Can Club Nokia thwart .NET?

Nokia catches Portalitis

Nokia is expected to announce ambitious plans for its Club Nokia portal at its Capital Markets Day in New York tomorrow.

Club Nokia is an overlooked part of the phone services jigsaw, but one that will be increasingly important as the Finnish giant focuses its artillery on Microsoft, and tries to coalesce an array of carriers and terminal suppliers to unite against a common enema. [Don't you mean 'enemy'? - ed.]

"Nokia has always been a software company," execs told us at the Comdex launch of its open platform a fortnight ago. With that milestone announcement, Nokia has begun to license much of the essential goodness that makes a Nokia phone - the user interface - along with middleware and applications, in source form, to anyone who asks.

But the Club Nokia parlay isn't just a case of the Finns catching portalitis - the peculiarly late-90s fashion where vendors aggregated as much useless content in one place as they could find, in the hope of capturing traffic. No, instead an expanded Club Nokia will become a marketplace to sell content and services, too, much as Redmond envisages all the disparate Windows tendrils leading back to its Hailstorm hub of web services.

In an interesting analysis of what he dubs the 'Clash of Civilisations' between Nokia and Microsoft, a piece which puts the Club Nokia announcements into a broader context, Keith Woolcock of Nomura Research concludes that The Beast will ultimately prevail.

Woolcock is no Microsoft shill - in the same research note, he describes efforts to sell the phone manufacturers its Stinger, aka the Microsoft Smartphone platform, as having "failed miserably". But he thinks Microsoft will prevail because of the breadth of its existing penetration in the PC business - it's rapidly amassing customer information through Passport already - and through the .NET development tools. Adding, too, that Club Nokia faces competition from the carriers themselves for services portals.


It's an interesting note (and if you nag us enough, we'll nag Nomura to make it public, somehow) but by our reckoning he's taking a highly pessimistic view. Or optimistic, if you're Microsoft.The biggest handicap Microsoft has is that its mobile client platform "lacks traction", as the VCs like to say. Or in other words, no one wants a Microsoft phone. As Woolcock points out, most of the major manufacturers have seen and declined Stinger. Only Samsung is gung-ho about the platform, although Mitsubishi (through its Trium subsidiary), can reasonably be expected to have a dabble. The bright British company Sendo is betting on Stinger - but Sendo only shipped its first phone this year. Even if Siemens and Alcatel are added to this number, it leaves manufacturers who hold 80 per cent of the current voice handset market doing their own thing.

And the phone business, unlike the microcomputer market in 1981, isn't about to be taken over by a great unifying outsider: the handset manufacturers voted for their own OS platform by creating Symbian, and most of what else matters - like Bluetooth, WAP, or MMS - is decided in time honoured fashion, laundered through industry committees.

There's another, more bleeding obvious reason why phones now aren't like PCs then. There simply isn't a telcomms vendor now that is as dominant as IBM was in 1981, even though the phone business is making the same tottering fall from being a vertical industry into a horizontal industry, just like the PC. People rightly credit Gates' foresight in envisaging a horizontal personal computer business, but Microsoft's success owes much more to its role as the preferred supplier for the IBM PC than anything else. It was the IBM blessing, not amazing software, that legitimised Microsoft.


Yet there's another factor, too, that's usually overlooked. Let's suppose Stinger turns out to be astoundingly good, much better than the competition. Then surely, world+dog will beat a path to the Stinger manufacturers' door, pausing only to throw away its 2G handsets en masse. And today's phone giants respond to the demand.

But it isn't really going to be like that: smartphones will be a luxury item at first, getting progressively more affordable. And in the meantime, the 2G manufacturers will exclusively be providing their own, or industry standard applications. Microsoft has given little thought to how the splashy services for smartphones 'degrade' on less capable handsets.

This we'll call it the ASCII Photo problem, (because it hasn't really been given a name yet). Nokia's new imaging smartphone, the 7650, let's you take snaps and send them as MMS messages to your friends. If your friends don't have an MMS-capable device, they're sent a URL to a web location (Ker-Ching! It's a web service revenue opportunity!) ... which they later access from their PC.

Now the really smart thing, we suggested to Nokia in Barcelona last week, would be to scan the photo and create a little ASCII art picture, the kind of which you still see in some sig files. That gets sent to the recipients crappy little phone, and surely, joy is unconfined.We were joking but the underlying conundrum is serious: and it's how to lure 2G phone users into the 3G promised land.

It's a conundrum that all operators and handset manufacturers face, and one we venture, that Microsoft is particularly badly placed to cope with. We might be wrong, but we suspect it hasn't even given it a moment's thought.Multimedia rich smartphones play to all Microsoft's strengths, at least on paper. Redmond astutely saw off applications competitors in the early 90s by appealing to the PC magazine's tick list mentality - more features! better! - and it's successfully used this tactic to win significant market share in the PDA battle against Palm. (Although Palm deserves much of the blame for ceding this battle). PocketPC doesn't really win best of class in any utility comparison - it's the most awkward address book, the worst MP3 player, and the most expensive communicator you can buy - but it promises the earth, and it sure looks great: the lovely retro Chrome styling of Compaq's iPaq makes it look like an American classic.

