A conversation with Nokia's Tero Ojanpera

Nokia seems to be under the gun, thanks to pressure from the Android OS, the iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and even RIM. But the company's executive vice president of services doesn't seem to be in much of a rush.

To the casual observer, Nokia would seem to be a company with something to prove.

Executive changes, pressure from the Android OS and the iPhone, advanced new hardware from the likes of HTC and Samsung, and the company's lack of carrier relationships in the U.S. have watchers and analysts wondering how long Nokia can hang onto its global dominance in mobile phones. But the company's executive vice president of mobile services, Tero Ojanpera, doesn't seem to be feeling the heat. Either that, or he doesn't have a lot of answers.

In the questions you sent in before this interview, most of you wanted to know two things: will the company move to Android, and if not, why not; and what is Nokia going to do to win back the hearts and minds of Nokia consumers who are being wooed by other phone makers?

To the first point Ojanpera said, "the focus is on Symbian," but he added that Nokia is working on development tools that will work "on any platform." So, it wasn't the most unequivocal of denials, but I got the sense there probably won't be any Android surprises in the immediate future. Ojanpera also stressed that he thought the phone's operating system wasn't as important as the services running on it--perhaps a way to downplay the seeming importance of OS-specific app stores.

Beyond that, I can't say I have many other answers--at least not many that will thrill Nokia fans. I asked when MeeGo, the Linux-based mobile OS Nokia is developing with Intel, might start to make an appearance on phones or tablets. Ojanpera responded that Nokia is working on Symbian 3 at the moment and that MeeGo would be done when the Symbian 3 project was done. He also said Symbian 3 and MeeGo would coexist, with MeeGo potentially powering higher-end devices (like, presumably, tablets, or phone-tabs like the Dell Streak), while Symbian remains the core phone OS.

As to the company's U.S. strategy, I asked when the long-promised Nokia Music Service would arrive and when the U.S. would have access to all of Nokia's Ovi services, like the full power of Ovi Maps. On services, Ojanpera said Nokia is concentrating on delivering maps and location-based services to the U.S. (no word on when), and--I'm sorry to say--implied that the Nokia Music Service just flat out might never arrive.

Interestingly, although Ojanpera said the U.S. market is important to Nokia's overall strategy, he didn't have specifics on how he intends to penetrate a nation of smartphone buyers carrying mainly iPhones. We spoke just as the N8 began shipping in the U.S. , to early reviews that essentially said, "sure, it's fine, but it's not revolutionary enough to warrant the $500 no-contract price tag."

To that concern, Ojanpera said simply that working with carriers to get contract relationships "is a goal for us." But he didn't offer any specifics on how that might be accomplished--especially since it hasn't been so far. And when I asked him flatly what should differentiate Nokia from Android, iOS, or even Windows Phone 7 and RIM, he didn't offer features or services that, on the surface, would trump what's available from those other platforms.

Now, the major criticism of Nokia, at least lately, has been that the company has a highly conservative, almost repressive corporate culture that's risk-averse and cautious in the extreme. Ojanpera seems a fair representative of that ethos, which makes me wonder how much things will have to change for the company to start making a splash.

Watch the video and let me know what you think. Is Dr. Ojanpera demonstrating classic Finnish reserve, or do you feel he's representing a company content with the status quo? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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