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Commitment is usually a good thing
3/8/08

Commitment is usually A Good Thing. OK girls are keener on it than men, but generally knowing what your future holds is something to be admired. So why is it a sign of progress that Nokia is less consistent than it used to be?

It’s because consistency is the enemy of innovation.

All mobile phone makers use some element of a platform: a chipset, low level drivers, an operating system and a set of applications. Bits can be swapped in and out but that’s where you start. If the project leader wants to do something radically different it’s bound by the scope of the platform.

At Samsung this doesn’t matter. If doing something cool, like using a new display technology requires a different driver chipset that can be handled. If the phone needs to be super slim and that means new connectors and batteries then the end justifies the means. To get all this new stuff working the teams are small and hothoused. They work exceptionally hard in isolation. The result is lots of interesting innovation but that isn’t spread across the range of phones. If you are an application provider the idea that you’ve sold your software to Samsung might feel like the road to success but as there are about 300 phones a year developed at Samsung and only about 25 make the mainstream the odds of the one with your cool (or should that be cuil? [ www.cuil.com ] )  application being found on the shelf are slim. You should also expect that there is another Samsung team working on a very similar phone with your direct rival. Samsung is the floozy of the mobile phone world and will jump into bed with any partner to see who is the most fertile. It’s a fast process, idea to phone on the shelves in nine months.

It also means that there is no such thing as a standard Samsung charger or battery.

Nokia is at the other end of the scale. It’s committed not just to S40 and S60 but to chipsets – and not just individual suppliers like TI but to specific chips. A project will be expected to use a PCB form a list of existing designs, one of a short list of batteries, a given screen. All of this reduces cost, and development time but also reduces innovation. Nokia is rarely first with any new technology.

Indeed the commitment to components means there is an almost Soviet long term plan. Nokia will look seven years into the future to see what it thinks people will want and then plan the steps to get there, starting with what can be made now and working along the path. Even with this streamlined approach Nokia takes a year to go from idea to a phone in the shops.

This meant that in 2002 when clamshell phones where the hot thing it took Nokia a couple of years to react. Nokia launched some pretty average clams in 2004 by which time Razr thin was the thing to have. Again it took a long while to catch up.

But things are different this year. We are just about to see the 5300 Tube. The mid-range phone with a touch screen.  A radical reversal for Nokia which has always opposed two-handed phones. Lots of new components and new software. It’s a reaction to the success of the iPhone and it has only taken a year. That includes the time Nokia must have waited to see the reaction to the iPhone.

We’ve also seen Nokia move from a single charger to multiple, not necessarily a good things and we can expect less commitment to individual component suppliers.

This new found freedom might make Nokia phones a little more expensive but its just the thing they need to do if they want to hold on to their market share.

Cat Keynes publishes her thoughts on the mobile phone industry every Sunday at www.catkeynes.com you can read the column  the previous Friday by subscribing here.

Links

If you think features in phones have gone too far you are not the only one

Who in their right mind would sell their business to Motorola?

The BBC has a pretty good grip on technology. They might make some odd decisions from time to time but then they are driven by an odd mix of public good and commerce. Which of these is behind the decision to provide content over 3G?

First phones, particularly first smartphones are usually late, so while the Nuvifone isn’t strictly Garmin’s first phone it’s the first for a while and owe nothing to its predecessor. It’s slipped   I’d expect it to slip some more.


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