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Station Ident: Yes, He’s Going On About Phones Again

A week ago, the BBC ran a story about how smartphone sales aren’t being impacted by the recession. Today?

Nokia has reported a loss for the July to September quarter after sales sank by almost a fifth.

I turn up this story immediately after reading that the Nokia N900 tablet/phone doesn’t do MMS. Which might not be a big deal for many, especially in the States, but it’s really kind of useful to me and my family.

I’ve been a Nokia user for more than ten years now. I had that slidy-clicky phone before Keanu had it in THE MATRIX. Nokia made me an early camphone user — hell, I was in an exhibition of camphone photographers in America. I liked that most Nokia phones looked and felt like they’d been sawn off girders by cold miserable Finns and then stuffed with difficult gizmos by pale intellectual Finns and then filed and decorated by scowling hipster Finns.

The Guardian has this, and it does tend to conjure the image of a large mammal bleeding out from a wound it can’t see or find properly:

Nokia blamed a shortage of components for its poor third quarter performance compared with the wider market. Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, its chief executive, said "We would have sold more devices and smartphones in the third quarter without the capacity constraints. The constraints did in fact hit the smartphone part of the business more than the rest of the devices."

I’m no kind of economist, but it does occur to me that a company in the smartphone-making business would usually ensure it has enough bits to make its smartphones with before it starts making them.

Carolina Milanesi, research director for mobile devices at industry specialist Gartner, said sales of Nokia’s flagship N97 smartphone do not appear to have been exactly stellar. "Despite their positive comments on the N97 I am reluctant to say that sales of 1.8m for a flagship product are good enough. Moreover, as Nokia stated at the beginning of September that N97 shipped 1.5m devices since the launch we can see that sales are actually not accelerating."

I was warned off the N97 by several people in the know, one of whom described it as "shocking." I’ve already spoken here about what I think of Nokia’s Ovi app store. I thought about getting a Palm Pre, having used Visors and Treos for years. But then I changed my mind. Ultimately, the point of the device is less what it does when it comes out of the box than it is what I can make it do once it’s out of the box. I’ve been fiddling with, cajoling, hammering and tinkering with phone brains for years, trying to get them to do the stuff I needed them to do — because no one device is perfect, right? But it’s gotten harder and harder to do that with Nokia devices — and the applications ecosystem isn’t there. I have an ebook reader for the Nokia 810 that only scrolls down. And, sure, that’s the clever experimental Maemo crew there, and it was very much a clever experimental device. But that’s the state of apps for the 810. Should I really expect better from the N900, which also runs (a new version of) Maemo — and, already, doesn’t do MMS?

It took a little over a year for iPhone (combining 2G and 3G units) to clock up a million sales in the UK, as opposed to the seven months it took Nokia to sell a million N95s when it launched in ’07 — a device comparable in complexity and price. But iPhone was selling from a single network. When iPhone became available from three networks rather than one in France, sales went up 136 percent.

In the top six iPhone markets that are still exclusive… we believe that Apple’s market share could rise to 10 percent, on average, in a multiple carrier distribution model from 4 percent today.

Meanwhile, Nokia posts its first loss since 1996 (only partially due to a write-down on a possibly injudicious deal with Siemens) and its market share plummets past 40%. They’ve been bleeding share on various stages all year.

And my Nokia N95 8GB has, since I started typing this with frozen fingers in the pub, lost packet data three times (and thrown up alerts) and restarted itself twice. All of which is to say that, as a non-city-dwelling person with no local wifi, who needs a 3G-networked communications device in his pocket that does more than make phone calls… I’m going to miss having a tough, powerful little Nokia in my hand. But I need more than Nokia’s prepared to design or sell. And for everything the bloody iPhone doesn’t do, like outboard keyboards, and for every annoying thing about it, like probably having to install the terrible iTunes to manage its apps… it does do several things I require of a street computer. Including MMS and cut-and-paste.

None of which was of interest to anyone but me. Morning. This is Warren Ellis dot com.

Published in brainjuice researchmaterial


  1. If JWZ’s experience changed your mind about the Pre, why bother with the iPhone, which is even more locked-down? Go Android instead.

  2. Have you thought about getting an Android based phone? They’re very smart (in the sense of clever), android is much more open to applications that iPhone, so even if there aren’t more apps (and there are lots) yet, there will be. They’re complete little linux computers the shape of a phone, wrapped in phone UI. And you don’t need to submit yourself to be managed by iTunes.

  3. Chris Chris

    Have a look at an android device, I know several people who swear by the iphone but I was never interested in apple owning my soul. Android isn’t perfect but it is very hacker friendly. The app scene isn’t anywhere near as big as the iphones but with the number of devices scheduled to become available the user base is going to grow rapidly next year I think. The bigger the user base the bigger the interest in development.

