What Will Mobile Phones Look Like in 2010?

19 Comments

NokiaN97.jpgLast week I met with Anssi Vanjoki, executive V-P of markets at Nokia (s NOK), to discuss the state of both the Finnish company and the mobile industry overall. Since Nokia has been particularly good at defining the specifications and features of phones ahead of time, I asked Vanjoki what some of the common features one should expect to see in a top-end phone in 2010 were. Here’s a quick rundown of what he told me:

  • A high-quality (QVGA) screen with 16:9 horizontal mode capabilities
  • A high-quality camera with resolution of between 5 and 12 megapixels and the sharpness and quality of a standalone digital camera.
  • Touchscreen input along with a good QWERTY keyboard. (I’m pretty sure Apple would disagree.)
  • About 32-64 GB storage.
  • GPS and multiple radios that allow access to voice, 3G and Wi-Fi networks.

Most of these phones will come with services integrated into them, and many phones will be “solution-specific.” As an example, Vanjoki offered the soon-to-be-released Nokia N97 and forecast that by 2013, such feature-laden phones will be commonplace. I remember the Nokia N73 and N81 phones from three years ago. Indeed, their features — 3-megapixel camera, music playback and high-speed wireless access (3G or Wi-Fi) — are commonplace today. From that perspective, Vanjoki (and by extension, Nokia) might be right, though there remain two problems on the horizon: the continuing slump in the global economy, which is preventing people from spending big dollars on their phones, and the fact that Apple, not Nokia, now sets the phone trends, thanks to its super-hit device, the iPhone.

19 Comments

Mehul Jain

I definitely agree with you on one thing…Nokia though a market leader in the industry, has started lagging behind when it comes to aesthetic appeal, or just innovative designs I guess. I was looking at gsmarena.com, & so many of their phones just look alike & with very standard features.(nothing mind blowing that is..). A few years back, they used to come up with all sorts of innovative / artistic designs like 7600, 3650, 8800, N-gage etc, but now most of their phones lack novelty.

A qwerty keyboard is always a good addition to the touchphones, however, I will personally like to see many more thin touch screen phones ( iphone, htc diamond etc.) with greatly improved tactile feedback.

Adrian Cockcroft

I made some predictions a year ago about the hardware trends in mobile, gave a talk at Ecomm08 and Usenix last summer. Slides are here http://www.slideshare.net/adrianco/millicomputing-usenix-2008

The next hardware feature that will make a big difference is video and other high bandwidth local devices over wireless USB. When your phone can pull content from an LTE network and display on any TV set or flat screen that is nearby without leaving your hand or pocket, it replaces your laptop and set top box.

With video in and out, and more CPU/memory, we can look forward to things like Skype video phones.

Marl Balou

Jason’s points are very valid and convincing. I believe that IPhone in it’s current form will be limited to the very high end of the market given that it requires a PC/Mac. Most of the volume is in China/India/Kenya etc where the Iphone model breaks down.

Faisal

Hi Om,

This is for sure that the cellphone is becoming our mobile assistant come entertainer. I remember, while talking to some mobile chip vendors, they were focusing on desiging chips that could handle multi-tasks efficiently and capable of handling multi-sessions concurrently.

In your writeup, there is no mention of Nano technology that Nokia is pursuing on. At least they were on to it last year. Have they dropped the idea or it is a far distant phenomenon? I am sure you must have discussed this with Anssi.

Regards
Faisal

Jason Lackey

Om, while others have said that hardware is increasingly a commodity I would disagree. Hardware is and will remain an important part of the overall package and is the fundamental base upon which goodness can then be built. Remember, no matter how slick and snazzy your UI is, if the radio sucks and battery life is barely enough to get you through a 9-5 workday, say nothing of a hardcore startup workday then there is still plenty of room for someone to hand you you ass with good hardware.

