Poof! There went Nokia’s high-end US market…

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Ooops, sorry, Nokia — was that YOUR market?

Nokia has been running a US TV commercial featuring the world’s most inept magician, to tout its high-end N95 8G phone. How appropriate — because today, Nokia’s high-end US market just went “Poof!”

Apple just announced its new 3G iPhone — and I think it’s most of the way toward being a pro-level tool for journalists and mobloggers. I plan to get one as soon as they become available in early July.

I say “most of the way” because the 3G iPhone still has a glaring omission — no provision for an external full-size keyboard, either Bluetooth or docking. That’s a bummer. I’ve demoed the iPhone touch keyboard several times, and have found it frustrating to try to write anything more than a few words at a time with it. That may be fine for the vast majority of iPhone users — but for serious journalists, bloggers, and mobloggers, that’s a serious handicap.

But lack of keyboard support no longer a dealbreaker-level handicap as far as I’m concerned. Not like Nokia’s abysmal US service, which can leave users of the fancy, pricey, delicate N95 (a superior device for journalists and mobloggers, in my opinion) without a phone for up to a month — or longer, some users report.

In contrast, Apple offers prompt, excellent service at many, many US locations. I’ve used that service for other Apple products, and I’ve been impressed.

I’ve said it many times, but it bears repeating: For a high-end, can’t-be-without-it mobile device that people put their entire lives on, service quality is at least as important product quality. Nokia may still have the superior product for high-end users — but their service sends a clear message: We don’t really care about your experience after you buy our fancy phone.

Besides myself, I’m sure that the new 3G iPhone has swayed the opinion of many other would-be high-end phone users in the US who have been waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) for a mobile device that will let us create and share the kind of content we’ve always wanted to make on the go — with the confidence that if and when it goes awry, we won’t be stranded.

This is very, very bad news for Nokia USA. Because…
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3G iPhone Coming June 9 (Look Out, Nokia!)

Open Democracy, via Flickr (CC license)
Can Nokia move fast enough to keep competing with the iPhone in the US? Time’s running out!

I’ve been hearing the rumor, and Gizmodo claims it’s true: Apple is supposed to debut the next-generation iPhone on June 9, during the keynote address of its Worldwide Developers Conference. I would expect it to go on sale in the US pretty soon after that. (But of course, you never really know with Apple.)

Apparently this new iPhone will include 3G network compatibility. That’s really important for people who want a true multimedia content creation and distribution tool, not just a phone. It’s also likely to have real GPS — which is far more accurate and useful than the crappy fake GPS the current iPhone uses (based on cell phone tower triangulation). That’s important if you want to accurately geocode the content you create (photos, video, etc.).

BUT… the new iPhone is not likely to be the complete Max Headroom device that journalists and mobloggers really need. Because it’s not likely to get a much better camera (currently just 2.0 megapixels). And it’s not likely to support a Bluetooth keyboard. And it’s not likely to get a built-in video editor. So it’s still meant mainly for mobile content consumers, not creators.

In other words, the new iPhone still won’t be as good a product as Nokia’s N95 already is — at least not as far as journalists and mobloggers are concerned.

Nevertheless, I might soon end up settling for an iPhone — unless Nokia pulls its US service act together damn quick. (Specifically, before the new iPhone goes on sale in the US.)

Why? Because the new iPhone might be barely good enough for much of what I need a mobile device to do. More importantly, Apple has proven, through its service practices, that it stands behind its products and cares about customers’ experience after they buy. Apple understands and respects that users of high-end phones run their lives on those devices, and thus cannot tolerate being without them for more than a few days at a time.

Meanwhile Nokia’s dearth of US local service centers, requirement that customers ship damaged or dead phones to Nokia at their own expense, and warranty that allows Nokia up to 30 days to return a phone — plus its risky, clunky, PC-only firmware update process — convey the message that Nokia doesn’t really care much about its US customers. (At least, not after they fork over $500-$700 for an N-Series phone.)

And when it comes to must-have, multi-use mobile devices, service quality is at least as important as product quality. In fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me, service is more important — since evidently I am willing to compromise (within reason) on the product I want in order to get the service I need. I doubt I’m the only journalist/moblogger willing to make that tradeoff.

