Here's a roundup of odds and ends I found at Nokia World Stuttgart this week. Starting with a very odd one...
The first speaker on the morning after the Nokia Party, addressing 2,000 very hungover attendees, was an aggressive motivational speaker called Chris Moon. He's an ex-Army guy who was a Khmer Rouge hostage, and in a minefield in Mozambique lost a leg and half his right arm, which now terminates with a bionic claw. Within a year of the explosion he was up and about and running marathons. He now runs sessions where merchant bankers end up hugging each other and crying.
His willpower and lack of self-pity are exemplary, but his talk was full of charming anecdotes such as men kicking dogs for fun, pigs which had been beaten into submission, and included a video recreation of his capture. He ended with a really uplifting story about castration.
Moon said that in a remote Cambodian village he was asked to help castrate four water buffalo. This involved crushing their testicles with a metal implement, and Moon found an Aussie vet to do the job. But just as he was about to apply pressure, a Buddhist monk ran up and told the vet that if he continued, the bull would come back in a future life and crush his testicles. Instead of whacking the superstitious fool with his forceps and getting on with the job, the vet realised this was actually the Meaning of Life. Moon concluded:
"Never choose a perspective in which we allow ourselves to be crushed. I wish you a crush-proof future."
"That was supposed to be motivational, but after that, I felt like killing myself," one attendee told me.
If Moon introduced himself by saying "I've nearly died many, many times", I wonder how Nokia's Symbian engineers feel by now. Symbian is not dead, we now know, but it's been superseded as Nokia's flagship platform by Maemo. The cool staff had N900 prototypes, to show how important they are. It's where everyone wants to work now.
Budgets have appeared and sprout extra zeroes. Symbian OS and S60 will henceforth be a "workhorse". It's the new S40. Who'd want to work there?
It's obvious in hindsight, but it still feels strange to report. That's because ounce for ounce, Symbian is still the most appropriate operating system for a mobile device. In terms of low latency, small footprint, reliability (and once you get rid of the S60 crust, performance too) nothing else can touch it. If you were a manufacturer starting from scratch today, you'd look at Symbian and Android first.
But getting some background, I concluded such technology considerations had come second to politics. Nokia has been in communications electronics for a long time - since the 1960s - but it owes its place today to being in the right place at the right time for GSM.
Nokia helped develop GSM. So it's got a thing about standards. Linus Torvalds has been pushing Linux to Nokia as the standard since the early part of the decade. Nokia gave the Linux research project five iterations to get it right: 2010 will see the fifth iteration.
This is an instant revisionist history from the company - and I'm sure there's much more to this tale. But the long silence that followed the awful Symbian 9.0 experience three years ago (which derailed rival Sony Ericsson) and the lack of support for new form factors should have told us which way Nokia was leaning. It didn't want to be beached, like Motorola, with IDEN and AMPS.
Maps is the new religion
Maps and location services were the "theme" of the show - it seemed every staffer attending had been told to come up with a location angle, no matter how contrived.
I spotted a roundtable discussion called "What new types will location-sensitive music devices enable". I've only ever thought of one - the fill-your-iPod-wirelessly-in-a-cafe that we will one day have, once all the licensing has been sorted out, which should be about an hour before the heat death of the universe.
(Yes, yes - I know Starbucks started doing this for iPhones a couple of years ago, but when every premises can do it for every device, on terms that they can set themselves, that gets interesting.)
But one gimmick to promote location services that Nokia seems extremely pleased to have thought up is "lifecasting". You broadcast your location, and can watch everyone else beetling about on a map on your phone. This isn't new (thanks AdamW) - Google calls it Latitude and I called it creepware when Yahoo! introduced it last year.
By chance I got talking to one important Nokia person who insisted this was great, so great no one would opt out.
You what, I said? Opt out?
For specific events and with specific groups of people, I can see how could be useful. Find your friends at a festival, for example. But everyone else finds this creepy. Who wants to be monitored all the time? Worse, what kind of people want to spy on their friends all the time?
It removes all those little white lies we tell ("Can't see you tonight - I'm washing my hair") that keep society civilised. It's all sacrificed on the altar of information-for-information's-sake. But he just didn't understand this point. He had Buggles glasses and gave me a filthy look. I said he should do his market research in Doncaster, not in Soho.
For the record, I checked and it's not going to be compulsory, or opt-out. You'll have to opt in. ®