At Mobile World Congress and more recently CTIA, I have noted a trend, one that reminds me of the South Seas cargo cults where native islanders, living with stoneage technology, got pallets of WWII supplies dropped by parachute onto the wrong islands and thus people living in a world of magic were exposed to things like .45 autos, Spam and Coca Cola. They also learned to mimic communications officers calling in an air drop, and made devices looking like field phones and walkietalkies which they used in religious ceremonies in hopes of attracting more cargo, with no understanding of what was needed under the hood to cause radio signals to reach HQ, much less trigger a cargo drop. Some of the device makers, with uninspired attempts at UIs, remind me of the Pacific island shamans with wooden DC3 and hand carved telephones trying to channel some of that iPhone mana – yes, on the surface they look right, but it seems fairly clear that nobody actually tried to use the stuff.

One of the things that Nokia really gets, that others so often miss, is the ongoing use and ownership experience. Sure, looking at devices like the recently released AT&T E71x it is clear that the UI is boring and relatively crappy looking, although unlike things like Android it is easy to reskin (or theme). However, the phone is usually very responsive to user input, has an above average camera and outstanding battery life. It also has more than that under the skin.

One of the things that Nokia has been pretty good about is manageability of their devices. Fair disclosure, I work in the industry at a company called InnoPath which makes device management software, both client and server. While Nokia does not use our client, they have a very good device management client in many of their devices, including the E71x and this goes a long way towards addressing two parts of the ownership experience which really suck for many, support and updates.

On the support side, the OMA-DM (OMA is the Open Mobile Alliance and OMA-DM is the standard device management protocol) capabilities baked into the phone let CSRs at a remote call center do things like figure out not only what make and model the phone is over the air (on a GSM network where subs can bring their own unlocked phones figuring out what kind of phone someone has can be a real PITA) but can also get things like FW version and even fix things like broken email or APN settings all over the air. These are things which in the bad old days had to be done manually, with the CSR reading off instructions and the subscriber trying to figure out how to do those things, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.

Having that device management client also lets either Nokia or the mobile network operator who supplied the device do Firmware Over The Air – FOTA. Unlike the iPhone, which uses a somewhat old school approach where an entire system ROM is downloaded on a PC and then installed over iTunes, FOTA allows a diff package, like a patch or update package, to be downloaded and installed over the air, bringing the firmware up to date. Nokia understands the global market, which in many ways looks more like Mumbai or Kenya than Cupertino, and the majority of people hitting the internet are doing so thru a mobile device, not a desktop and many who have even good feature phones may not have even a laptop and may not have anything to run iTunes or anything like that on – bit of a problem when updates are needed, huh?

So, there are some things which have surface appeal, sexy eyecandy and the like – HTC’s TouchFlo UI is one which comes to mind. Looks like, probably helps sell handsets on the showroom floor, but not so good to use. Other things, like the iPhone UI, present a deeper level of lasting goodness, but there are still many examples out there, manageability of many Nokia devices being one, of lasting goodness under the hood that many will not see or notice on the showroom floor but which will return rewards in terms of a better ownership experience for years to come. I suspect that while WVGA AMOLED touchscreen displays, 5 row qwerty (NOT 4 or worse 3!) and uberbling like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset and better will become more and more prevelant, I expect that things like OTA, OMA-DM and FOTA will increasingly be showing up earlier in in the bullet lists of specs on datasheets and that starting with the prosumer that these are thigns that customers will start looking for.

free online virtual worlds

Everyone’s coming up with new combinations for phones. Phone cameras, Phone mp3 players etc. I wonder if Sony or something will come up with a PSP phone or something along the line, that would be pretty cool.

SD

Here’s a quick rundown of what I believe:

Still iPhone screen will be richer and bigger

iPhone 3.2 or 5 megapixel = Nokia 8 or 12 Megapixel

TouchScreen (Ha ha…Nokia needs a tution)

Nokia please increase phone’s internal memory and not MEMORY CARDS

Apple will show you how to use GPS and Radio effectively on phones.

