC the “official” extension of its traditional telecommunications authority to cover broadband and information service providers.

And, in the interim, and in the wake of the Administration’s recent victory on health care reform, the Administration may well simply endorse the FCC flexing its muscle and exercising yesterday’s authority to police today’s broadband Internet and information service providers, in anticipation of further debate in the Courts as FCC actions are challenged.