Nokia targets multimedia mobiles

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Mobile phones have long since moved on from just being able to make a call.

Surfing the net, text and multimedia messaging, e-mail, calendar and gaming have all become key parts of handsets, making them a lot smarter.

Nokia has been outlining its strategy to drive this market into the next year, announcing this week it hopes to ship 100 million devices with colour displays, Java and MMS in 2004.

Its strategy centres around the idea that the mobile will be central to the convergence of key elements that we would like to do at home, work and on the move.

The company announced five innovative handsets this week, all aimed at a range of users and uses, whether it be for entertainment or business.

The announcement included its first ever media category handset, the 7700, based the Series 90 platform, which brings TV and radio to the mobile.

But Nokia has also been reaffirming its commitment to working with other manufacturers and developers to find a software architecture that will allow a “seamless service interoperability” for smartphones.

“The key is to drive the smartphones to such a level where they are middle range phones,” Nokia’s Vice President of Marketing Timo Poikolainen said.

“But no single company alone will be able to create software that will cover all these applications,” he said.

Nokia phones use the Symbian operating system but its smartphones, like the recently launched 6600, are based on a more open standard, the Series 60 platform.

Series 60 is a platform for development which, according to Mr Poikolainen, is a “powerful offering” and one which offers “enormous opportunities for innovation” for smartphones.

It is also a platform which Nokia defend vigorously against others, like Symbian UIQ which power smartphones like Sony Ericsson’s P800 and 900 models.

The Series 60 platform is built on Symbian OS, but introduces standards which opens up application development to a much wider community of developers.

This is vital because it is this powerful community of third party developers who are the ones creating the applications, the things that make smartphones useful.

Ultimately, that means the user gets what Nokia calls the “rich multimedia experience”.

Series 60 gives Java developers an enhanced user interface, 3D graphics, rich games capabilities, and more secure and additional client-server interaction capabilities.

All things which move towards what Nokia sees as the “core functionality” of their phones.

The recently launched 6600 and the N-Gage are two such devices which use Series 60.

Nokia predict that more than 10 million Series 60 devices will be in use globally by the end of 2003.

Currently, nine devices from five different handset makers, including Siemens, Samsung and the recently launched UK-based Sendo, use Series 60.

Potter magic charms Nokia chief

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When mobile phone makers look for inspiration for future products, one would expect they look to science fiction.

But Yrjo Neuvo, Chief Technical Officer of Nokia mobile phones, reads JK Rowling’s Harry Potter to get him thinking.

“I have read all the Harry Potter books, including the last one,” he told BBC News Online.

“And when you read them with my kind of mindset, technology orientated, I always ask myself how we can implement that.”

JK “is very good when it comes to predicting the future”, according to Dr Neuvo, and “many of the things she is painting in her books can be implemented in phones in five to 10 years. It’s really exciting,” he says.

The ghostly moving people in framed pictures which deck Hogwarts’ staircases, and the mysterious pensieve which shows 3D images of memories are just some of the ideas he sees as a reality.

Nokia have already developed a picture frame, available later this year, which lets people to beam images onto it directly from their phones.

Of course, there are no plans to make Nokia handsets which double as Nimbus 2000 quidditch brooms, sadly.

For the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturers, as they prepare to launch new innovative models, their concerns are to “predict the unpredictable and unfold the future,” says Dr Neuvo.

Their mobile phone strategy is centred around the predicted huge growth in the convergence of mobility, business, home and internet domains.

Whether that means being able to remotely connect to workplace databases and e-mails, sharing pictures, music or video with your gadgets at home, the mobile is going to be central, as far as Nokia are concerned.

This is why they are developing different design styles which might emphasise the screen over the size, for instance.

This is supposed to give people a choice of handset type, depending on what they like doing best with their mobiles.

If it is watching streaming video or MMS-ing (Multimedia Messaging Service), the 3G “imaging phone” the 7600, has a large central screen at its heart to do that.

But more widely, all new Nokia phones in 18 months time will have what they consider to be core functionality in them.

“Cameras will be a natural part of the everyday phone,” says Dr Neuvo.

Other key elements which will come as standard include colour screens, MMS, polyphonic ringtones, and a range of PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) functions like calendar and diaries.

But Nokia are not complacent about the big challenges ahead for mobile makers.

Higher data transfer speeds, and more applications which are being developed as software platforms become more open, mean people will want more memory capacity to store all our pictures, videos and audio.

Phones will start to be seen more like computers in terms of memory and storage capacity.

“Having gigabytes of memory in products will be realistic in five years time,” thinks Dr Neuvo.

“But we cannot just copy laptops. We cannot sacrifice the operating power for this.”

