Kiruba is an entrepreneur, author, speaker, podcaster and a farmer.

A new dimension to smartphones

Nokia’s latest salvo in the smartphone segment was recently unveiled in Singapore and I was amongst the first people in the world to touch and play around with it. Here’s my in-depth review of the phone that’s directly pitted against the Google Nexus One and even the iPhone.

The Nokia N8 introduces a 12 megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, Xenon flash and a large sensor that rivals those found in compact digital cameras. I have used the Nokia N82 which has a 5 MP camera and I was super impressed with the photos. So, I have very high respect for Carl Zeiss and Xenon combination. Expect very good photos from this phone.

The N8 is the world’s first smartphone to incorporate Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround sound technology. The folks at Nokia demonstrated it and I have to say that it offers a home theatre experience. The inclusion of Dolby Digital Plus in the Nokia N8 brings a new dimension to the capabilities of the smartphone, transforming it into an HD mobile entertainment device, which can output high definition content with Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 channel surround sound to HD-ready TVs and home theatre systems.

Powered by Symbian ^3, the Nokia N8 supports gestures such as flick scrolling and pinch-zoom and offers multiple, personalisable homescreens which can be loaded with apps from Ovi Store. Honestly, all this is nothing new. The biggest negative factor that will weigh down the N8 is its operating system. Symbian ^3 does not match up to the iOS4 (in iPhones) or Android. The positive thing to note is that Symbian ^3 is a stop-gap solution, just as Windows Mobile 6.5 was for Windows Phone 7. A lot of hope rests on Symbian 4 which is expected to be way better.

The music player is quite nice. Its powerful 1GHz CPU along with a dedicated Graphics Processing Unit means that the music plays seamlessly and is quick to respond. Add that to the unique and amazing feature called ‘Nokia Comes with Music’ which lets you access a whole truck full of music tracks. It has both 2D and 3D graphics acceleration that should make it feel at home while using graphics heavy mobile games.

There’s even sufficient space for you to fill up your music. The Nokia N8 has 16 GB of in-built storage space, expandable up to 48 GB with a Micro SD card. Large files can be easily transferred to a memory stick with the USB On-the-Go.

I was quite impressed with the performance of N900 and it looks like the goodness of memory management also gets reflected on the N8. This means that you can use multiple applications at the same time without feeling the lag.

Nokia is offering developers a new platform to innovate on. The Nokia N8 comes integrated with Qt, a software development environment that simplifies the development and makes it possible to build applications once and deploy across Symbian and other software platforms. Nokia has also made it simple to use Nokia Qt SDK available in its initial beta, to enable developers to start realising the potential of Qt. The N8 is also Nokia’s first handset that’s integrated with Qt.

The touchscreen is capacitive which means that its quick to respond to your finger touches. It measures 3.5 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 640 x 360 pixels. Nokia announced that the cost of N8 is 370 Euros before taxes. This is around Rs 21,000 which is quite competitively priced. Nokia N8 has taken some positive steps forward in the smartphone segment even though its rivals are increasingly raising the bar higher.

Source- http://www.financialexpress.com/news/a-new-dimension-to-smartphones/637677/0


What I See Common in Nokia and Dr.M.S.Swaminathan

The first time I heard about the Information Kiosks scheme in villages many years ago, it caught my attention for two reasons. Reason 1: The scheme was launched in a village in Pondicherry, not far from our village where my family hails from. Reason 2: Dr.M.S.Swaminathan. Yup, the genius behind the scheme. Ever since that eventful meeting I had with him at his office, I have had deep admiration for him and his vision.

What the Information Kiosks did was to help provide information like the existing crop prices and remedies for crop diseases. The experiment created a lot of interest. For many of the villagers, it was their first exposure to Internet and technology, even if it meant on pitifully slow dial-up connections.

Yesterday, when I heard about Nokia’s Life Tools scheme, it reminded me again of Dr.Swaminathan’s Digital Kiosks scheme. The difference is that instead of a PC, its happening on a mobile device. Instead of everyone coming to a room in a village to access, its now available in your palm. More importantly on entry level, inexpensive mobile phones. Now, farmers can get customized information on crop prices, fertilizers and pesticides based on the farmer’s location and his choice of crop.

I personally witnessed how rural folks cleverly use mobile. And almost invariably, it has to do with maximizing their income. During December 2004, as part of the Tsunami relief work, me and a bunch of friends traveled to MGR Thittu near Chidambaram in Tamilnadu. We noticed that the fishermen would venture out into the ocean and before they returned back with their overnight catch, they would call from their mobile phones and find out which markets have more demand and thus willing to pay the highest for their catch. They would accordingly steer their boats to that place. Simple phone calls helped them get better returns. The lesson is that folks will embrace technology if they see a direct monetary benefit.

