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Archive for the 'phone' Category

Most of what I learn about Nokia and the internet tablets comes from following links posted in blogs written by more clued-in folks. One link today was to a post about the QT Animation framework written only yesterday by Kaj Grönholm. (Neat video here.)

Another link I tripped over was much older. And so

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I just learned today that the CEO of Nokia was being interviewed on YLE (the Finnish national broadcasting corporation) almost six weeks ago when he let drop that, why, yes, Nokia is thinking about making laptop computers.

As Reuters blandly noted, rumors about such a move have been floating around since “late last year,” but CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo's on-air “comment was the first official admittance of such plans.”

Determining the role that the Internet Tablet will play in the cellphone maker's future has been nigh unto impossible to ken. After all, Nokia will have to have an iPhone simulacrum and having that complicates the tablet position. And if Nokia is going to reverse-traverse Apple's computer-to-phone trajectory, well, there are plenty of complications in separating out the tablet, UMPC, netbook, ultraportable and notebook niches even before you throw phone connectivity into the mix.

What can I say? We live in interesting times.

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Three years ago, the Nokia Internet Tablet was revolutionary: it had a screen wide enough to display a web page, it cost way less than you'd expect, it was meant for carrying around in a way that no laptop/notebook ever had been. WiFi was engendering the walkaround web.

Add a webcam, GPS, keyboard; make it faster, more reliable; keep churning away at the migration of free-libre-open-source software. Three years down the road and the tablet team has not stopped pushing the envelope.

But is Nokia's tablet revolutionary anymore?

My son's friend does as much or more with his iPod Touch (16GB model for $269.99) [1], — even though it is more restricted in what it can do.

Both Apple's and Nokia's tablets forgo disk drives, emphasizing the screen. But the the iPod touch and its progenitor, the iPhone, instantly persuade you that a keyboard is unneeded and unnecessary. The media aspects — video and YouTube video, music and accessing music via the web — push other considerations aside: the idea that the lame telco phones suffice for the walkaround web couldn't be more effectively (or contemptuously) dismissed.

Contrary to the optimistic predictions, ubiquitous and free WiFi hasn't materialized yet. For now, the walkaround web depends on a tablet screen and a data-cellphone connection. That's where the iPhone is situated, not the Internet Tablet, and by its sales figures you have to concede that bundling the connection with the screen appeals to more people than separating them.

I'm reminded of the quote from a French revolutionary leader [2], “There go the people. I must follow them. I am their leader.”

Um, the people are heading off in another direction.

Are we going with them? And if so, what is necessary for the Nokia Internet Tablet to remain in the forefront of the tablet revolution?

Dropping the price would keep it there. (For a while, anyway.) Some people have argued the interface ought to abandon the computer GUI heritage and adopt a big-graphic Apple-like approach. You know you'll see phone companies offering some Apple-influenced devices soon.

And there's the phone.

Some while back, I wished for an impossibility — a slot in the NIT for a SIM card, so it could connect via a telco data plan. Why not just make it a phone then, a la the iPhone? I don't know. I guess I want it to be a tablet, not a phone, unless I'm using a voip connection.

Subconciously, I must have accepted the argument that Nokia is approaching the iPhone feature-set from two directions — smart phones that would become more and more computery, and the Internet Tablet, which would be always a complement to (and not a replacement for) a cellphone.

But without ubiquitous online access, the NIT just gives us the semi-revolutionary walk-around-the-office-or-home-only web. So, one way or another, that has to change. Maybe it means we'll see a phone added to the NIT. Or phone/NIT bundles from the carriers. Or WiFi-hotspot/NIT bundles.

Unless it gives me the web everywhere, the NIT falls into the merely convenient and not revolutionary category.

Of course, there is one way we're still participating in revolutionary activity. That's via the FLOSS/Linux connection. The keyboard on the N810 may be a step backward from the perspective of the interface, but it greatly simplifies using a ported Linux-desktop app.

And that's a big deal. Partly because it ensures an inexhaustible supply of software. And underlying the web and our incarnation of it, the walkaround web, is our understanding that it has flourished because of the open nature of that earlier revolution.

Whereas “open” is not a word that appears in frequent proximity of “Apple.” The iPhone is engendering what we might term a Disney revolution, one in which the benefits accrue mostly to one company (which provides more entertaining or novel experiences to us customers than we got before).

When you see Nokia giving its $800-million investment in Symbion to an open-source foundation, you know that it is acting in its own financial interests. Nothing else could explain such sums. The tablet/phone OS field is weighted in favor of Apple and Microsoft and Google, and so Nokia is looking around to see who its friends are.

That would be us.

We're Nokia's friends. Us, the Maemo community, the FLOSS community, the Linux believers.

The revolutionary mob, as it were.

I believe the Nokia tablet is going to thrive in direct proportion to our community's success in promoting/extending/liberating Maemo. Because Nokia may not ever release a $100 NIT with a SIM-card slot, but some enterprising Asian manufacturer likely will. And running Maemo on all those Microsoft-spec'd UMPC's is going to bring even more people into the fold who are interested in tablet-sized apps working better. Every improvement developed on the outside will benefit the Internet Tablets that Nokia makes, and a larger pool of tablet users (especially Maemo tablet users) means a larger potential audience for Nokia to sell to.

