Interview with Eldar Murtazin, part 1. Nokia N8 leak, market prospects and Symbian^3

Last Monday a short rant  of impressions about upcoming, yet unannounced Nokia N8 handset, and other things Nokia, caused quite a firestorm of negative publicity about Finnish cellphone giant.

It seems that almost every tech news site, and even some mainstream news outlets,  picked up the line, that Nokia screwed up their upcoming flagship again. Most likely, it even made Nokia announce their new N8 handset several weeks earlier then planned.

The author of that explosive missive was  Eldar Murtazin, Editor in Chief of a well known Russian mobile gadget site

Now, that with the help of  extremely fast reaction,  well executed launch campaign, and completely unexpected low price of N8,  Nokia managed to turn most of the skeptics into believers, I got in touch with Eldar to find out what he really thinks about Nokia N8.

The interview was rather long, so I have split it into two parts. In the first part Eldar talks about Nokia N8 leak, why he is dissapointed in N8,  Symbian^3, and how Nokia business processes are the reason for their inability to get their software/OS efforts turned around.

Eldar also hints about N8 sibling with QWERTY, handsets from Sony Ericsson, Samsung and Motorola planned for this fall, that Nokia N8 will be competing against, and some other interesting things.

Read on :)

SB: You caused quite a firestorm with your short piece about Nokia N8 in your weekly column on Was this huge reaction on Monday a surprise to you, or did you expect that?  Quoted by Reuters, every tech site, even probably moving Nokia price a bit?

EM: First of all, I have to say that a lot of internet sites and other media called my random thoughts about this device a “preview”, or even  a “review” . Actually, review or preview is totally different for our site, and this was a small piece of a weekly column called “Biriulki”, and I don’t think [it was] so important. Because if I would have wanted a preview [of Nokia N8], I could have made it one month before. I Tweeted about this device, quite a few times. And I have to say, that in some ways, reaction from the market was surprising. Because several times [before] we have published similar things, without such reaction.

On the other hand, I understand that N8 is a flagship device, and Nokia believes that this device will save the company, will save the brand, as technological leader. I do not believe in that, because, while Nokia N8 is a good product, it’s only “average”.

The reaction from Nokia was also very fast only for one reason: all the PR campaign, ads campaign, for next 6 months, were built around N8. But, I think, that this is just average device, and people don’t like it. Because, if Nokia is saying that this is not average device, it has to be not average.

I remember Nokia N97. I have used N97 for six months. It’s a disaster. Anssi Vanjoki [Nokia VP] said that user experience with this device was catastrophic. I have been using Nokia X6 for 2-3 months, and, in terms of software, this device is very comparable with N97. So, I already have two devices that are bad, from software side. And when I’m writing about Nokia N8 – my main point – was about impressions. After bad devices, you have to impress the public, you have to show something very special. 12 megapixel camera is not enough. Because if you have very old fashioned icons in the menu, it’s not very good. It’s good that you corrected mistakes in the software. But it’s not good when you haven’t presented any new features in your phone.

I’ve had a chance to compare Nokia N8 to other devices, that are coming to the market, and I have to say that, well, it’s funny. E.g. I see a very cheap OLED screen on N8. Actually Nokia calls it AMOLED screen, but if you compare it with Samsung HD i8910 – almost 1,5 years on the market, if you compare it with Nexus One from Google, or other phones, it’s not so good. It’s not so outstanding as Super AMOLED from Samsung nowadays, it’s very similar to the display on X6. It might behave a little bit better under bright sunlight, but I don’t think that it is comparable to similar screens from Samsung or Motorola.

SB: Talking about software, Symbian^3 OS. You say you were very disappointed. What was wrong with it? Could you give some examples?

EM: I never talked before, or even now, about software glitches in Symbian^3. I did not talk about errors. But let’s talk about Symbian^3 itself. It’s the same Symbian, as S60 5th edition, that runs on Nokia X6, for example. It’s totally the same user experience. If you compare it, let’s say, to iPhone OS 4, it’s totally different. Because iPhone is living in nowadays, Nokia – [is living] at some time, 2-3 years ago. You can not compare user interface, user experience for this handset. The same for Android. Android is not mature, but it is developing very fast. Samsung Bada – the same story. They’ve just shown it, and in terms of user interface, it’s much more preferable to Symbian^3.

