Nokia 770: Okay, Silicon Valley Time To Get To Work


I've had the Nokia 770 Web Tablet for a while now, I just haven't had time to write up my thoughts about it. Thankfully Ars Technica has a complete review which takes the major burden off of me in terms of describing it's pros and cons which can be summarized like: Great screen, good connectivity, neat basic functionality and open OS, but a bit low powered and lacking in storage and ease of integration with other computers. I totally agree.

Personally, after a few weeks of fascination, I haven't used the 770 much because it simply lacks a killer app. It's so cool to play with and has tons of potential, but I (like everyone else) would need a very compelling reason to use this device daily. The on-board apps (web, email, etc.) are just the basics, not a killer app. That's where I think Silicon Valley should really step up and embrace this device so it doesn't go away. Really, the 770 is a gift from Nokia to the Valley, with a big bow on top.

Since I started evangelising smart phones and mobile technologies, I've heard the same complaints over and over and over and over and over again from people here in the Valley that just don't get it. I'm a big believer in mobility, and that the ubiquity and convenience of the mobile phone will override any limitations the form factor may have. But the Naysayers don't see it, and always complain about the same things - let's list them here and show how the 770 provides the solution to these issues:

Screen Size: This has to be the number one complaint with mobility from the digerati. The quote always goes something like, "I'm not going to do [x] on a two inch screen!" The x is in place of anything you can imagine - reading, writing, viewing movies, playing games, god knows what. Okay great. The 770 has an 800x480 screen in a big, yet compact viewing space. It's the best screen on a device it's size hands-down. No more complaints there.

Connectivity: This is the next big issue, everyone feels hampered because cellular companies own the mobile phone connections, and they charge too much or have walled gardens, etc. "Hotspots are going disintermediate the operators!" the Naysayers cry (calling Clay Shirky!). Great. Time to put your money where your mouth is and take advantage of the 770's WiFi (802.11a/b) and Bluetooth connectivity. Look at what Nintendo has done with its DS portable gaming system and the WiFi Connection sponsored hotspots as an example of the way to go here. Look at what Google is doing with their WiFi efforts as well (and you can pretty much guess with the General Magic alum on their payroll now that they're building something like the 770 over in Mountain View - you might as well get a jump on them.) This device is all about open connectivity - perfect for those who bitch constantly about the mobile carriers.

Operating System: Another complaint from the Silicon Valley types: they hate the OSes on mobile phones. They are either sandboxed with Java, extorted by Qualcomm using Brew, dealing with the devil using Windows Mobile, backing a dead-horse with Palm or struggling with Symbian. Even mobile Linux is usually locked down or in modified in weird ways. This is where the 770 really shines: It uses a version of basic desktop Debian Linux. Availabe from source. To make an app, just take advantage of the Gnome based widgets (if you want), recompile for the ARM processor and off you go. This is pretty awesome.

Misc: There are other complaints about mobile phones as well that are addressed. The 770 uses a pen, but also connects to a Bluetooth keyboard easily too - no more bitching about typing stuff out on a tiny keypad. It has a microphone and could easily be used for developing a VoIP solution (there's already some SIP projects under way out there) so no more mobile phones needed either. It also has native support for MP3, MPEG4, Real Video and other codecs as well (this is better than most Linux distribs, actually), so it'd be a great podcasting device as well - who needs an iPod when you've got 200GB of content on your home machine ready to be streamed to the device in your pocket over ubiquitous WiFi connections?

So there you go. No more complaints. Every shop in the Valley who isn't focused on cell phones should have a team dedicated to the 770.

Let me help a bit. I can envision a million scenarios around this device. Streaming media is big (the streaming MP3 player that sits on the "desktop" is soooo cool) - all the podcasting and streaming music companies should be pushing this as an alternative to iPod downloads (Hey! No more bitching about Apple or DRM either!). Making a copy of Nintendo's Picto-chat would another route, but integrated into the major IM networks - great for kids who would otherwise be tying up the family PC. In fact, there's lots to learn from the Nintendo DS: A Nintendogs clone on the 770 would be awesome - touch screen, microphone and all. Lots of casual games would be perfect for this device: If a PSP can do RSS and Web browsing, why can't the 770 be seen as a gaming platform? Hell, with the Bluetooth and USB connections, you could even provide add-on controllers for it too.

Silicon Valley Companies could also act as "virtual operators." The 770 is a bit expensive right now, why doesn't a true believer in open networks step up and subsidize the cost of the 770 like a carrier does with mobile phones and then offset that initial cost with a basic subscription fee, and additional revenue-generators like Search-engine deals or other advertising. Then that company would go to the T-Mobiles and hotels of the world and provide free access for their devices, again, like Nintendo has done with their WiFi Connection program for the DS. Providing VoIP stuff as well? Now that's a real opportunity.

Lots and lots of ideas... this is the open mobile platform that the Valley have been calling for. I really hope we can take advantage of it.


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