And maybe the N810's built-in GPS and cam calling will finally get the attention it deserves.

So I'm looking forward to the meeting in Berlin next month. Will it be a revolutionary congress that dissolves into infighting and factions? Or one that presses forward to spread the revolution?


[1] 16GB refurbished at buy.com, shipping included.

[2] This was said by Alexandre Ledru-Rollin during the 1848 revolution, and not the 1789 revolution.

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The wire services have a story about a Canadian oilfield worker whose $10 unlimited browser plan with Bell Mobility has resulted in $85,000 in charges for surfing and downloading.

Silly guy. What part of 'unlimited browsing' made him think his plan enabled unlimited internet use? Instead of reading the fine print in his contract, he was set straight by his November bill of $60,000. Imagine the kind of surfing luxury he got for $2000 a day!

Oh, sure, Bell has said it will let him off the hook for a mere $3400. We all know what big hearts the telcoms have. They're getting a lot more than $80,000 worth of free publicity from that goodwill gesture!

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The iPhone is Time magazine's number one entry in its Top 10 Gadgets list (50 Top 10 lists of 2007 too).

Me, I prefer the Nokia Internet Tablet, but the iPhone is an understandable first choice.*

Neither the Nokia N810 (almost, sorta, but not really released) and the N800 (a big surprise way back in January!) merited a place on the list.

I've said it before: With Skype cam calls, the internet tablet is a mind-blowing culture-changing device. (It would easily supplant the cordless Skype phone that's number three on this list.) Think about it: walkaround visuals on a voip call. Not tethered to a computer, not paying exorbitant fees, not having to type a la IM, incredible display not a tiny phone screen, not restricted to just what the vendor will let you do. Like I said, mind-blowing.

Until then, it's all potential, no paradigm-shift.

Knock, knock! eBay, Nokia, anybody there? What's holding you up? Light the fuse, please.

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* This is what's known in the writing business as understatement, a first-cousin of irony. I don't think anyone stood in line for hours to be first to buy gadgets two through ten.

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The New York Times (among many, I'm sure) is reporting Google's “plunge” into the wireless world.Google, the Times says, is

leading a broad industry alliance to transform mobile phones into powerful mobile computers that could accelerate the convergence of computing and communications.

The Times points out:

Users would have the ability to load up their phones with new features and third-party programs.

“Today the Internet experience on hand-held devices is not optimized,” said Peter Chou, chief executive of HTC, one of the largest makers of smartphones. “The whole idea is to optimize the Internet experience.”

Of course, that's the same thing we've been saying for a couple years about phones and tablets, from the perspective of the tablet/internet end.

And, interestingly to us tableteering types, Google's Andy Rubin gives as an example of the incredible new things that will be available, “[T]he company’s StreetView feature of Google Maps could easily be coupled — mashed up, in technology speak — with another service listing the current geographical location of friends.”

Let me point out that Thoughtfix

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was there first. And since we have the pieces in place with the Nokia N810 Internet Tablet's GPS capability, this application awaits only a developer to realize it and not new hardware utilizing Google's new software.

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Added later: Here's the AP take on this news, as reported in the Washington Post.

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Over at

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GigaOM, I see Om Malik repeating the belief that the Nokia Internet Tablets need to be phones. Same thing at stuff.tv.

Me, I buy the Nokia party line that you use your phone for some things and your NIT for others and they should complement each other. No reason to make the tablet do phone things.

As for that, I look forward to the day I keep cam calls going for hours, used more as visual IMing than visual phone calling.

And I look forward to the day ubiquitous WiFi enables me to access the internet without thinking about how to jack into it.

And if telecoms in the U.S. offered reasonably-priced data plans, maybe I'd be there already.

That makes me wonder what it would take to get a SIM card put into a future Internet Tablet. Answering that is easy — the second a mobile-phone company wants one. Which seems completely unlikely.

But honestly, I don't really want my NIT to be a cellphone too.

On the other hand, I think it would be great if I could get a cellphone voice-and-data plan that enabled me to add a SIM-enabled NIT as a second device that just accessed the data plan. Sure, sure, you can BlueTooth to your phone now and that's easy, and enabling the NIT as a phone too would be trivial, but really why tether them or cross them? I'm happy to leave my phone as the phone and be able to take a call while I'm surfing. And what I really want to do is access the web from the car or the train and lots of other places where WiFi doesn't compare to cell-phone networks.

This isn't Nokia holding us back. That I understand. But it's nice after all to think about the day when sticking a SIM into a NIT is an option that makes sense.

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Thoughtfix tells us there are 100 million registered Skype users.

So when people wonder what the advantage of having Skype is, it's to take advantage of the network effect.