Of course, Nokia has a lot of people who say that they like this UI. That they like traditions, etc; And that they can not move very fast, and make this transition smoothly. But they have to make a cut at some place, and show a totally different system. Or maybe just evolve. It’s up for discussion. But in the end of the day [Symbian^3] is just not impressive. That’s all.

I’ve shown Symbian^3, on different devices, to about 40-50 people in different countries. And I asked them one question – “What do you think about this device in terms of software? Do you like it, dislike it? ”. The answer was – “Well, that’s Nokia”. That’s just the thing -it’s nothing new. And when I show around some devices with next Android version, for example, they say ‘Wow, that’s Android, but it’s different. And I like it”. In reality it’s not that much different, but people like it, and when you compare it, it’s a different user experience.

SB: You say that Symbian^3 interface is more or less the same old S60 5th edition. But Symbian says that they fixed a lot of bugs that made N97 and S60 5th ed. not work well with touch – single/double taps, etc;. Just comparing Nokia N8/Symbian^3 to earlier Symbian versions – are they more touch friendly?

Let me explain. For example, I see different Symbian^3 devices. In these different devices, the main menu, shortcuts, programs are placed in different places. Just like it was in different products with S60. When you buy one device, on the main screen you can see OVI Shop, Browser, Calendar, Contacts, Gallery, Maps, Applications, Settings, Help. When you  go to “Applications”, you can find Games, Office, and some other. On other device, the layout is different, and you can only find only Office and  Calendar there. There are similar issues in other places as well. But it’s  not logical, and it’s connected to business processes inside Nokia, not Symbian^3 itself. It’s related to product teams, which developed particular products. They couldn’t come to agreement on order in which to place these icons of applications inside the phone.

It’s just one example. I discussed this issue with some top managers of Nokia, and they insist that they will change this in the near future… It was 3 or 4 years ago, and nothing changed. Everything’s the same in Symbian^3.

Let’s talk about the future Nokia N8. Not all Symbian^3 devices will support multi-touch capability. Most devices in the price range from 300 Euro and higher will come with it. But software was written for traditional touchscreen. Not for multi-touch. It means that you can use multi-touch in Browser (pinch-to-zoom), you can use it in Gallery, and Maps. 3 applications. But if you try to use multi-touch when you are typing – e-mail, SMS or something else, it’s not working at all.

It depends on the speed of development. [Nokia N8] hardware, is nearly perfect. Actually I like this device. But it’s average, in terms of features that are not evolving. Because when you implement a feature like multi-touch, you can compare it to the first product with multi-touch – iPhone. And you have to show something special or [at least] on the same level. If you do not show it, you miss. Of course, Symbian^3 and Symbian^4 will support multi-touch typing in standard keyboard. The main question is – When? Will it happen in September, or will it happen with the major update, which is coming in February next year to N8, and some other devices? Who knows? But at the start of sales in September, it will definitely not support such features.

And if we are talking about such glitches or mistakes, it’s not connected to the stability of software. It’s the logical issues in this system. They have a very short time, and a very small number of programmers who are coding for this system.

In Nokia, business process is very funny nowadays. For example, when they launched free OVI Maps, a lot of programmers were taken from other  projects, other phones, just to develop support for OVI maps in different, old Nokia phone models. From my point of view, it’s not normal. You can not share around these resources, in such a way. Each project has to be completed. And completed in time. If you do not complete a project in time – you missed it. And with Symbian^3 – they have postponed it, due to the shortage of resources. Not money, but people. And that is the problem.

I see a lot of logical problems with this system [Symbian^3], because it’s based on the old system. It’s not bad, but it’s not up-to-date. It’s average.

And if we are talking about other shortcomings, I’m talking about old things, that are very well known from N97 Mini, N97, X6, some other S60/Touch products, and I find the same problems in Symbian^3. Of course, it’s connected to software, but to the new software based  on the old business processes. And, due to the different product teams, working on development of the firmware for different models, they can not correct this in one place – Symbian^3. It’s not possible, because business processes in Nokia are working the other way. And for me it’s disappointing, because I was really waiting for Symbian^3 (on N8) to be not only polished, but also corrected version of S60 5th edition.

SB: But Symbian^3 was never supposed to be a major user interface upgrade. It’s stil legacy S60/Avkon UI framework, that evolved from non-touch devices, and it’s only so much you can do with such legacy.  But both Nokia and Symbian have been very upfront about it. They said that major UI upgrade is coming in Symbian^4, planned for 2011. And they told us this early last year. We already knew that there is no major user interface upgrade coming with Symbian^3. So, why the disappointment?

