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

Stories that Matter
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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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.

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 USA: How to turn talk into action

Brymo, via Flickr (CC license)
Talk is a good start, and it need not be cheap, but by itself it generally doesn’t get much done.

Earlier today Nokia’s Charlie Schick posted a thoughtful comment about how Nokia and its current and would-be customers might, through talking openly together, improve the situation in the high-end US phone market. (Also, Nokia director of corporate communications Mark Squires also just left a comment on this theme.)

Here’s my response to the excellent points Charlie raised…
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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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Beth Kanter digs further into the Nokia N95 firmware quandary

eschipul, via Flickr (CC license)
My friend Beth Kanter is keeping a close eye on Nokia, hoping to keep her new N95 from turning into a brick, like mine did.

Recently I bought, fell madly in love with, and then sadly had to return a near-perfect moblogging tool — the Nokia N95 — after the very first firmware upgrade turned it into a brick within days of my getting the phone.

My friend and fellow blogger Beth Kanter also bought an N95 around the same time, from the same vendor (Amazon.com). So far her N95 has been working pretty well for her (with some frustrations), and she’s detailing her learning experiences with this device in a special blog. She has not yet updated her firmware. Frankly, it seems like my experience scared her about taking that step — which is entirely appropriate, given what happened to me.

Amazon sold me an unlocked N95, which was presented as a US version. I soon found out it had arrived with vastly outdated firmware — version 10.2.006. (The current US version is apparently 11.2.009 — which is far behind the latest version, not available to US users yet.) When I couldn’t make Nokia’s own moblogging service, Share on Ovi (formerly Twango) work with my phone, I suspected it might be because of the outdated firmware. So I updated my firmware using Nokia’s own tools and process. That’s whate turned my expensive moblogging tool into an expensive, unresponsive brick.

Nokia wouldn’t guarantee that they’d fix or replace the phone for free, and they’d take weeks to get it back to me in any case. Since Amazon only allows 30 days to return a phone for a refund, and I was understandably wary of trusting Nokia not to leave me holding the bag on this, I decided to give up and just returned the phone. Which totally sucked. I was devastated. I really loved this device.

Hoping to avoid a similar fate, Beth registered her phone warranty and called Nokia customer support. The rep told her, “Yes, we’ve heard of the unresponsive brick problem. The problem occurs if you have a phone that isn’t a ‘US’ phone, but try to install the US version of the firmware update.”

Beth and the rep then verified that, indeed, the phone in her hand which she bought from Amazon was a US version. And the rep confirmed that “All unresponsive brick problems were due to a mix in the firmware versions.” Meaning that it should be safe for Beth to go ahead with her firmware update.

Here’s a subsequent call Beth made to Nokia customer service to reconfirm all this information. (Beth, I love you for this!)

Note that in this case, unlike the first Nokia rep Beth spoke to, this rep specifically told Beth that they advise N95 users NOT to update their firmware unless they’re experiencing “functionality problems” — which could include incompatibility with desired services.

Despite Nokia’s assurances, Beth’s still leery of the firmware update, and I don’t blame her…

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