A Conversation with Nokia's Tero OjanperaNokia gives the appearance of being on the ropes, thanks to pressure from Android, iPhone, Windows Phone 7, and even RIM. But the company's EVP of services doesn't seem to be in much of a rush.
-Hi, everyone. I'm Molly Wood and welcome to CNET Conversations. We're speaking today with Dr. Tero Ojanpera, executive vice president of services for Nokia's mobile business. He is the man in charge of location-based services, messaging, entertainment, and he's here to talk to us today about what's next for a company facing major mobile competition and a little bit of internal drama, too. Dr. Ojanpera, thank you so much for joining us. -Thank you. -How would you characterize Nokia's position right now? There's obviously a lot of press about your CEO change, about some high level departures, but you came out swinging at Nokia World. -Yeah, so, I think the exciting thing is about this transformation and focus on the consumer so we are excited about that. I think we have a new leadership who is gonna drive and accelerate the change. It's all about consumers, what can we get to them, how can we develop services and software that will meet their needs. -Now, you're also a company that has had a lot of buzz in the past. There's a sense that you don't have the same kind of buzz. What do you think has happened or how do you think you can get that back? -So, today's buzz is about N8 that they're starting to ship so I'm very excited about that and I think it's about consumers and developers so consumers used to just-- we talk about location-based services, it's about new lifestyle, et cetera, but, also, developers. What can we do for them to develop exciting applications and we have some good news around the Nokia World for the developers. -Uh huh. -Better tools. We have a better revenue share, more money, and actually, today, we can say that we have already 70 developers, 70 companies that have made more than 1 million downloads in our store. -Uh huh. -So very excited about that. -And I saw on the N8 that you have Angry Birds, so, you're at least halfway there. -Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, yeah. -But that was a big question from our audience actually is that how are you going to keep developers engaged in the platform when there's so much competition from, obviously, the iPhone, the Android, and even the RIM platform now. -Yeah, there are a couple of thoughts that I would like to share on this respect, on the developers. I think first is that the tools we announced and are now available, the Qt. Qt is a cross platform, works on Symbian, works on MeeGo. You can develop application much faster, it's available. Improving the speed of development. We have operator billing. Nobody else actually has that possibility because in the US, here, we can pay with the credit card but there are a lot of countries and people who don't have credit card and would like to pay through the operator billing so we provide that with 91 operators. -Okay. -And there are a number of other exciting things for developers. -So let's talk about platform for a little bit. You have said that you won't introduce a CDMA phone in the United States and this is probably our number one user question that you will not move to the Android platform. Can you explain that reasoning at all? Do you think it might be a mistake to shun two really popular United States technologies? -So we have always had a focus in the US and if you look at the recent sort of what have we done actually with AT&T, we have introduced seven devices with the Ovi services, with operator billing. -Uh huh. -T-Mobile, actually the Nuron device, Nokia Nuron in T-Mobile is one of the best doing devices there. We're also with the location-based services in Ovi store and operator billing so we have a focus on the US and we'll work very closely with the carriers. -But you're sticking with the Symbian platform? There's no move to Android or Windows Phone 7 in your future? -So focus is on the Symbian and MeeGo and I think also, if you think about the development in general, I think the operating system is maybe going forward a bit less relevant, it's about cross-platform tools like Qt. It's about, I think, Web is coming so HTML5 and things like that that will make the development easier for any platform. -So do you think the app store, the very, you know, the specific platform, specific app stores, are not as important as the idea of platform development? -I think app stores will be important and if you think about our Ovi Store-- When you think about the ecosystem in general, I think operating system is one of them but you need a great app store, Ovi Store, 2.3 million downloads which was announced today, increasing from 2 million just a day-- a few weeks ago. I think it's about store, it's about the development environment like the Qt. -Uh huh. -And making that whole ecosystem work and we feel that we have a good strategy there. -Okay. So then what are you planning to do to ensure that not only the devices but the services like Ovi Maps will be completely available in the US? -So, as I said earlier, it's really about focus and working with the carriers, bringing sort of the location-based services together with the carriers and we have had-- we started location on Ovi Store, those are the key focuses for us and we'll be working. I think that there are also a lot of US companies that developers we are working. Foursquare just became available in the Ovi Store, I'm very excited about that. -Do you have a timeline for Ovi Maps or the Nokia Music Store? Users are very interested in that one. It seems like it's been promised for a while. -Yeah, Nokia, that's a very good question and we have been focusing, we have 38 countries around the world. In the US, we started actually from the more focusing on the Maps and Ovi Store and working with the third party application providers that they would provide entertainment services for Nokia platform. -So no timeline on the Nokia Music Store? -Yeah, as of now, no timeline at the moment. -How important is the US market? I mean, I know, I don't wanna be a self-centered American but how important is that market to your overall strategy because, obviously, you're still very popular worldwide but there's a sense among consumers here that you don't have the carrier relationships and they so far have been a little resistant to buy unlocked or contract-free phones. -So US market is, of course, very important and when you shift, I think about shift to the consumers, the new