Nokia N8 global launch, Smartphone futures and rise of the Slates

Tomorrow (December 10th 2010), Nokia is launching a global campaign to promote its N8 smartphone. The dominant mobile manufacturer is fighting back strongly against the Apple and Android assaults on a market that it once considered its own.

Nokia’s promotion is most welcome. It’s about time that the market had some strong input from the company that defined mobile for more than two decades, along with its competitor cousin, Ericsson. These two companies led the way in mobile innovation and the delivery of handsets that were the first choice for professionals globally.

Both worked hard to develop the one thing that, I think, helped to redefine the mobile market – the ability to write on screen. I still miss my Sony Ericsson P910 for that reason. I could write an email, an instant message, a blog post on the P910 with an ease that I do not have with my Blackberry. And I’m a veteran keyboarder.

The N8 does not have stylus text input. It’s out of fashion.

Nokia is not alone. Find me a Smartphone or Slate that gives users this facility and I need will wake you up rudely. None exist – and that’s a commercial crime.

If I was a Smartphone/Slate producer, I would be refining the onscreen stylus text input function. Why? Well, I’ve used keyboards all my life but I know many people who have not touched a keyboard. The keyboard is a design disaster – we use a form that was designed to slow down the application of keystrokes. It makes no logical or aesthetic sense. Worse still, it’s an obstacle to communication.

So, if you are a neophyte and are being told that Slates (or Smartphones) make everything easy – you will come up against the big challenge of trying to talk to family, friends and contacts through the most idiotic communications tool ever developed – the QWERTY keyboard. Hours of fun.

Instead, imagine if you picked up your Slate (or Smartphone) and just started writing on the screen. Even with the need for corrections, it would be intuitive, tactile and rewarding. I will wager a £100 bet with anyone who can show that a beginner can learn to type faster than they can write and communicate on screen using a stylus.

But there’s a problem with onscreen stylus communication. It is often called Steve Jobs.

Steve, bruised, battered and bewildered by the failure of the Newton, has decided that styluses suck, big-time. Never mind that the Newton introduced more complexity by requiring users to learn a new alphabet.

This is what Steve has to say about stylus screen input:
“Oh, a stylus, right? We’re going to use a stylus. No. Who wants a stylus? You have to get `em and put `em away, and you lose `em. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus. We’re going to use the best pointing device in the world. We’re going to use a pointing device that we’re all born with – born with ten of them. We’re going to use our fingers. We’re going to touch this with our fingers.” [source]

I’ve just measured my fingers against my old Sony Ericsson P910 stylus – and the difference is frightening. The point of the stylus (the business end) is roughly 500 times smaller than the point of my digits. Steve, there is no way that my fingers are going to do the talking.

More than that, the stylus replicates the way we have learned to write. Only a numpty would consider the finger as the primary communications device of the future.

And so, while we await the roll out of an amazing array of Smartphones and Slate in 2011, here’s my Christmas wish-list for my ideal Slate and Smartphone:

  1. Stylus text input
  2. Voice input
  3. Social media apps onboard
  4. Open apps market
  5. Camera to match the N8
  6. Touchscreen to match the iPad
  7. Easy purchase process
  8. Film studio network
  9. Image studio network
  10. Smaller, more precise social network app

As for the N8, whether it will gatecrash the iPhone and Android party is moot. TechRadar will give you a full briefing with its fearsome and quite brilliant review but there is a significant point in its narrative when it says: “Nokia is all about connecting people”. That is, surely, the point of mobile – and Nokia has the experience, knowledge and expertise to deliver that.

At Liberate Media mobile HQ, we have to work with many handsets because the delivery and display of web, mobile web – and mobile apps – varies so greatly. Our clients need to know the details of how their messages are being seen.

The N8 looks beautiful – and matches iPhone on design. That’s to be expected. Apart from a few design Fails, Nokia has consistently delivered desirable, usable devices.

If Nokia, or Ericsson, revisits the stylus-input function with the Slates that they are planning, and deliver the joy of onscreen writing, I will be the first to buy and evangelise. This is much needed and, I think, would be a definitive USP for players in the Slate and Smartphone markets. But let me know what you think.

And if you believe that Nokia is a crusty old has-been, just enjoy this video, showing what you can do with the N8. Pure class:


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