Jason Lackey

SD – I think that you will find that the limiting factors on mobile device cameras tend not to be megapixel count but response time in general, low light autofocus and general lack of low light sensitivity. The megapixels may be there in some cases but far too often the noise in low light is unacceptable.

ol' yeller

the phone guys are still stuck in the hardware dark ages. they simply don’t get that it’s the software that matters, given a base set of hardware features. Apple will continue to own Nokia & Samsung and maybe even RIM until the old guard belatedly tries to correct course.

watching Nokia and Samsung feels to me like watching GM and Ford, only this disintegration is happening at higher speed.

i heard jobs give his view of the wireless industry 18 months before the iphone came out. fascinating how he had already grasped an industry he didn’t know. he knew that verizon didn’t *get it* and that they would continue to blow hundreds of millions trying to re-enact AOL’s ‘walled garden’ mistake with VCAST, and so on. here we are 3.5 years later and what has changed?

Mark Sigal

Feels very much akin to the axiom of to the hammer everything looks like a nail. As @Scott Smith notes, this is a very hardware centric view of the mobile universe, yet we all know at this point, that the next 18 months becomes about who can do the best job of winning the hearts and minds of developers, as the hardware is increasingly a commodity, something that I blogged about in:

iPhones, App Stores and Ecosystems
http://bit.ly/Hre72

Check it out if interested.

Mark

bavatara

Blogging for blogging’s sake? Just about 90% of the visitors to this site could have written this article.

Om Boss, give us some real insight, where do YOU think the mobile biz will be in the next 5 – 10 years? What OS’s will dominate, what will the carrier situation look like state side? Will they be forced to open up their networks by the FCC? What will be the state of mobile video streaming, mobile cloud computing, mobile chipsets? The answers to these questions will determine what type of phones are in the pipeline in 5 years, not the obvious rambling of some Nokia marketing Exec. No one gives two shits about the market penetration of already ubiquitous technologies.

Om Malik

:-) not everything has to be a deep essay. and if you go back into the archives you know we have been addressing some of those issues you mention over past few months. somedays i want to do simple posts mostly because it helps me focus on the issue more clearly. i think you should stay tuned for the follow-up posts.

Jason Lackey

mobileinsider – if you were in Japan then your featurephone would likely already be packing 1seg digital tv. If in Europe you might be able to watch DVB-H if you had something like a Nokia N77. Different tech, but similar end results

Ricky Cadden

I’ve a few questions:

1. Did Anssi himself specify QVGA, or did you add that? QVGA is not really ‘high-resolution’, even in Nokia’s portfolio – both the budget-minded 5800 XpressMusic and the upcoming N97 have nHD (640×360 pixels) resolutions – much higher than QVGA.

2. ‘the fact that Apple, not Nokia, now sets the phone trends, thanks to its super-hit device, the iPhone.’ – This is actually quite inaccurate, considering that most, if not all of the features, save for touchscreen, of the iPhone have been in Nokia phones for years (and Motorolas, Samsungs, HTCs, etc), as I’m sure you’re well aware. Apple sets the tone for things such as UI and Applications and whatnot, but overall phone trends? Not quite.

Om Malik

Ricky

I might have to recheck that with Nokia. I think he said QVGA but again we were on a trade floor it might be the reason i might have misheard. Let me recheck.

On your second point I disagree — touch, app store, apps are all apple-catalyzed changes. The full browser experience are again what Apple pushed on. I think more and more the UI and apps are going to drive the phone business and thus the underlying hardware. I am pretty sure the next version of iPhone is going to be change the game as well.

PS: check my post from 2007/2008 on how iPhone changes the wireless industry.

Scott Smith

Interesting that this is couched in hardware terms. An interesting alternative, or follow-up, would have been to ask what functions will be present in most of these devices, and what design features best support them. Of course, since 2010 is just around the corner, these products are already headed to the the factory line and the parts on order, so it isn’t much of a stretch. Reach out to 2014-2015, and we would get some interesting answers—when their products become solution- or experience-led, the viewpoint on specs changes.

Om Malik

Scott

I have answers to some of your questions and will try to get it done over the weekend. I thought the handset part was most interesting since we are all such avid “handset” buyers. From capabilities I am looking at Apple’s app community. Man, every day I see apps that blow my mind. Simple as they might be, they are pretty clever and useful.

I have more stuff coming from the interview – just wasn’t in the mood to write 1,500 words ;-)

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