Mobile insights from Finland

As I’ve mentioned before, my research coverage has shifted to include mobile marketing.  I spent the past week with Nokia in Espoo and picked up some interesting insights from our interactions.

You may know that Nokia’s origins come from the wood pulp, rubber, and cable industries.  You may not know that just a decade ago, mobile was only 5% of the company’s business mix.  Today they’ve become the world’s largest volume handset manufacturer, with over 112,000 employees.  Reminds me of IBM’s shift to services – fascinating case in refocusing a business.

In 2007, there were over 3 billion people on mobile networks – over half the world’s population.  Nokia projects this number will increase to 5 billion in 2015, but with a 100-fold increase in network traffic.  That’s a quite different world than today and not that far away.  Mobile marketing may not be prime time today, but it will be.

Last year, Nokia launched a special Arabian-African edition phone.  It was made in special colors with seven preloaded Ramadan-related applications, e.g. Qibla direction indicator and Hijri calendar.  Reminds me of the limited edition SMUs from Nike and adidas – this is a tactic that could be applied to many brands in many markets.

Speaking of devices, Nokia has the ability to put 7 megapixel cameras in their phones, but hasn’t.  Why?  Customer experience – a 7MP camera would create greater latency in the imaging chain.  So they’ve gone with a max 5 MP to optimize the experience.  I think it works pretty well; last year, I borrowed a N73 with 3.2 MP camera that was pretty good, much better than my 1.3 MP Blackberry.  I’m currently borrowing a N95 8GB which has 5 MP and built-in GPS for geotagging – which delivers images like the one at the top of this post.  Not bad.

I heard about a service called Twango for the first time.  It combines a lot of different features from the sites you use today – social networking, picture sharing, file sharing, messaging.  Twango’s ability to let you set varying permission levels for group and individual access are far more granular than most sites today.

Thinking through Nokia’s focus on consumer internet services – they’ve got gaming, lifeblogging, social networks, maps, and music – they seem to be the only device manufacturer with such a broad focus.  Microsoft, Apple and Google play here as well, but none have the same global device presence.  Others like Motorola, LG, and Samsung aren’t getting into services as far as I can tell.

Do you remember the story of Crown, Cork and Seal?  At one point in its evolution, the company mapped out the market in a 2×2 and saw a big empty space in the upper right.  But the lesson learned was that sometimes a white space doesn’t mean market opportunity – it may mean that the canary has stopped singing.

What are your thoughts on manufacturer as service provider?  Is Nokia ahead of the game, just difficult to see from a U.S.-biased lens?  Or is this direction doomed?

Being: Peter Kim