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The Immaterial Phone

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On Friday Nokia announced that they’ll introduce a third operating system – Windows Phone 7 – to some of their high end devices. Compared to serious competition which has either Google Android or Apple iOS, I find this move puzzling. How does one keep up with the evolution of new features when supporting three different OS’s?

I’ve been a Nokia phone user since my Mobira Talkman in the late 1980s, mainly due to Nokia’s way of providing me with increasing capabilities at a steady pace. With today’s N900 I am able to use every IT system of our company, with an encrypted VPN. In addition, the underlying Linux allows for full scale administration access to our BaseN Platform, a feature not often used – but the capability is there.

However, I’ve always found changing to a new phone troublesome and time consuming. Calendar, address book, applications and other settings need to be synchronized and this rarely succeeds well with the provided migration applications.

By introducing an immaterial phone, Nokia could, with its strong roots in telecommunications, become a game changer once again. Imagine if the software of your phone would actually exist primarily in the computing cloud, decoupled from hardware? You could then invoke it with a web browser, tablet computer or in a ‘surrogate’ phone whenever necessary – your settings always being in sync. Upon hardware failure or loss, you would just tell the cloud service the serial number of your new hardware and in a few moments your environment would return. Or you could have multiple synchronized phones.

This would also allow for novel ways to interact with your operator – with IP coverage (WLAN hotspot for instance), all GSM/CDMA traffic could be transported over it, altering the international roaming cartel quite radically. Protocols and technologies for this are quite ready, as we can see from growing deployments of Femtocell base stations connected to consumer broadband.

The existing Ovi portfolio, in parallel to similar services at Google and Apple already offers data storage and backup services, but their success has been limited as they’ve been marketed only as add-on features. Game changing would require a whole-hearted effort to introduce a truly new phone concept. Someone will do it sooner or later, and I’m hoping it’ll be Nokia.

//Pasi

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