Having high performance products with low power consumption is the challenge, and for that there needs to be better power sources.

Issues around heat generation, particularly in smaller gadgets is a problem, and Nokia among others are working to find ways around that.

Understanding the phone and software architecture is crucial to this future development, particularly as people demand smaller sizes.

“Miniaturisation is important in all categories. If you can miniaturise certain parts, then that allows you to do more with camera size,” says Dr Neuvo.

“But usability becomes a challenge then. The key is to make a really small attractive phone for those who want it, but also for multiple device owners who want to take a smaller phone to a party.”

Nokia is playing around with the idea of small devices, experimenting with jewellery.

At the moment, the jewellery is in the form of pendants which can store beamed images from phones.

You cannot make a call on them yet, but people will want to experiment themselves as technologies become more wearable.

“But that is why we launched that, to show that one day we will have a cool phone that you can do that with,” explains Dr Neuvo.

AOL to launch discount dial-up service

America Online plans to introduce a discount version of its dial-up internet service early next year that will carry the Netscape brand name.
 
America Online plans to introduce a discount version of its dial-up internet service early next year that will carry the Netscape brand name.
 
The new service is expected to cost $9.95 (£6) a month for unlimited access to US users, a big reduction from the $23.90 monthly tag that comes with AOL’s current dial-up service, which has seen its subscriber numbers fall. The new plan would also beat the $14.95-per-month package AOL is pushing to people who get their internet access from a separate broadband provider.
 
However, executives at Dulles, Virginia-based AOL, part of AOL Time Warner, don’t believe the new Netscape discount service will siphon away bigger-spending customers after it is launched in the first quarter of 2004.
 
The plan is instead targeted at people who want only bare-bones internet access and are considered unlikely to spend more on higher-end packages, according to the AOL source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
 
For example, the slimmed-down service will not offer the parental controls or exclusive content found on AOL’s main service. And while AOL now lets subscribers have up to seven different email accounts, the Netscape package will carry only one screen name and email address.
 
The plan was first reported yesterday in the Wall Street Journal. The discount plan amounts to the latest acknowledgment that AOL needs to do more to keep its 25.3 million internet access customers from fleeing – after losing 1.1 million worldwide in the first half of this year.
 
Internet users are being enticed at both ends of the price scale, not only by cheaper dial-up services like those offered by United Online and Earthlink, but also to much faster DSL and cable-modem services that in some cases have fallen below $30 a month because of competition.
 
By using the Netscape name for the new service, AOL will be reviving a brand associated with the internet explosion of the 1990s, when Netscape’s Navigator browser introduced millions to the burgeoning world wide web.
 
AOL bought Netscape for $10bn in 1999, as Microsoft’s rival Internet Explorer was surging past Netscape to become the dominant browser. AOL sued Microsoft for allegedly using anticompetitive practices to achieve that dominance; Microsoft settled with AOL Time Warner for $750m this year.
 

PlusNet Voted Number One for Broadband

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PlusNet has been declared the NUMBER ONE ISP for Broadband by the readership of PC Pro, one of the UK’s most respected computing magazines. In last Thursday night’s celebrated awards ceremony, PlusNet were voted the outright winner in the ‘ISP Broadband’ category for the ‘PC Pro Reliability and Service Awards 2003’.

At the glitzy presentation, held at the Dorchester Hotel, London, PlusNet beat other nominated national ISPs; AOL, BT Openworld, NTL, Pipex and Telewest Blueyonder to scoop this prestigious award.

The Reliability and Service Awards 2003 are based upon a comprehensive survey completed by the PC Pro readership, in which feedback was polled relating to quality, value for money and overall reliability of broadband service.

“This is a tremendous accolade to be presented with,” stated Marco Potesta, Commercial Director at PlusNet.

“We’re extremely pleased to have been voted Number One Broadband ISP by the readership of one of the UK’s most highly respected IT magazines. We’d like to extend our sincere thanks, both to our customers and PC Pro magazine readers. This is testament to PlusNet’s superior operating model that delivers an enhanced customer experience at a lower cost structure than any of our competitors, the success of which is entirely due to all our employees. I would like to thank them for all their continued efforts.”

PlusNet join the illustrious ranks of other PC Pro 2003 award winners, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC-Mitsubishi amongst others.

 

Checkout the latest deals on PlusNet broadband here.

Mobile games to ‘tempt women’

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Mobile gaming is set to become big business in the next year and the industry is hoping it will attract a different breed of gamers, women.

While the games industry is churning out better, brighter games, mobile makers are coming out with more colour-screened handsets on which to play them.

Both sides of the industry are hoping mobiles will drive more women to gaming because they are easy to use.