    The HTC Hero I have is much more solidly put together than an iphone and post firmware update I am pretty happy with the performance. Snapdragon and tegra devices will be out soon and they will be much more powerful. MMS works. The camera is poor though, don’t know how much that matters to you.

    Maemo looks like it has some promise, but it’s lacking some key features for just now.

  4. You should give the Pre another chance. jwz’s experience with it is more about jwz being a hothead than about any problem at Palm. I’ve already released one open source app on the Pre, and I’m working on a second one (an ebook reader). The development environment is really pleasant, and Palm is, imho, making it very easy to distribute apps.

  5. Jim Jim

    Have you taken a look at Android based devices at all? Wondering what your thoughts on them are.

    It is really sad. We have all these great phones, but all of them suck. Jailbroken iPhone at least has apps. As horrible as the keyboard on it is, I find myself typing on it faster then my E75 anymore.

    E75 is a great texting device. Wonderful phone. But, I find myself using the iPhone more due to the apps. I just hate supporting a device that is being ran in such a clearly evil manner.

  6. The problem with androids is right now the hardware isn’t beefy enough, and the battery life is still utterly miserable. I had an iphone. It was pretty good, but having my swearing corrected got really annoying, and lack of background apps just drove me insane (I can’t be the only person who wants to run an IM app in the background). Despite that, the appstore wins, the onscreen keyboard beats the android soft keyboard hands down, and with the 3GS, it just walks over the current crop of puny android phones. As much as it pains me to say, I’m really tempted to give up my android and go back to the iphone.

  7. This is just you rationalizing a choice you’ve already made. You can stop now: the iPhone was a dud in the first two iterations, but with the last one, it really is a good tool and you shouldn’t feel guilty about owning one.

    Unfortunately, Nokia made an awful choice when they bet on S60. They are feeling the pain only now because competitors were even more shocking, and feature phones dominated the market for longer than they should have.

    I have an E65, which on paper was everything I needed (3g, wifi, apps, even a Python interface), but in practice was so disappointing that I vowed never to buy another S60. The N95/97 debacle seems to show I wasn’t the only one. I’m waiting for the N900 (I don’t care about MMS — that’s stuff you should send via email, like they’ve always done in Japan), but if that’s not good enough, I’ll get an iPhone, which is something I’d really hate to do.

  8. Subversiveagent Subversiveagent

    Smartphone OS and apps just aren’t powerful or well designed enough, wether they be from the manufacturer or from third parties. I’d rather carry a small laptop on a pouch everywhere if I had similar needs than force myself into smartphone app hell. (And carry a regular, cheap phone for the simpler stuff, of course).

    I wish they’d let us run windows 95 off a smartphone :(

  9. Get an Android from HTC, feels good man.

  10. Before considering an alternate be warned that there is NO KEYBOARD for the iPhone. No fucking keyboard for the current headliner in smartphones? C’mon, Apple!

  11. nick nick

    Sure, it does MMS… NOW. Like 3 years after launch.

    the G1 had it from launch. The iPhone got video… if you bought a new one.

    The G1 got video after launch… as a software upgrade.

    I’m just sayin….

  12. Anonymous Anonymous

    You say only you care about such things. I beg to differ, as after your mention of the ‘slidey-clickey’ phone (a much better name, I might add) I looked it up in Google and it has it’s own Wiki entry.

    Not that everything doesn’t have it’s own Wiki entry…

  13. Midir Midir

    Don’t go to the dark side my man! The iPhone is the working man’s worst enemy, it’s all about design and style. If you want a real phone, buy an HTC Touch Pro 2, it’ll do everything you want and more.

  14. So the penny begins to drop about Nokia. I said from the date the iPhone was introed that company would go into a Death Spiral. Nokia grabbed large market share not because they were good — their competitors were simply abysmally lousy!

    I’m beginning to gain an interest in Android too. Have you seen the new Acer Liquid phone? Here are specs:

    And there’s a quite good ePub eBook reader for Android called Aldiko, see these two posts:

    Sorry for all the links. But I think you’d like info for a decision.

    Good luck!

  15. Neil Neil

    I just want to point out that the reason you changed your mind about the Pre is a bit premature. I don’t actually understand that poster’s gripe with Palm, because most developers are having few problems with Palm’s app posting process. And what’s more, there is a very active user community creating easy to install, free apps for the phone. And these apps are not only being allowed by Palm without fear of voiding your contract, but actually encouraged.

    There are quite a few articles supporting this over at I would suggest checking them out.