Walkaround internet calls, to lots of people, anywhere, at no cost and anybody at all for a low

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For me, the promised addition of Skype to the Nokia N800 Internet Tablet has meant the ability to connect to millions of Skype users for free voip calls — a network far larger than Gizmo and Google Talk offer — and, of course, video internet calls.

Maybe I've been missing the boat on this. A forum post here at ITT alerted us to a post at jkontherun with a photo of Skype running on the N800 and a few pieces of information: July. No video yet. No cam calls? What's the point? I thought. And then I wondered why the photo showed a “Buy Skype credit” link in the app. You only use that when you pay for Skype calls, which is only when you're calling someone who doesn't have Skype. Yikes! Will I be able to call anyone on any landline or cellphone whatsoever from my Internet Tablet? Looks like it to me. That, I think, is maybe going to ease my unhappiness at having to wait for Skype cam calls. More than a lot, I should say. Skype running on the N800 (photo from jkontherun)

* * *

Update: Two days a week I work from home, and I tie up the house phone for

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an hour at a time with weekly conference calls. The cellphone reception right where we are (at the bottom of a hill) is poor, else I'd consider our cellphones as alternate home phones. In the past, we've had two lines, but we never knew when we needed the second line and the expense has never seemed justified. But what a pain it is sometimes having just one phone line. My “use Skype for a second line” and “well, use Gizmo then” efforts were abysmal failures. Maybe it was my cheap headset. But things didn't work out. And I sure didn't like being tethered to the upstairs computer anytime I wanted to make a call. I realize now that my N800 and 770 aren't two new phones. They're two new phone lines. (Hey, with two children entering precocious years, I might need more than two additional lines.) Low rates, too — $30/year for unlimited calling to regular phones on Skype (eg, $2.50/month) and just 1.9 cents per minute at Gizmo with no minimum monthly. Could be a very easy way to enable each of us to be able to talk (and wander around the house!) at the same time.

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More tangential thoughts prompted by an iPhone review:

Walt Mossberg, writing for the Wall Street Journal, hit the nail on the head:

[T]he iPhone is, on balance, a beautiful and breakthrough handheld computer. [Emphasis added.] Its software, especially, sets a new bar for the smart-phone industry, and its clever finger-touch interface, which dispenses with a stylus and most buttons, works well ….

Maybe it's beginning to sink in that there's now a category of devices fitting in-between PDA's and notebooks. They're computers, and they're something else. (Not every-thing else.) Apple's

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iPhone and the Nokia Internet Tablet are just the first, best exemplars.

The iPhone doesn't have a hard drive or a keyboard. It commits huge resources to its gorgeous screen and flexible OS. It's driven largely by realization that we all want a walkaround web.

Same for the Nokia Internet Tablet.

No, they're not competitors (except for people's discretionary income). What I see, though, is that — different as they are — each conceptualizes the same insight. That's why I wrote, back in January, that the iPhone validates the Internet Tablet.

It seems even clearer to me today.

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From day one of the Internet Tablet era*, I've been a believer in the WiFi path. As broadband has increased its penetration wildly over the last few years, this has seemed reasonable. And I attribute the failure of the many Linux tablet predecessors of the Nokia 770 in great part to having preceded the era of easy-to-use, cheap wireless routers and widely available broadband.

We've entered that era, and if WiFi clouds aren't covering all the cities as they should, well, that day is coming.

And yet.

And yet. “WiFi everywhere” is still an aspiration, not a description.

Last week, when I was comparing video-over-internet cam calls to high-priced “video share” cellphone calls, I had to jog myself to include information that you could in fact use your Nokia Internet Tablet from anywhere, not just within range of a wireless access point if you connected to the internet through a cellphone data plan.

This kind of thinking wasn't native. NIT use = WiFi area is how I instinctively thought about it.

But Ari Jaaksi wrote about being really really untethered from the desktop way back in September 2005 when he described his daughter noodling away on his 770 on a car trip, connected to the internet via the Bluetooth phone in his pocket. And a couple months after that, I got to experience “internet everywhere” firsthand when Nokia lent me a phone and I surfed on the train ride into New York City and then walking downtown to work.

“Internet everywhere” takes the Internet Tablet to a far higher level of usefulness. It really does.

Still I haven't treated that as an option. U.S. cellphone data plans seem to be ridiculously priced, with all kinds of gotcha's. Apparently if you level with the telecom rep as to what you intend to do with your NIT and the cellphone, you're unambiguously determined to require an $80- or $100-a-month plan. I can't justify that kind of money, or even half that.

That's why, in the midst of all today's hullabaloo about the iPhone, the datum that leaped out at me was that you're paying only $20 for an unlimited data plan when you go the iPhone route.**

That's the first reasonable price I've ever heard of.

When do the rest of us get $20 internet? Why can't we get it now? Hey, AT&T, I'll switch to you tomorrow if you give me the same deal!

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* That would be May 25, 2005. I exaggerate by a couple weeks — I wasn't a convert till mid-June.
** Not transferrable, not usable by your laptop using the iPhone to connect to the internet, etc. Reviewer David Pogue says Treo owners at AT&T are paying about $40 for unlimited Internet.

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