Will Nokia Life Tools be a success? Yes, if it can help directly benefit like how the fishermen got benefited. While passive benefits like learning English better are good, it ultimately boils down to how can it help get better income. If that happens, the acceptance would be swift. Think of how the lassi wallahs in Chandigarh helped boost washing machine sales.

Any new initiative will take time to be accepted and it needs to be educated, especially when it comes to rural audience. That’s the mantle that Nokia seems to have taken.

One thing I have to agree outright is that the best way for technology to reach out to rural India will not be through PCs. It *has* to be through mobile phones. The amount of massive usuage of mobile phones in villages is staggering. I only have to look at my own village to see this. From that angle, there’s no doubting the reasoning and the strategies behind the Nokia Life Tools. This project is right now in a pilot stage and is expected to roll out during first half of 2009.


Music Powers the Mobile Growth

Disclaimer: I’m an invitee to Nokia Remix London as a tech columnist and blogger. In other words, Nokia paid for my travel and accomodation costs. While its natural to view my posts as ‘paid posts’, I’d like to emphasise that I retain full editorial control and Nokia has not hinted or requested me even once to write in their favor.

The venue for the launch of Nokia’s new music phone couldn’t be more appropriate. It was at the 120 year old theatre and now a club in Central London that has seen numerous performances by world renowned artists.

Nokia unveiled its latest XpressMusic 5800 to a packed auditorium of worldwide journalists and bloggers. There’s a strong reason why Nokia is so serious about its music phone and I witnessed it for myself when I travelled down London’s famous Tube. Nearly 70% of the folks in my tube capsule were plugged in.

Another strong reason – The Apple iPhone. Clearly, Apple has jolted Nokia bad. While Apple had swept the music market with the iPods, its entry into the phone market with its successful iPhone had made Nokia highly uncomfortable. Many times during the event, there were mentions about the iPhone, never once with their name but with thinly veiled references as ‘the competitor’s product’. While the latest phone is not publicly pitted as an iPhone killer, its the first salvo from Nokia in the touch screen space. In other words, its salvo against the iPhone. There are clear indications that there will be many more touch screen phones with advanced features in the pipe line.

Music is very personal and all of us would like to carry it along with us. And this level of personalization and mobility ties in perfectly into the very nature of a mobile phone. No wonder that companies that Nokia, Apple, Samsung and heck, even those Chinese phones are making it a mandatory feature in their mobile phones.

There was a time when I would carry my mobile, my Canon Powershot digital camera and an apple iPod nano along with me. Now I find my present phone quite capably taking on the functions of those stand-alone gadgets. Just one device and that’s all I need to carry along.

I asked Bill, who heads User Interface Design and the main guy behind the design of the Nseries phones, if music will become a standard feature of even entry level phones. He pointed to the example of cameras. Three or four years ago, you would have to buy a high-end phone to get a camera in your phone but now its pretty much part of all camera models. Similarly, he said that music will become part of a phone’s basic feature. He was also quick to add that there will be differentiating features from lower end to high end phones. Just like a lower end phone might just have a VGA camera and a high end phone has a 5 MP camera, music features will also vary. Fair enough, I’d say.

I played around only a little with the XpressMusic 5880 and my first impression is that it doesn’t have the Oomph factor of the iphone. However, its form factor and the usability has taken a big step forward. The user interface is a great improvement over the Nseries phones and that’s a welcome change.Touch is seriously the way to go and this is the route more and more of the Nokia phones will go in the future.

Oh, I have picked up an interesting question to add to my set of quiz questions. “Who is the World’s Biggest Manufacturer of Music Instruments?”. I know you can easily guess the answer with where the story is going but if I asked this question to another group, I’m fairly certain that they would either answer Sony or Apple. Four years ago, I remember Derek Obrien asked a question during the finals of the ET quiz which was quite similar. He wanted to know the world’s largest manufacturer of digital cameras. The answers were either Canon or Kodak. No one would’ve guessed Nokia.

I’m certain that in a few year’s time, Nokia WILL become the world’s largest manufacturer of computers. Right now, the Nseries phones arent the best substitureand I won’t throw away my laptop in a hurry, but that’s something that Nokia and the rest of the manufacturers will be vying for.

Just like how I never carry my MP3 player or my digital camera anymore, I probably won’t need to lug my laptop. Hopefully, at a cost that that won’t make me squirm.


The ‘Eat-All-You-Want’ Music Store Strategy

If someone told me that there is a place where I can download all the music I want for free, I’d have guessed it to be ThePirateBay or one of those torrent sites. But if they told me that I can download all the music I want for free LEGALLY, I’d be stumped for an answer. And then if they told me that, *THAT* place is Nokia.com, I would’ve been gobsmacked. And that’s exactly what I heard at the Nokia Remix in London.