    Also, the Android phones seem to be a great environment, or if you want to trade one devil (Apple) for another (MS) you can always check out the new Windows Mobile 6.5 phones like the HTC Pure. Just a few thoughts.

    But I surely wouldn’t rest my head on what that poster had to say, especially considering the fact that he’s being somewhat unreasonable… for a tip calculator… which there are already 3 of in the Palm App catalog, 2 of which graduated out of PreCentral’s Homebrew catalog…

  16. I’ve had an HTC Touch Diamond for over a year now. Lovely phone, does everything the 3GS iPhone finally does, despite being released May 2008, but unfortunately it’s running Windows Mobile 6.5 and that’s it’s big downfall. It’s not that WinMob is particularly bad or anything; I’ve found it to be fairly good actually. It’s just, as you mention, that Apple have a far better apps environment. Frankly, I find this a bit confusing since Windows has been on handheld devices for longer than the iPhone has existed, but it just seems like Microsoft haven’t bothered pimping it to developers very much. There’s some nice software out there, but simply not enough of it.

    It looks to me like Android is all set to gobble up most of Windows’ share of the market, and their apps system looks like a deliberate attempt to emulate Apple’s. All it really needs now is the promotion to make people aware that there’s a viable alternative to having the same damn phone as everyone else. With the new phones being released (I’m personally planning on getting an HTC Hero early next year) by a range of manufacturers, and Google’s talent for hype (I still kinda want a Wave invite even though I have no use whatsoever for it), I reckon 2010 could be a big year for Android.

  17. Michael Michael

    I’m also waiting for the Nokia N900 (and waiting for the cash I’ll need to buy it without a contract to which it is bound) and frankly, MMS?

    just use email, man. There might once have been a good reason for MMS but these days are long gone.

  18. After seeing Mirco Men on bb4 the other week, the stuff about Nokia makes me wonder if we’re going to see Nokia do a Spectrum/Acorn style crash into obscurity…….

  19. Virion Virion

    Wait, a reader that only scrolls down on the N810? I know FBReader scrolls up and down on the N800, and has for years in a way that finally satisfied my need to replace the hacky eReader from Palm. I sort of want to see a limited one though, a book you cannot reread. I think DRM suppliers would adore ebooks like that.

  20. Jim Jim

    The N900 will have MMS added on via firmware update before the end of the year allegedly.

  21. Huh. It may be worth waiting until the end of the month to look at this, though.

    “The phone is a three-way effort between Motorola, Verizon and Google. It looks a lot like the iPhone, and may even be as thin or thinner than the iPhone 3GS. It also has two key advantages over the iPhone – a slide out physical keyboard, and use of the Verizon network.

    “Unlike previous Android phones, the Droid is rumored to be powered by the TI OMAP3430, the same core that the iPhone and Palm Pre use, and which significantly outperforms Qualcomm 528MHz ARM11 based Android phones that exist today (Engadget has a great overview article on mobile CPUs).

    “Droid will also be running v.2.0 of Android, with a significantly upgraded user interface.”

    YMMV over where you’re at, though.

  22. I’m a happy iPhone owner, but I feel like there is one issue that you should be aware of, given that you are fairly often on the road: Battery life.

    The iPhone does not handle long periods of heavy use well. It needs to be plugged in once a day from regular use and more than once if you do a lot of surfing/twitter/maps/camera or other screen and data heavy tasks.

    It’s fine for me because I’m near my computer a lot, but every now and then I take off for awhile and then I’m carrying the charger with me and I feel like I’m scuttling from outlet to outlet.

    That said, no idea how the OTHER smartphones are on battery.

  23. Errol Errol

    G1. Designed by google and htc, with an Android OS. its not the fastest sleekest smartphone with a slide keyboard, but it is the most adaptable to you. The third party APP market is stellar. I’ve written my last couple of comics and school papers while sitting on the bus using the Google Docs Beta App. Bless it.

    its successor (the MyTouch – it may have a different name in the UK) is smaller, prettier and faster- but i’ve played with it and its improvements dont seem worth the loss of the slide keyboard.

  24. Rey Rey

    Looking forward to the Wing II / HTC TouchPro — which supports MMS — particularly its tilt screen and that properly staggered QWERTY keyboard (which I need for playing Chaos: The Battle of Wizards on the Speccy emulator). I adore my current Wing, despite how creaky the processor is, and the constant need to recharge. The rubbery exterior has kept me from dropping it, ever. My last slippery phone was constantly rocketing out of my hand and dashing against the hardest surfaces it could find.

  25. I’ve come back here in case you missed this:

    Dear Palm, it’s just not working out.

    >>>So why would I get an iPhone? Because it’s an appliance that just fucking works.

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