Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nokia - Far behind in Innovation. N8, Ovi and Symbian3: hands-on !

The situation -  

Most of the time we see Nokia prototypes for James Bond movies then something real in the market. Nokia, at least in India, is very popular in marketing and branding through design presentations, Research presentations at all conferences and developer meets.  But in reality,  Nokia has lost ground in mobile innovations to Apple and Google Android because of their laid back approach to touch screen phones. They never imagined touch screen phones to be so popular. Do you know, hardly anyone buys Nokia phones in Japan and Korea, as they dont have interesting design and latest technology. Nokia phones sell only in Europe,  Afghanistan (haa..), India (1.2bn population) and China (1.4bn population).  Yes, that covers more then 50% of world population. Hence Nokia is No.1 company. Nokia is not famous for innovations.  Nokia only makes good entry level phones for taxi drivers. Nokia still dont have a proper Touch Screen OS like iPhone or Android. They have abandoned Symbian and made it open source. They tried LiMo and then switched to MeeGo with Intel.  I have tried MeeGo on my Netbook and found it very unusable and lacking basic features. I switched back to JoliCloud and Ubunto. I think Nokia is not clear about their future strategy.  Technologically Nokia was even the last to introduce Capacitive screens. Nokia dont have gestural interfaces standards like iPhone/Apple. Nokia only relied on their old 'Options" menu buttons design and put the whole world of actions under that button. The same design is carried forward to symbian OS for touch screens.  Well, we all know that Symbian is old and outdated. Its on the verge of dying. But nokia is keeping it alive on vitamins.  I saw a presentation where someone from Nokia showed how Nokia has maximum number of Research Centres in every country then any other company. Nokia spend the highest in Research and the Researchers have created piles of  documents only. The hugh research has not lead Nokia to the innovation path.  Nokia has no Gestural interfaces or multitouch interactions like iphone in the market, though they claim they have many patents. They came very late in touchsceens and some of the Nokia UI looks like iphone copy, Eg- pinch to zoom, elastic scroll,   

Even after not being an innovative company people love Nokia for good battery life, sturdy design, same UI for every phone (less learning if you switch to another Nokia), good signal reception quality, simple usability(not innovative), robost hardware designs. Even after knowing all these issues, I feel Nokia has maintained its trusted brand quality in India.

Hands-on Experience Nokia N8

After using iPhone 3GS for a year, I had brought Samsung Galaxy S. But looking at horrible lag in Android Galaxy phone where even the "Call Accept" button was not showing up, I switched to my old favorite Nokia / Symbian phones. This time I brought Nokia N8 which is a 12Mp camera phone with Xenon flash & HDMI out. It has 3.5 inch AMOLED capacitive touch screen, 16M colors and ARM 11 680 MHz processor, 3D Graphics HW accelerator. Wow impressive specs. The performance was better then Samsung Galaxy.

Nokia N8 Design problems

Wrong Screen aspect Ratio

  • Biggest disappointment is its screen ratio. Though the screen is 3.5 inch, the width is very small. (360 pix). This makes the phone not usable for reading any documents or emails. Everything gets truncated.
  • Second disappointment is the lack of QWERTY keyboard in portrait mode. At least Nokia designers should understand and copy from Apple, that people dont like rotating their phones for Typing every time.  iPhone with same 3.5 inch screen provides more width to screen and good keyboard in portrait mode. Also emails and docs are more readable in iPhone then N8. Shame on Nokia !

Text input / Keypad is horribly DUMB and a Shame for Nokia.

  • The keypad and keyboard designed for N8 is a big dumb job with no smartness build. Here also, Nokia designers have not learned from Apple. The implemented keypad is a replica of hardware keypad. Such a Shame for Nokia.
  • The keyboard should be smart enough to understand which keys to show depending on the input filed. Eg. if user is typing email, then the [@] key should be directly visible in first layout.  If the user is in the browser bar, then the [.com] key should be directly visible. All these innovations happen in Apple iPhone.  The Auto capitalization of words while tying in a name field is missing. There is no auto correction in Nokia like iPhone.
  • There is absolutely no thinking gone into designing the keypad. The space bar is not centered, the number are not different color, after typing a special character, the keypad should return to text ABC mode. Nothing is done.
  • Every text entry is a new screen navigating away from the context. Its another shameful designer job. There is only the OK button after typing text. Eg. if you tried to edit the existing text and made a mistake, there is no way to comeback to original screen without comitting your mistake.


