Commercial Whiplash: Nokia, carriers, and why Canada is still full of crap mobiles

On Nokia’s shrinking North American market share: “(Samsung & others) were quick to meet carriers’ customization demands, an area in which Nokia proved reluctant.” (http://bit.ly/zuSN).

But this is precisely why Nokia ought to be lauded – for its efforts in putting out handsets that straddle grids/networks (3g/wi-fi) and balancing different interaction design models in the same devices (creators+consumers, and their inevitable Web 2.0 hybrids). The N97 is out now soon [thanks Roland!] (as is the much awaited N96). Both of these are weighted heavily on the media creators’ side of things (for media creators, camera quality, rather than a touch screen, is premium, and Nokia must know this, or it would’ve gone to the extra bother of putting a touch screen in the N97, sacrificing who-knows-what. [CORRECTION, Jan 5 2009: sloppy reading on my part – it does have a touch screen, though it’s not a front stage feature of this handset, as confirmed at Mobile Review.].

Why should the carriers be allowed to influence the design of multiplatform devices? They aren’t their end users. Their sole relation to the handest is, seemingly, to coerce people into buying plans of various shapes and sizes. Thus, their influence helps shape handsets using a logic born of advertising and seduction/coercion techniques (and then further, techniques to induce users into using the devices in ways that turn uncomplicated profits) – not genuine interest in how users proactively seek their own tools of creation (and destruction). This benefits no one except the carriers themselves.

I think Nokia gets this.

The real problem is that Canadian wireless carriers don’t care if their user base consists of any media creators. Rather, they’re probably scared of that prospect, just like the music industry is still scared of amateurs. This is why upload rates are typically throttled as compared to download rates, and it’s why Rogers and others keep peddling handsets that in any other country would be laughed at, gonged off stage, and tossed in a landfill.

Personally I’ll stay out of buying a new handset until we see more severe trickle down of advanced features, and some reasonable data plans without a 2 year commitment in this IT ghetto called Canada. But here’s hoping Nokia doesn’t start pulling its resources out of North America, as some have speculated (see above-linked article).

I’m frankly tired of being treated by carriers as an unproductive media eater, a “pocket potato”, if you will. Bring on the dancing handsets (irrelevant link, just for fun, love that song).

Mesh Potato, Community Wireless, Design by Constraint

I’m hyped about Mesh Potato and I am aiming to be involved in their project in whatever way I can be useful, whether via some connection to Mobile Muse, or just plain old twit-and-post evangelism.

Mesh Potato is an Open Hardware project to create a wireless (mesh) access point that can function as an independent cellular phone network. The goal is to enable groups around the world to offer affordable voice and data services to small communities that cannot afford existing service from the major telcos (or who must use exorbitant but low barrier to entry pay-as-you-go services).

Also quite cool – the design principles underlying their project and goals. By way of Roland I read this article by Steve Song who recounts the strategy, inspired by Ethan Zuckerman’s idea of Innovating From Constraint:

With the Village Telco, we have a wireless project that has a number of self-imposed constraints.

  1. Get pay-as-you-go voice services right.  Data services are a given on a wireless platform but the one thing we want to make bullet-proof is affordable, simple-to-bill voice services.
  2. Make a telco as simple to set up as a wordpress blog.  Wireless meshes, least-cost-routing, etc.  Let’s make as much of that complexity disappear into default behaviours that can be tweaked as the owner/entrepreneur becomes more comfortable with the product.
  3. Be as open as possible.  This is more of a philosophical than a practical constraint.  We believe we can attract maximum participation by making software and hardware as open as possible.  We believe that Open Hardware strategies devices like the Mesh Potato can change the way people think about hardware.
  4. Break even in six months.  The technology ought to be cheap enough and easy enough to deploy that anyone with a reasonable head for business could have recouped their investment and be making a profit in six months.

Simplicity, rather than constraint, seems to be the operative theme here. Still, as a musical aside, this recalls for me Eno’s Oblique Strategies, which is similar in principle (limiting options to incite creative thinking), but which operates on aesthetic endeavor (which is about much more than “problem solving”, ultimately).

Hot potato, hot potato, sez my daughter.