Jonathan: An exciting start to a new decade of mobile

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Google’s first phone isn’t its first but did anyone notice?

What a strange start to the year. First, we have Google launching the first Google Phone. That’s the first as long as you ignore those other ‘Google’ phones like the G1, Magic or Droid.

Despite being reported by many as the first Google phone, even though Google doesn’t make the Nexus One, the real story that seemed to be missed was the launch of the dedicated Google website (www.google.com/phone) that will bring together future devices, promote the brand and give something substantial to compare with the iPhone. I may sound like a broken record, but I have no doubt that every big success for a handset maker this year will involve Android in some way.

We know Apple has a new iPhone on the horizon and we know it will be nice, will sell in the millions, make Apple loads of money and get loads of press attention and accolades. Despite that, Google will now start to soak up the rest of the market, which has much more to give up than Apple.

Perhaps now is the time for Nokia to start considering jumping on the Android bandwagon. It would seem that the old adage ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ is entirely relevant here. I mean, what else do they have? A dated Symbian OS with a new version not due until 2011 and Maemo, a geek’s wet dream that is way below the radar of most people.

I believe the N900 and its successors have potential, but the same was said about Palm’s WebOS in 2009 and that’s done really well hasn’t it?

 

Ovi Maps has reached its destination

Nokia did have a big announcement, but it wasn’t about Android. No, it was to announce Ovi Maps coming with completely free navigation from now on. A wonderful story for consumers, but is it good for the industry? Should you care? Well, probably, if you’re able to look further ahead than the next few months.

Nokia does, after all, own Navteq – the mapping company it paid €8.1bn for in 2007. Navteq employs teams of people around the world to collate the high definition map data every navigation application needs.

It’s ever changing, from entirely new roads to small things like changes in speed limits. Navteq is a world leader, but staff don’t work for free and there will never be a time when they ‘finish’ their job and are surplus to requirements. Actually, with all the new things they need to record, they are more important than ever.

While Eldar Murtazin of Mobile-Review.com suggests that Nokia hasn’t actually made Ovi Maps navigation free at all, but simply added an extra cost on to each device that ships with the application, the fact is the mainstream media and public will now expect navigation to be as free as we want and expect music, video or quality journalism to be.

As expected, Shares in TomTom and Garmin were hit hard by the news. Nokia’s announcement prompted a journalist to ask what would stop him downloading the free map data and converting it for use on other systems. Nokia’s Executive Vice President  Anssi Vanjoki jokingly invited him to go right ahead!

So does this mean the map data is now free too? That would be rather good news to Garmin, ALK and any other satellite navigation company that buys Navteq’s map data. Even Google uses a combination of TeleAtlas and Navteq map data. If true, perhaps the competition should be well chuffed. Somehow I don’t think it is the case.

Unless Navteq staff do in fact intend to work for free, or have faith in Nokia’s dream that developers will come up with wonderful new ways to introduce innovative revenue streams from maps, it seems Eldar might actually be onto something.

Most services on phone-based mapping apps consist of things like local Wikipedia entries, photos, nearby Facebook or Twitter users and posts, or where your friends are (the ones that don’t mind being spied on 24/7 by sending out their GPS co-ordinates at regular intervals).

It’s unlikely that anyone could ever successfully introduce charging for any of these things. You have content provided free from the likes of Lonely Planet and Time Out, but would you pay for it? Did you pay for it when it wasn’t free?

Perhaps businesses will pay to advertise their services. But who, and for how long?

How many people are really using Google Maps or Ovi Maps that frequently anyway?

We probably all use Google Maps on a PC to print out a local map before going out. Many of us with GPS-enabled phones now use it to find out a street or location on foot. To most of us, it’s just a replacement of the AtoZ we all used to carry (What? You don’t remember these?).

Few people care about all the extra layers, where their mates are or the exact location of someone who just Tweeted. For users in London or any other big city, such overlaid content quickly becomes a sea of icons that are of no use to anyone.

Ovi Maps is nowhere near as user friendly as Google Maps and it doesn’t have all of its extra features either. They may be coming soon, but I’d bank on Google always being first.

Searching for an address is like looking at a Java-based app from many years ago. Wayfinder started out in 2003 with a powerful phone-based navigation app but with a horrid user interface and multiple bugs.

Well, that’s like the new Ovi Maps I downloaded yesterday on a Nokia X6. Ovi Maps can crash and subsequently exit without warning. Generally speaking, standalone Personal/Portable Navigation Devices (PNDs) don’t go wrong.

A recent TomTom will also offer things like MapShare and HD Traffic, along with many other things of real benefit to a driver.

Ovi Maps is slow to re-route if you make a wrong turn and the speech instructions are fixed, so forget about the reading aloud of traffic information, road names or other important details. Nokia says the PND is dead. For anyone that actually drives, I think there might be a fair few people who would vehemently disagree.

However, all said and done, if Nokia continues to develop Ovi Maps then these problems should eventually disappear. Then, and only then, will it become a real threat to TomTom, Garmin and all the others. For now, enjoy the free navigation for occasional use but don’t think that it’s the best thing to happen in the navigation industry. Unless your expectations are exceptionally low.

 

Apple slated to launch new tablet

On Wednesday (Jan 27th) nobody will be interested in anything else but the Apple tablet launch (which might also include a bit more, like iPhone OS 4.0 and other software updates).

Even though tablets have never taken off, it would take a brave man to bet against Apple coming up with the goods.

Rest assured, with the right screen, the right look (Jonathan Ive and his team will take care of that) and some clever hardware features (a clever colour screen/e-ink combo, multi-touch on the casing, possibly inductive charging perhaps?), plus iPhone app compatibility and seamless sharing of content from other Apple devices, it will instantly find itself a market.

It will do this because a market will be created overnight.

People, myself included, will spend time convincing themselves of just how good it would be to have one in the living room to pick up and surf the net, read email, check the news, play a game or enter some text using whatever amazing input system it will have that ‘changes the game’.

We’ll obviously ignore the considerable amount of time that we won’t have a proper use for it, opting to use our laptop (MacBook if you want to keep it Apple) and phone as we always did.

Still, it’s another £500+ to bung on the credit card and make us all feel good, as well as something that Apple can keep updating every six months to get us to upgrade.

The McCann’s might now wish they’d chosen a different night for their 1000-days-since-Madeleine-disappeared fundraiser that kicks off at London’s Kensington Roof Gardens at exactly the same time as Steve Jobs takes to the stage in San Francisco.

I think we all know where the cameras will be focused come Wednesday night.

Jonathan Morris
Editor,
What Mobile magazine

www.twitter.com/jmcomms

 

(This blog also appeared on the What Mobile website)

 

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