What's In Nokia's Future? Exec Talks Symbian, GPS, WiMax and MoreS


Mobile freaks know that Nokia is a funny company, at the same time the biggest brand in handsets worldwide, and a niche player in the American cellphone market. This week, I sat down with Bill Plummer, Nokia's North America VP of sales and channel management for Multimedia to discuss matters Nokia faces in the immediate future: WiMax handsets (by 2008?), GPS in every phone, American HSDPA compatibility, chunky designs, the slender N76 multimedia handset (shown above), QWERTY keyboards and more.

Read on for my questions and Plummer's italicized answers—some of them direct, and some of them a little more, shall we say, courteously evasive. (Hey, he's a nice guy, but he's also a sales VP. That's why they pay him the big bucks.)

Will there really be GPS in all Nokia phones?
"You will see GPS in a broader range of devices in the future, with N Series out in front. We will also deliver a range of handsets with a range of functionality to meet a range of consumer lifestyle demands. Consumers that aren't as interested in GPS, because they are cost-conscious or primarily focused on voice, will still have non-GPS options."
So, like, more GPS but no commitment to full deployment across the board.

Why doesn't GPS navigation come free with N95?
"Turn-by-turn navigation is a service offering that does indeed require a fee. It is software we developed after our acquisition of gate5; it's a service you purchase from Nokia. Anything beyond that, the GPS functionality and the downloadable maps from Tele Atlas, that's all free. What's great is that you can get the maps for what you need. A map of your home, or any additional maps you need. You don't necessarily need the map to Crete."
Assuming you have a big enough memory card—the N76 supports MicroSD cards up to 4GB—you probably can get the whole world database in there.

How are N95 sales doing?
"We are very pleased."
We knew they wouldn't actually answer that one.

Since there are Nokia music download stores in the UK and Australia, part of Nokia's Music Recommender service, when will we see a Nokia music store in the US?
"We will be rolling out broader music services, including ways for the consumer to stream and acquire music in other markets, but I can't to speak to the timetable."
Pretty sure that means that US is on the list, but it could take years.

Are there plans to use an OS other than Symbian?
"Certainly if you look at the N800 and N770 Internet tablets, they are Linux powered devices. But from the standpoint of multimedia business, we are still very committed to Symbian and Series 60 OS on Symbian. Unlike other mobile OS's, Symbian was designed with mobile-device characteristics in mind, such as the display and the processor, from the outset. It is optimized for the mobile computing experience."
Plummer did at least support the argument with some sweet Symbian(-compatible) apps such as ComVu PocketCaster.

Why are Nokia phones still so large?
"Our answer to that is the N76. There's no 5 megapixel camera. It's for the technology stylists, people in the high-end tech community who also want to demonstrate their flair."
It's the age-old tradeoff between size and capability. Nokia did ship the N76 this week globally. There's no US arrival date yet, nor is there a price. However, we are told it will cost "under $500."

Why no QWERTY keyboard on the N Series?
"The Bluetooth keyboard is one answer to that. When I am mobile, my replies are Yes, No, Maybe. When I stop being nomadic, I whip out my Bluetooth keypad and write real emails. In the future we're bringing a range of devices with different form factors and different functionalities."
OK, so I'm reading that as a QWERTY play coming sometime soon.

When will Nokia phones be compatible with the US version of HSDPA?
"On a global basis, N Series are multiradio GSM and 3G radios, as well as wireless LAN and GPS—they are very sophisticated devices. In US bands, these run on EDGE. The change to that will be the Nokia N75, which will work on US UMTS networks. I also have to add: Watch this space."
Nudge nudge, wink wink.

Will carriers pick up the N series?
"There's a constant ongoing dialog with the carriers—a Nokia-wide dialog, but also one with the Multimedia business as well. We are working with them to help them building their understanding of the emerging mobile multimedia space, and sharing the experiences we're gathering by being first to market. Carriers are strategic partners—we're going to collaborate to address their needs and their consumer's needs as they perceive them."
Plummer also added that Nokia had divided its handset business into two separate teams. There is the "mobile phones" division, which more directly addresses the hardware needs of the carriers, and Plummer's Multimedia group, which is more focused on building new products and bringing them to early adopters, and less focused on designing something that is necessarily a perfect fit in a carrier lineup.

How is the WiMax rollout going?
"Beginning of this year, Nokia was announced as a strategic partner with Sprint in WiMax network. We will be bringing devices in 2008 and beyond that will take advantage of that network. It's an exciting way for Sprint to be approaching the marketplace. It's an open Internet model, they build it to spec and people who have a relationship with Sprint will be able to attach a device to that network. It's akin to the fixed Internet model today. It will have a good impact on overall marketplace, allowing consumers better access to the networks, whether fixed or wireless."
We, too, like the idea of a high-bandwidth "open Internet model," but can we trust Sprint, or any carrier for that matter, to pull it off without some kind of walled-garden architecture? We'll see about that.

Plummer concluded with what he thought was the real mission of his Multimedia division, to bring the Web 2.0 experience into the real world. Why glue yourself to your computer for the latest social networks and Web apps? Eventually, we will be able to manage all of this wherever we happen to be, with GPS and 3G networks to facilitate transactions and interactions.

I have to apologize to the Glaswegians and general fans of weepy music out there: we didn't get a chance to talk about the just-announced N76 partnership with Travis. Frankly, the only Travis who entertains us is the Gizmodo associate editor, not so much the "thought-provoking and inspirational band".

Our coverage of the N95 [Gizmodo]
All Things Nokia [Gizmodo]