That said, I know that Nokia has recently woken up to the fact that its US customers are so very displeased with their service, and they are starting to try to make amends. Here’s where that’s at so far…
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Why I keep talking about Nokia’s US Service

Some people have asked why I keep talking — on this blog and elsewhere — about Nokia’s US service problems. This video explains my motives. In a nutshell, it’s because I want to keep options open for journalists. Tools like the Nokia N95 represent a way for journalists to make their own opportunities, regardless of the fate of news organizations. But if Nokia continues to mishandle its US market, it could easily lose out to the Apple iPhone — which, while slick, is not the best tool for mobile reporting/blogging.

Nokia Talks More (Much More) About US Service Problems

Nokia Conversations Blog
Nokia’s Conversation Blog has launched an extended discussion on its myriad US service problems.

I’m happy to report that there has been some progress (small, but real) from Nokia in terms of addressing it US service problems, which I’ve written about extensively.

First, here’s their most concrete step forward so far: Today, Nokia announced that the long-awaited firmware update for the US N95-3 should be available by early June.

Note that this does not mean Nokia has improved its firmware update process — which (as Beth Kanter, Robert Day, and I noted) is PC-only and very cumbersome, confusing, and annoying. And, in my experience, Nokia’s firmware update process is also risky — it’s what bricked my N95 in April.

…But still, a lot of US N95-3 users have been waiting (and waiting) for this firmware update. News that it’s coming soon appears quite welcome in that community, judging by the initial comments to the announcement.

Also, I’m encouraged to see that Nokia’s Conversations Blog yesterday launched a series of posts on its myriad US service problems. So far, there’s been:

I think the fact that Nokia has made this discussion so public, and is respecting and addressing concerns raised by users, is a very positive step. Frankly, this is far more than most major companies are willing to do. Nokia is willing to publicly acknowledge its significant problems, and doesn’t seem to consider this inherently risky or bad for business. Many, many companies and organizations could take a lesson from Nokia on this front.

That said, Nokia’s blog does try (understandably) to put as positive a spin as possible on its US service problems. As far as I can tell, they’re not painting a specifically inaccurate rosy picture — but so far they haven’t directly tackled the hardest issues.

Therefore, it’s still up to current and would-be US users of Nokia N-Series phones to keep pushing for clear answers to our most pressing questions and concerns. This is going to take time, folks.

Here’s what I mean…

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Nokia USA promises changes, but still misses the point

Steve Jurvetson, via Flickr (CC license)
Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson had some nice things to say about the Nokia N95 in March 2007. Wonder what he thinks of the US service and support?..

Looks like Nokia USA is making some initial moves toward improving how it serves the US market. So far, these seem focused strictly on the hardware — and not the service, support, and availability problems American consumers face. These steps may improve Nokia’s chances in the US market in a year or two.

Well, it’s a start…

Still, there is MUCH more room for Nokia USA to improve significantly in the short term by offering better (i.e. reasonable) service terms for high-end phones. I’m puzzled why the company is not pursuing this low-hanging fruit. While the changes Nokia is planning for its hardware might please US carriers and retailers, the company is still shooting its US reputation in the foot among high-end US consumers with its abysmal US service and support.

This might end up being a surprisingly difficult market problem for Nokia USA. We high-end consumers — especially mobloggers and journalists (professional and amateur) — do talk! Right now, even though Nokia has the best mobile product on the market for our needs, more and more of us are frankly scared to buy or update a Nokia N-Series phone. Why? Because we suspect (with good evidence) that Nokia doesn’t really care much about our experience after we buy their phone.

We are willing to pay a premium price for a Nokia — but we’re not willing to risk being left twisting in the wind.

To catch up, here’s what Nokia USA has said it would do for the US market so far, and why (even though these are constructive steps) they’re still missing the point…

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No Wifi? No Excuse!

Here’s why I’m going to get myself some “internet insurance.” I never want to deal with this situation again.

And BTW, Nokia (you’re still listening, right?) this NewsTools 2008 conference I’m out is a big reason why I bought my N95 last month — remember, the one that bricked after your firmware update and that you wouldn’t replace immediately for free? The one I don’t have with me right now? Grumble….

Rupert Howe mourns his dead Nokia N93

A post by Beth Kanter today introduced me to the work of videoblogger Rupert Howe, who recently emigrated from the UK to Canada. I checked out his videoblog, Twittervlog.tv, and saw that I’m not the only one who’s been having a passionate, torrid, heartbreaking affair with Nokia’s N-Series high-end phones.