If you buy any of the latest N95, XpressMusic 5310, or the latest 5800, you get the candybar opened up all for you. For the next one year, you get to download as many songs as you want and get to keep them for life.

Now, you’ll realize the importance of this when you look at the kind of people offering this music. Take a look. Universal Music Group, Sony BMG, Warner Music, EMI, The Ministry of Sound. Gosh, do you realise what you are reading? These are the biggest music companies in the world. Between them, you have pretty much the entire list of big name artists.

Let me throw you a real-life example, just so you understand this well. You go to a cell phone shop, let’s say ‘The Mobile Store’ in Spencers Plaza. When you make the payment for the phone, the lady at the counter says that there is a ‘Free Gift’ that comes with the phone. And that free gift is that you can walk into Landmark, Odyssey or any music store in India, and pick up any CD or cassettes you want. Yes, there’s no limit. You can fill up your car’s entire trunk and if that gets filled, you can fill up the back seat too. That’s not all.You can come back to the store everyday, if you want, and continue the swindling. All this is legal and the securiity guard will let you go with a bow and a smile.

Now, why would Nokia and the Music companies want to give away the music for free? Considering that Nokia sold an estimated 100 crore music phones, isn’t the music companies going to lose billions of dollars?

Look beyond the obvious. Lets first look at Nokia’s angle. It’s a coup de grace. The BEST ever marketing strategy that I have heard this company do. They are giving you an offer you can’t refuse. And its an offer that the competitors cannot easily replicate. You can copy mobile phone features, but you can’t replicate relationships. And its never easy to do that with the world’s biggest music companies.

Another reason what Nokia wants to do is hook you. It wants you to get familiar with its music store, which is part of Nokia’s big business revenue strategy. One look at Apple’s iTunes success will tell you the reason why Nokia is after this market.

But Nokia knows that the majority of the folks don’t like paying for music. When you can get free music from torrent sites, why pay? Tell me about it! :) And so they are taking piracy head on with the most potent weapon, the FREE. Now, there’s nothing holding back from downloading songs. Once you know how easy it is for you to use, you get comfortable first and then get hooked to it. So, when your one year free license expires, there’s a fair chance you might continue to pick up music by paying a reasonbaly small amounts of money. It may be small money for you but multiply that small money into multiple millions of users and suddently, you are looking at huge money. So that’s the strategy.

What’s in it for the music companies? Simple. They’ve realized that they can’t fight piracy. They know they are fighting a losing battle which they can never win. So, the smarter thing is to flow with the tide. They know that the days of buying CDs is gone. Internet is the future and the mobile phones will be the biggest gateway. Hence it makes sense to tie up with the world’s largest producer of mobile phones. They immediately get a fantastic distribution system. So, when the free period finishes, they can hope to share the revenue pie.
To me, Its a wonderful case of win-win-win situation.


Shah Rukh’s New Nokia Ad

This is the latest Nokia ad featuring SRK that will hit the TV screens soon. When I heard about the new advt, I asked the Nokia team if they can pass on the video to me. It was a 5 MB video and never made it past their email system. The logical thing was to have it uploaded onto YouTube.

I was under the impression that most promos/video are typically kept under wraps until it hits the TV or the big screen and so it was a pleasant surprise when they let me have the video. It’s a sure shot sigh that the big companies are waking up the power of blogs and social media.

The video was shot by Pradeep Sarkar, the director of Parineeta and the new Rani Mukherjee starrer, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag.

I was able to get some interesting tid bits about this video. Shah Rukh Khan agreed to devote 8 hours for the shoot amongst his schedule and that’s all the luxury that the ad team had to play with. In order to maximize the usage of the 8 hours, simultaneous sets were erected in the same studio at Mumbai.

The script required 7 sets to be built. If you see the ad, there’s a different set of almost all major scenes (living room, the baby room, railway station, Hotel promenade, Red carpet premiere, Discotheque and the Balcony with the city skyline view). Apparently many production houses refused to take up this shooting contract because they felt 8 hours was too short a time to shoot the entire ad. Pradeep Sarkar was one of the few ones to take up the challenge and that’s how he got to make it.

The team started with the sets since mid-November and the actual ad was shot last week. The shoot started at 3:00 PM and closed around 11 in the night. SRK was having a temperature and wasn’t keeping too well but you never get to see that on the ad.

I’m told that SRK has been a Nokia phone user for the last 10 years (his current phone is a E90) and that was the one of the major reasons why he agreed to do the ad. The other factor, I’m guessing, would be the money! :)