It’s because there were lot of issues in Symbian, known for a long time, that could have been corrected in a very simple way. And if they knew about these issues, why haven’t the corrected them? Of course, we can say that it’s preliminary version of software. They still got 3 months until the device ships, etc;. But let’s look at the X6. When it shipped – it had a lot of problems. The problems  that were already corrected in Nokia N97.

It’s related to the business structure that I talked about before. And because of how the business process works, they couldn’t change this (for X6). My disappointment is mainly about this. Because for Nokia, now it’s very important to show that it can learn from their own mistakes. That they release a mature product into the market. Mature in terms of stability, in terms of features, etc;

If we are talking about the old fashioned interface, ok. But when people will buy this product (Nokia N8), and find the same mistakes inside, it will be a very huge disappointment. And I do not believe, that until the launch, Nokia could change the business process just for one model, and fix all those glitches. They do not have money or time for that. And this is the same mistake that they have made before. They have not prepared enough to make a flagship device. For flagship, you have to make every effort to make a stable device, with stable software, hardware, etc;. Today they don’t have enough time even for testing N8, and it’s a pity. It will happen again, like with N97. Of course it won’t be as bad as with N97, but in any case we’ll see a lot of bugs in N8.

SB: When you were talking about Nokia N8 on Monday, everyone thought that it will be a flagship device. With a flagship like pricetag of 500-550 Euro. But now as N8 was announced, we see that Nokia is not positioning it as a top of the line flagship. It’s a mid-market/mid-tier device, for a price of 370 Euros.

No, it’s top of the their line, actually. Because Nokia missed this market and nowadays they are trying to change price segments. For example, yesterday, Nokia cut a price of almost all of it’s product line. And it was a very good proposition for the market. For one reason – nowadays Nokia has to compete with a lot of Android devices – and stay competitive. And Nokia brand is not as strong as it was just a few years ago.

For Nokia N8, as far as I know,  they’ve dropped it’s price at the last moment. It’s my assumption, because the price had to be between X6 and between what N97 price was at launch. There will be very few models with higher price this year from Nokia. And if we are talking about N8 – it totally is Nokia flagship, because no other product (except for one – the same device version, with keyboard), will have higher price.

It means that Nokia is trying to change the rules of the game. They produce very cheap phones. E.g. – low end phones  for India for $10, very cheap phones from 16-30 Euro, and for these phones they have huge sales. If you check the average selling price for Nokia devices, it’s getting lower and lower each quarter. Nowadays it’s 62 Euro. It means, that high end phones from Nokia are not selling very well. Nokia sees that, and they are trying to play another game. They are trying to sell more cheaper high end devices. They are trying to push more smartphones into the market. And this strategy is very clear in N8.

Later this year Nokia will start adding the service “Comes with Music” for free, with some handsets. It means that nowadays this service is not working. People are not buying this service, people are not buying X6, X3  and other phones with CWM. So yes, Nokia is trying to  push the prices lower, and N8 is one of the first examples of that, for this year.

S.B. OK. But does this small price change your views on Nokia N8 market prospects?  Earlier you compared Nokia N8 to Nexus One, HTC Desire, or Samsung Galaxy S – top of the line devices. But with this price- 370 Euros – N8 is actually competing with the likes of HTC Legend, and others. And while HTC Legend might have more modern software, if you look at the all package spec wise, Nokia N8 seems pretty competitive.

The main problem here is that you compare Nokia N8, which, is coming to the market in September, in best case. Well, maybe in some markets they’ll try to launch it in August. But I do not believe that Nokia will be able to launch N8 in early August with stable software. They could even launch it in June or July, but in that case it won’t be a stable software. If they launch it in August/September – it will be average in terms of stability, but it will be OK.

Anyway, when we are talking about your comparison, you are comparing Nokia N8 with current products, that you can buy now.  In September the  prices for all these devices will be lower. At least 5-11% lower.

Also, during the summer there will be new announcements – new Android lines from Samsung, Motorola, Sony Ericsson, new Symbian phones from Sony Ericsson and some other players. Nokia was the first company who showed what they will be introducing in September, but it doesn’t mean that they will be the only ones, with the new product this September/fall. There will be at least 3-4 more products in that same price range, and with similar capabilities.