Here’s Rupert’s moving tale of the sudden death of his N93:

Since Rupert just moved to North America (where Nokia’s service and support for its N Series phones may be slightly, um, more limited than what he’s been accustomed to in the UK), I left a comment to warn him about the situation here.

Good luck, Rupert. I hope you have better luck than I did.

Vegas-bound, sans Nokia N95…

Quick video post from the Denver International Airport today. Thanks again to the folks at Nokia for raising on their own Conversations blog the issues related to Nokia USA’s inadequate service I’ve been talking about on Contentious.com. (See Nokia’s posts yesterday and today) . I appreciate their willingness to engage in a frank public conversation geared toward solving problems for their US customers

Across the US, many journalists (pro and amateur) and mobloggers could make great use of pro-quality, multifunctional reporting tools like the Nokia N95 and N82. However, right now, the very slow and limited service that Nokia USA offers — coupled with significant known flaws in Nokia’s clunky, Windows-only firmware update process (which can turn your phone into an unresponsive brick) — foists too much risk upon high-end US consumers.

Please join this conversation by commenting at Nokia’s blog and in their support forum. Let them know how they can make their US service good enough to warrant trust from would-be N95 and N82 users!

Nokia’s Blog Starts Discussing Problems

Nokia.com
Nokia’s Conversations blog is getting interesting now that it’s not all just happy talk.

Recently Nokia launched its Conversations blog, a good first step any company can take toward transparency and engagement with its customers, partners, and critics. Not surprisingly, most of the initial posts were “happy news” of one kind or another. I don’t begrudge them that — almost any company is doing some good things worth discussing.

But the real proof of how serious a company is about embracing public conversation is whether it’s willing to openly discuss thorny problems. Today Nokia’s blog took a first step in this direction with this post: When things go wrong with updating your device software.

There, Nokia staffer Charlie Schick picked up on the discussion that’s been happening here on Contentious.com, and on other blogs (like Beth Kanter’s and Jenifer Hanen’s), and via social media like Twitter concerning the myriad obstacles encountered by current and would-be US users of Nokia’s high-end N-Series phones. He focused on the firmware update problem I and other US users have encountered and mentioned Nokia’s support forums — which can indeed be a useful resource for solving some problems with Nokia devices.

Schick’s blog post is a good start. But I found his comment today on my blog even more to the point.

…All in all, I think this is a promising start to the public conversation. Of course, so far it’s all “just talk” — but real progress comes from action. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of action Nokia and its US market can muster together.

I left a couple of comments on Nokia’s blog — which will probably be approved for publication to the blog after people get to work in Finland. So in the meantime, here’s what I commented…
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Nokia USA: Again, your service (not product) is the problem

MobileJones
Nokia Director of Corporate Communications Mark Squires (seen here in a recent MobileJones interview) has joined our conversation about Nokia’s US service problems.

This morning I was encouraged to see that yet another Nokia staffer, Mark Squires (Nokia’s Director of Corporate Communications) left a comment on my blog. He wrote:

“Hi Amy, I work with Charlie at Nokia and have just tracked to your posts. First up sorry that one of our phones has rolled over on you and thank you for your input/thoughts/patience. Charlie and I are based outside of the US but I’ve written to my colleagues who are local to you and brought this matter to their attention. Lets see what can be done, in the mean time feel free to get in tough directly. Mark”

Thanks for joining this conversation Mark. Rather than taking this to private correspondence, I think it’s more beneficial to keep our exchanges on this public, since it affects Nokia’s entire potential US market for your N Series phones. This isn’t just about my personal experience.

You wrote: “Sorry that one of our phones has rolled over on you.”

…Actually, as I explained in my most recent post on this theme, my N95 phone (the device) was NOT the problem in my case. As I’ve expressed several times: the phone itself was great, I loved it. And I do understand that a firmware update to any high-tech device always represents a slight a risk of malfunction.

The main problem was Nokia’s inadequate service for high-end US customers like me.

I’m sorry to harp on the service quality vs. product quality issue, but it’s very important that you and your company understand this distinction. So far, I’m not sure Nokia really gets it. But this key concern could easily make or break Nokia’s attempt to make serious headway in the US high-end cell phone market. I’m continuing to speak up about this because I really do want Nokia to succeed in the US….

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