Analyzing Nokia's Business: E71 Shortcomings And Unclear Next Steps
The O/S (and broader consumer support infrastructure) lack of user-friendliness doesn’t help, either. Take my friend’s E71 (running the S60 v3 flavor of Symbian), for example. Her prior handset was a BlackBerry, so some of her complaints (unclear-function shift and function keys, for example) are at least somewhat understandable impacts of platform migrations. But the unit’s display backlight control was ridiculously over-aggressive by default, and figuring out how to adjust it was non-intuitive. Neither she nor I could discern how to activate the unit’s speakerphone, even with the assistance of Nokia’s documentation, until a random key press produced the desired end result. The handset employs a proprietary 2.5mm audio-plus-video connector (you know how much I love proprietary connectors, right?) that required a $10 adapter in order to use her conventional Plantronics headset. Thankfully that latter glitch has reportedly been fixed in the next-generation E72.
And here are some of the things I’ve uncovered in techie-testing the E71 myself, beyond her typical-consumer frustration threshold:
- The firmware update utility was Windows-only and not listed with the other available E71 software on Nokia’s website; I struggled for quite a while before I finally stumbled across it, and I’m confident that the average consumer would therefore never know of its existence. The documentation was incomplete; I had to guess (and guessed wrong the first two times) which of the four USB tether modes offered by the phone on initial connection (MTP, media transfer, phone-as-modem and PC Suite) was the correct one to enable the update routine to complete.
- The PC Suite software (again, Windows-only, although functional equivalents for the Mac are also available) download link on the Nokia USA website produced a ‘file not found on this server’ error message every time I tried it over a week’s time span. I finally gave up and downloaded it from the Nokia Europe site. And it ended up still not being the latest-and-greatest available version (although in fairness to Nokia, the in-program update completed flawlessly).
- The blizzard of Windows driver auto-installations (along with associated Nokia programs) that magically appeared on my friend’s Windows XP desktop when I connected the phone to her computer in various USB modes was mind-boggling (although, again, everything seemed to work fine).
- Every time (and for as long as) the phone and laptop are in close proximity, the latter repeatedly attempts to connect to the former over Bluetooth, producing authentication beeps and messages on the handset screen. "Annoying" is one word for PC Suite’s tenacity. There are others. What’s wrong with trying once or, worst case, a few times and then getting the hint and giving up?
- The Ovi Store utility wasn’t pre-installed on the phone, and I only stumbled across it by accident. The first several times I tried to direct-download it to the handset from Nokia’s server, I got timeouts partway through. And its content is underwhelming compared to that offered in Apple and RIM’s alternatives. Notable software and services omissions include Last.FM, Pandora or Slacker music streaming capabilities, Facebook, or even a decent Twitter client. Dedicated Gmail and Yahoo access utilities are at least available (although the latter is due for a next-year phaseout)!
- Speaking of Google, I haven’t yet tried out Nokia’s GPS-cognizant Maps utility, which requires a monthly subscription in order to garner turn-by-turn direction capabilities (and which required download and installation of yet another update from Nokia’s website). I’ll be comparing it to Garmin’s Mobile XT, which just arrived as I was typing these words.
Hope is on the horizon. Here’s the N900, introduced in late August and finally shipping to U.S. customers as of a few hours ago:
While it might look a lot like the earlier-shown N97, it leverages a newer ARM Cortex A8 CPU, and it also runs a completely different software stack in the form of the Linux-based Maemo O/S. As such, it’s the actualization of the prediction I made more than a year and a half ago; a next-generation Internet Tablet with built-in GSM voice and data capabilities. And the reviews of it are much more solid than was the case with its N97 cousin. But as with prior smartphone offerings from the company, Nokia was unable to secure a cellular service provider partnership with the N900; the handset is GSM carrier-unlocked but pricey. There’s light at the end of the tunnel, but is it an incoming train wreck? It’s still not entirely clear to me how Nokia will be able to navigate its way out of its current smartphone predicament.
It’s been pretty obvious to me for a while now that Maemo represents Nokia’s software future with respect to smartphones, although I suspect Symbian has a long continued life ahead of it with low-end and mainstream handsets. As such, the company will now need to seriously juggle two operating systems, both with respect to internal resources and with all-important third-party developers (who are having a hard enough time comprehending multiple concurrent versions of the same Google Android O/S). I also continue to wonder if the recently announced partnership between Intel and Nokia will translate into x86 CPUs ending up in form factors smaller than the company’s current 3G-supportive netbook, and how such a resultant hardware dichotomy versus ARM counterparts might complicate things from a corporate standpoint.