Most likely, only one of them with have the same camera capabilities. But megapixel race is not playing a very important role in mobile phone marketplace anymore. You can see that from the reception of iPhone. In any case – Nokia N8 will not be the only product competing in the market. You probably haven’t heard anything about other products, because they are not announced yet. But they will be announced, I think, in June/July and ship in September. If we are talking about Motorola, it will be August, or beginning of September. So, a lot of new products are coming in September and they will compete directly with Nokia N8, for sure.

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow, where Eldar talks about “lost prototypes”, security issues at Nokia, upcoming E-Series handsets, and which of the product teams he thinks is the best at Nokia.

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • MIP

    Very interesting interview, thanks for publishing.
    It would be interesting though to know what Eldar's sources are regarding Nokia's business processes (even though his description of how Nokia functions would explain the errors with the N97 and the X6).

  • eldarmurtazin

    I have to know about business process inside each company :) so this is a part of my job. How? Asking people everywhere, reading docs etc

  • christexaport

    Eldar, ever thought that maybe the price is artificially low, and it will be increased along with a CWM offer deal with carriers? Just saying… Add CWM and sell at $550, and its a different proposition

  • eldarmurtazin

    of course – they make 2 products always N97/N97 Mini
    X6 16 – X6 32

  • doc

    Eldar, according to earlier hints from you, there are two (not one) 12 mp phones in the works (one from samsung – succesor of pixon12 probably on Bada, and another from SE – succesor of Satio, probably on Symbian). In your podcasts you seemed to like them more than N8.
    Will they be announced in june/july?

  • Arnoud

    Interesting interview :)

    Let me say a few things:
    1. The introduction of N8 was planned for April 27 for a while. I should know, because I agreed with Nokia to publish my preview (…) on the day of introduction. Which was slated for April 27 all along – it's not been moved by Eldars blog on Sunday/Monday :)
    2. The price of N8 isn't that low, at least not where I'm from (Holland). N8 will be priced at 370 euros, which is 440 euro incl VAT. In retail it will be around 400 euros with discount. It will compete with smartphones like HTC Desire (414 euros, incl VAT). There are hardly any phones with retailprices over 500 euros anymore (except iPhone). De N8 isn't that cheap, Vivaz goes for around 339 euros, incl VAT.
    3. Eldar was very negative about the N8 – a bit too negative I think (someone's trying to sabotage Nokia from the inside to destroy the brand? Come on…). It seems like he is angry with Nokia in one way or another and made the N8 the object of his fury. Could be understandable, but it's left unexplained now: why is Eldar so suddenly so upset with Nokia?

    Besides, there has been made large mistakes by a good deal of tech blogs, who took Eldars conclusions as almost-facts instead of opinion and made it look as if it were the only opinion one could have about this device and the way Nokia does business nowadays. Don't get me wrong: Eldar is well informed and has got a lot of background information on things regarding Nokia, but his opinions are nothing more than opinions and no facts: techbloggers should be aware of that. Just as my opinions are just opinions as well (and our opinion on much of the N8 didn't differ that much).

  • djh_sthlm

    I've owned nothing but Nokia mobiles for 10 years. The first 7 of those I was able to show off Nokia's innovations with pride. The last 3 years, however, I've been in a much different position; Defending my loyalty to Nokia. My friends and colleagues turned to me in the past prior to making their mobile purchases. Now all they ask is, “Still happy with your Nokia?”. Further, it took me forever to learn that while people generally appreciate my excitement for the mobile I carry, nobody appreciates the negative points I make of their's.

    So I've been quietly waiting and hoping that Nokia will return to form and blow away the smartphone segment with what I think they're completely capable of. The N8 is NOT. The prototype Eldar had may not have been “ready” as the fanboys admonish, but one thing is clear: The N8 is an alternative to what is already on the market. It's a step in the right direction, but what Nokia needs right now is a LEAP.

    Two weeks ago, this Nokia loyalist purchased HTC's Desire. All I'll say here is, it's great to be excited and impressed once again with my choice of mobile.

  • Patrick H

    Alot of people believed Eldar was very negative with Nokia, but I think Eldar is right in everyway. These day, Nokia can not keep up this market anymore. Look at nokia lately, they give try to sell phone with free navigation, and music for life (the phone life). It just like people buy nokia products because of the free music, not the phone. Seriously, I don't see Nokia can make any profits from mobile industry. 3rd 09, they make profit from cutting cost, 1st '10 miss profit, I see there are no future for this company anytime soon.