What does a Nokisoft smartphone look like before it is born?
With the official alliance announcements out of the way, Nokia and Microsoft can now set to work on bringing their first Nokisoft handsets to market. Thinking about the players and the smartphone market as it is today, I would like to begin speculation on what Nokia will be delivering to the world with its first set of Windows Phone handsets.
The first thing that needs to be considered is the absolute need for Nokia to be successful with Window Phone. Nokia does not have a plan B. To me, this implies a few things that Nokia must do to maximize its chances of success:
1. Get these devices on the shelf ASAP, and start building momentum to counter the inevitable decline of Symbian handset sales.
2. Not excellent, but flawless device execution. Nokia cannot afford to sacrifice device quality at a time when they are reestablishing the Nokia brand.
3. Like any big budget film, Nokia needs to open big and open wide. The first cadre of handsets have to provide solid eye candy and be available at every location a Symbian handset can be found.
Because things need to happen both perfectly and quickly (a terrible combination of requirements), Nokia cannot afford to be tinkering with experimental technologies, business models or avant-guarde handset design. Because Nokia will only have the time and resources to bring a few (I suspect 2 or 3) models to market, these handsets will have to address the broadest possible market segments, regions and price points.
In short, Nokia needs to deliver at least 1 mass market mid-priced handset and 1 high end (but still with broad appeal) device. Ideally, Nokia would also deliver a low-cost handset, but unless Microsoft is willing to give Nokia special hardware freedoms, I do not believe Nokia’s production scale will be able to push device costs below $250 until late 2012. I also do not believe Microsoft intends to give Nokia special hardware freedoms. Microsoft believes it allowed too much freedom with Windows Mobile and that has hardened Microsoft’s resolve to keep its new platform neat and tidy.
With little time and even less design freedom, Nokia will be forced to focus on the most popular features and handset forms that it has direct and successful experience with. I believe that Nokia’s situation will initially produce handsets with the following key characteristics:
1. Simple monolith touch screen form factors that comply with all of Microsoft’s hardware mandates. It is these hardware mandate that will lock Nokia into the mid and high range segments initially. This simple but popular from factor is still desirable today (when the design is occurring) although Nokia will have to quickly follow up with a slide out QWERTY option.
2. The higher end device will differentiate through a best in class camera and video experience. Nokia has had historic success with cameras and will need to carry this over to the new platform. The higher end device will likely incorporate aluminum and glass to convey it premium quality.
3. To retain its shelf presence while minimizing hardware SKU bloat, Nokia will rely on its old habit of one device with many color options. It is a cheap, simple solution to maximize retail shelf presence, and Nokia already knows how to do this.
4. Outside of a little silk screened Nokia logo, Windows Phone will own the majority of branding presence through its mandated UI.
I an effort to show progress, Nokia demonstrated some of its initial design concepts below. I believe that these are not just conceptual designs, but the only design options available to Nokia at the moment. I would not be surprised if the only new things Nokia could add to this picture is two additional colors (I suspect green and red). When it comes down to it, Nokia does not have the time mess around with anything else if they plan to release anything in 2011.