There is no improvements in the age old nokia web browser. They did tried some improvements in the keypad based phones with browser map. But we dont see any new things or easyness in N8 browser. Texting and navigation is a pain.


12MP camera is mediocre. Full of red noise

  • I think with a tiny CMOS sensor Nokia as extrapolate the megapixel to 12. This camera is actually just 5mp worth.
  • If you take pictures indoors or in a shadow outdoors, the pictures are full of red noise. I found my previous Samsung Galaxy S camera way better and sharp then Nokia.
  • Of Course, Samsung do make DSLR camera(i own NX10), But Nokia is not in the business of digital camera. So it has to borrow lenses and camera from others.

Attaching a 100% crop of a 9MP camera shot by N8, I took at my apartment.



  • Backward in Multi toch and gesture interactions on screen.
  • Nokia Wifi Bug is famous " Invalid Server Name". And you cannot connect to wifi networks  intermittently .
  • No Camera lens cover
  • No use of volume up and down buttons other just music player and camera.
  • Battery life was just 6 hrs initially when i brought. But now it gives me 18hrs.
  • No widget to disconnect wifi, gps, bluetooth, edge, call.  You need to dig inside many folders and find how to do this.

Appereciating facts -

  • 12 Mp camera and my favorite XENON Flash with 720p@25fps HD video.
  • Sexy design and wonderful colors. I have orange. Light and sleek. Seperate Camera button
  • N8 with 680MHz processor is very responsive compared to Samsung Galaxy using 1GHz processor.
  • Nokia Maps - this is freely available for entire India. Its very good voice guided navigation.
  • Ovi music - there is an offer of unlimited music download from store. I download some 5 Gb of Indian and international albums.

Ovi Store by Nokia and only for Nokia.

What is Ovi

Well, after looking at the success of iPhone store Nokia immediately started hosting symbian apps on . It offered similar features like Apple ecosystem. It provided email, apps, music, photos, and file sync(now discontinued).  Previously, Nokia never thought of creating a seamless ecosystem to sell developer apps or to allow Developers to sell their apps. The old way was to download some .sis file and then transfer to your phone, then install with all errors. This shows how Nokia was ignorant of creating a good ecosystem, untill Apple did it the RIGHT WAY.

Ovi store problems-

  • Its only for Nokia phones. So the apps are limited.
  • Most of the time, the Ovi store cannot connect, then if you tried to download any app, it fails, then give errors. The quality of Ovi store is very low. More then half of the apps have technical problems.
  • Since Nokia phones come in all sizes and keypad/touch, neither of any ovi app is best suited for any Nokia phone. IPhone is the only phone from Apple,  with fixed screen size and only touch screen. So all 100,000 apps store apps are perfect and designed for single phone. Where as Nokia ovi store apps are a big mess.
  • Ovi store shows around only 2300 apps if i do a blank search . Where as Apps store has more then 100,000.
  • Most of the Ovi store apps are very badly designed and horrible User Experience. There are no Nokia apps standards like Apple human interface standards for iphone. Ovi apps looks carppie. with tiny text and buttons spread across the interface.  Ovi apps dont know if they are used for keypad or touchscreen.
  • Another big problem in Ovi store is, out of many be 2300 apps only 30% apps are for your nokia handset model. As other ovi apps are not  compatible .
  • Ovi Apps are most expensive then iphone or android apps. They are something in the range of Euro 10 to 25 . That is damn expensive to $0.99 iPhone apps.


The Symbian OS

The symbian OS is a age old OS which was designed for keypad entry and not touch screens. Since Nokia has no other OS, it has kept this Symbian OS alive on steroids till its 3rd Edition. There were rumors of 4th an 5th Editions. But no trace in real market. Its been 4 years that iPhone has revolutionalized the smartphone market, and Nokia is still thinking on what to do. They have made the symbian OS opensource and tied with Intel on MeeGo.

Nokia has no OS designed perfectly for gestural touch screen interfaces supporting multi touch.

Posted via email from Sameer Chavan's Design Blog