But games makers still have to break some of the stereotypical ideas about which games will appeal to men and women, say experts.

Industry analysts suggest mobile gaming in the UK will be worth more than £50 million in 2003, with that figure rising to more than £211 million by 2006.

With about 75% of the UK population owning a mobile, it is a big market to capture, says Julian Bright of Total Telecom magazine.

“Mobile games providers have access to a huge potential user base of both sexes, but so far there’s still only a small proportion of women gamers,” he said.

There is even a UK Mobile Games Championship on 16 October, where 10 top regional thumb bandits will battling it out to become the country’s first ever Mobile Games Champion.

The host of the event, presenter Aleks Krotoski, believes women will be driven to mobile gaming by its simplicity and convenience.

As people generally feel more at home with gadgets like mobiles, they will experiment more and want to do different things on them.

Games on handheld devices like phones make the world of gaming more accessible, easy, immediate and straightforward, she says.

“Mobiles have a really simple interface, so you don’t need to learn anything else. You don’t have to learn a new language, it is just applying your thumbs to different patterns,” she told BBC News Online.

“People can pick them up and play immediately.”

But, although there are some good examples of appealing games, Aleks thinks the games industry is still not shifting many boundaries in the titles they are offering.

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which launched in September for those with Vodafone Live, is still about pert bottoms and pert breasts.

“It’s brilliant,” says Aleks, “mobile users are getting such a good game, but it’s not really breaking the boundary.

“Games makers are churning out the old standards,”

At the moment, the manufacturers of devices like GameBoy Advance and mobiles are pushing the boundaries, not the games industry itself.

“One of the biggest challenges is convincing the big wigs they don’t have to market games in general to men only,” says Aleks.

“Major manufacturers say they won’t get their games on the shelves if they don’t say they are for men.”

Game makers are more aware that the simple and familiar games like Pacman for mobiles which will appeal and drive women – and men – to their mobiles.

“A study in the US recently said women are the number one gamers. But if you look at it, they are playing games like backgammon and solitaire, the more traditional games,” explains Aleks.

The survey by the US games industry analysts, the Entertainment Software Association, showed adult women now make up a larger percentage of the gaming population than boys aged six to 17.

At a recent mobile games conference, Mark Stanger from developers Eidos suggested 82% of UK mobile gamers were male, while 92% of PlayStation 2 players are men.

“If his figures are correct, then mobiles and handhelds appear to be encouraging some more women to play,” says Mr Bright.

“Maybe because they can do so without having to venture into the male-dominated milieu of the gaming shop, and can select games offered by the mobile operator that appeal without having to buy into expensive consoles.

“But they’re still very much in the minority.”

 

Mobile net growing in popularity

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People in the UK are downloading more web pages on their mobiles than ever, figures show.

On average, 28.5 million pages are viewed a day through Wap (Wireless Application Protocol), says the Mobile Data Association (MDA).

It is encouraging news for the industry since Wap has been slow to take-off.

Better sounding polyphonic ringtones, news, gossip and finding out where the nearest pub or cinema is are all fuelling the growth.

While people are downloading three times more web pages than last year, the figures also show the number of text messages sent has stayed the same for the seventh month in a row.

Newer phones with colour screens and user-friendly icons are encouraging people to make more use of them for information.

But many do not even realise they are using Wap when they ask for information to sent to them said MDA’s Kate Marriott.

“And why should they? People are downloading ringtones and using it to see where nearest pub is,” she told BBC News Online.

“There are so many compelling Wap applications out there now and more sites available.”

Mobile operators are also realising there is no need to confuse people by using jargon like “Wap”, but just tell them about what information they can get from their mobile.

Ms Marriott said film and gig sites, celebrity gossip, news and sport were largely responsible for the climb in figures.

Wap chat sites are one of the most popular services too, but she predicted that would change as more services go online.

“As users gets more educated, they move from chat to information,” she said.

The popularity of downloading polyphonic ringtones has significantly added to the increase.

An estimated £70 million worth of ringtones are expected to be sold in 2003, up from £40m in 2002 according to the MDA.

“That has been very important, it is not anywhere near 50% of activity yet but there are significant numbers in there,” said Ms Marriott.

“I think with the new handsets and their capabilities, and with the tones being such good quality, people are downloading them rather than buying singles.”

Record labels using ringtones to promote new singles and albums is also fuelling this trend.

Most up-to-date mobile phones use both Wap and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to get data from the web.

But GPRS refers to the way data is downloaded, while Wap is the browser technology that allows users to view downloaded information.

The MDA predicts that people will look at eight billion Wap pages by end of the year, and that will continue to grow with advances in applications and handsets.