It's personal

Despite the bewildering and frequently abstract talk of web services, this one should be fairly simple to call. It's a battle between consumer vendors over who owns your address book, your buddy list, and the web services that spin-off this simple decision are the rewards for these competing armies. Our Smartphone Roundup earlier this year drove home a couple of points: not only is a single converged device, no matter how tacky, more useful than two discrete gadgets (phone plus PDA), but that in a head-to-head, the more personal device can be expected to win.

Or put another way - you can give a lot of voice to a data device, and it won't feel like it's ubiquitous or personal. But give a little data to a voice device, and it's your friend for life. This battle, as Nomura suggests, is truly epic, and only a fool will declare a winner at this stage. But in terms of "stickiness" we'll vote for a stupid voice vendor over a clever data vendor. And Nokia isn't stupid. ®

Other stories you might like

  • New audio server Pipewire coming to next version of Ubuntu
    What does that mean? Better latency and a replacement for PulseAudio

    The next release of Ubuntu, version 22.10 and codenamed Kinetic Kudu, will switch audio servers to the relatively new PipeWire.

    Don't panic. As J M Barrie said: "All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again." Fedora switched to PipeWire in version 34, over a year ago now. Users who aren't pro-level creators or editors of sound and music on Ubuntu may not notice the planned change.

    Currently, most editions of Ubuntu use the PulseAudio server, which it adopted in version 8.04 Hardy Heron, the company's second LTS release. (The Ubuntu Studio edition uses JACK instead.) Fedora 8 also switched to PulseAudio. Before PulseAudio became the standard, many distros used ESD, the Enlightened Sound Daemon, which came out of the Enlightenment project, best known for its desktop.

    Continue reading
  • VMware claims 'bare-metal' performance on virtualized GPUs
    Is... is that why Broadcom wants to buy it?

    The future of high-performance computing will be virtualized, VMware's Uday Kurkure has told The Register.

    Kurkure, the lead engineer for VMware's performance engineering team, has spent the past five years working on ways to virtualize machine-learning workloads running on accelerators. Earlier this month his team reported "near or better than bare-metal performance" for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT) and Mask R-CNN — two popular machine-learning workloads — running on virtualized GPUs (vGPU) connected using Nvidia's NVLink interconnect.

    NVLink enables compute and memory resources to be shared across up to four GPUs over a high-bandwidth mesh fabric operating at 6.25GB/s per lane compared to PCIe 4.0's 2.5GB/s. The interconnect enabled Kurkure's team to pool 160GB of GPU memory from the Dell PowerEdge system's four 40GB Nvidia A100 SXM GPUs.

    Continue reading
  • Nvidia promises annual updates across CPU, GPU, and DPU lines
    Arm one year, x86 the next, and always faster than a certain chip shop that still can't ship even one standalone GPU

    Computex Nvidia's push deeper into enterprise computing will see its practice of introducing a new GPU architecture every two years brought to its CPUs and data processing units (DPUs, aka SmartNICs).

    Speaking on the company's pre-recorded keynote released to coincide with the Computex exhibition in Taiwan this week, senior vice president for hardware engineering Brian Kelleher spoke of the company's "reputation for unmatched execution on silicon." That's language that needs to be considered in the context of Intel, an Nvidia rival, again delaying a planned entry to the discrete GPU market.

    "We will extend our execution excellence and give each of our chip architectures a two-year rhythm," Kelleher added.

    Continue reading
  • Amazon puts 'creepy' AI cameras in UK delivery vans
    Big Bezos is watching you

    Amazon is reportedly installing AI-powered cameras in delivery vans to keep tabs on its drivers in the UK.

    The technology was first deployed, with numerous errors that reportedly denied drivers' bonuses after malfunctions, in the US. Last year, the internet giant produced a corporate video detailing how the cameras monitor drivers' driving behavior for safety reasons. The same system is now apparently being rolled out to vehicles in the UK. 

    Multiple camera lenses are placed under the front mirror. One is directed at the person behind the wheel, one is facing the road, and two are located on either side to provide a wider view. The cameras are monitored by software built by Netradyne, a computer-vision startup focused on driver safety. This code uses machine-learning algorithms to figure out what's going on in and around the vehicle.

    Continue reading
  • AWS puts latest homebrew ‘Graviton 3’ Arm CPU in production
    Just one instance type for now, but cheaper than third-gen Xeons or EPYCs

    Amazon Web Services has made its latest homebrew CPU, the Graviton3, available to rent in its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) infrastructure-as-a-service offering.

    The cloud colossus launched Graviton3 at its late 2021 re:Invent conference, revealing that the 55-billion-transistor device includes 64 cores, runs at 2.6GHz clock speed, can address DDR5 RAM and 300GB/sec max memory bandwidth, and employs 256-bit Scalable Vector Extensions.

    The chips were offered as a tech preview to select customers. And on Monday, AWS made them available to all comers in a single instance type named C7g.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022