lifestyle, the Internet, et cetera, it has become more important and it is, it has been, and remains a focus for us and working with the carriers is really key for us. Developers, we have actually our Forum Nokia that is our developer operation space in Mountain View. -Uh huh. -So nearby here. We have put a lot more resources into the Silicon Valley so I think there are a number of steps that we are doing to improve our position. -Can you talk about the carrier relationship at all? The carrier-manufacturer relationship, is it an equal relationship? Is there tension there? -So we have always focused on the carriers and when you think about like our billing products with the Ovi Store, we started to think-- we really think that the carrier billing is a differentiation for us. Nobody else does it. We do it. We have 91 operators in 27 countries with carrier billing so we think that is a great relationship. We think we can together with carriers. -And how about those contract relationships in the US? That seems to be the way that most of the high-end smartphones are being sold here other than yours. Do you think that that's an important distinction or will your phones sell at the higher price on their merits? -We will target also to work with the carriers that they would provide Nokia phones with their subscription and I think that is a goal for us. -Well, let's talk about some phones. The Nokia N8 is shipping today as you mentioned. We have a question actually from a user who said, "I believe it's an excellent platform as an investor and is one of the things that will drive revenue soon," and he asked, "What will drive the Nokia stock price higher in the immediate and distant future?" This isn't like an SEC filing kind of question but he feels that, you know, is the N8-- is Symbian the platform that you're gonna build on in the future? Will it go hand in hand with MeeGo? -So you think about, if we talk about the current, today, I think really the key point is that N8 is the new version of the Symbian. We've announced three other devices so it's about one platform, no fragmentation. -Uh huh. -Develop once and it works. You just wrap different type of the hardware around the platform whether if you want a QWERTY keyboard like the E7, if you want more stylish C7, so there's camera phone N8 so it's about software focus and, in that sense, and then going forward, we said MeeGo is the next important step for the high end and, at the same time, we are also looking at how can we make life easier for the developers so that they don't need to think about the operating system so much so there comes the Qt as a cross-platform sort of development environment into play. -I see, so specifically, what are your plans for Symbian? To keep it on some devices and then have MeeGo be... -So Symbian is about democratizing smartphones so you think about there's lower and lower price points for smartphones, Symbian will be treatment to that one and then we introduce the MeeGo from the high end. -Uh huh, okay. So they will coexist side by side but with-- -They will go side by side, absolutely. -Okay, I see. And when-- there's a lot of user interest in MeeGo. Do you have any sense of when we might start to see some MeeGo powered devices? -So we are working on the MeeGo. It's work in progress and I think at this point of time, it's more like let's bring it up when it is ready for the primetime. Currently, we have actually said in Nokia World all the excitement is now around the Symbian with the new N8, C7, E8, and with those devices and we have a lot of good momentum there with 70 companies doing more than one million downloads each. I think the increasing momentum around the Ovi Store so that's why the focus is at the moment on Symbian and making sure that the new version takes up well. -Okay. There are still-- this user put this well. "Despite the mind share of smartphones, there are still a lot of dumb phones out there or feature phones. Do you think those types of phones still figure into your long-term future or do you see a future when every phone is a smartphone? -Yeah, I believe that in the long run, every phone will be a smartphone and actually if you look at even today, those feature phones do have some capability for smartphones like Ovi Store is available not only on Symbian but also in our feature phone platform. -Uh huh. -And we are seeing a good number of downloads there. Location services, we have of course Ovi Maps on the smartphone but also we are working on bringing the location-based services in the feature phones because people want, even though cannot maybe afford the most highest end smartphone but there's a lot of latent demand for new services also with those consumers. -And, actually, on that point, Nokia is the only company or phone manufacturer that owns its own mapping technology service, right, with Navteq. How can you turn that into a significant competitive advantage? You really mentioned location services a lot. -Yeah, that's what I'm really excited about. There's like a couple of angles. One is the-- if you think about how many probes, probe being that when somebody is using GPS device, we get the information about that with the users' consent. -Uh huh. -We are collecting actually 1.5 billion probes a month meaning that there's 1.5 billion data points that we get and what can we do with this? We turn that into traffic predictions. -Uh huh. -So when you are moving in San Francisco which is congested a bit-- -A little. -So you can actually now look at your Ovi Map and you see that, hey, there is traffic jam, let me actually reroute and our navigation service will actually reroute you. It gives you a proposal what would be a better route. -Uh huh. -So there isn't like this, all of the data that we are getting in the location makes the service even better and in that way, location is really, there are so many new possibilities there. -And you mentioned partnering with Foursquare and Checkin. I mean, are you anticipating really a lot of content and even advertising services around that? -Yeah, we are already working with Ovi Maps that when you are actually brings your small advertising. You click on there, you see that, hey, maybe a dollar burger nearby or whatever will be your favorite food, so it brings you offers and you can then go and get them and in that way, it's about how do you embed location as part of the other services. That's what I'm really excited about. -Right. An interesting user question, someone said, "One of your best products," one of Nokia's best products, "like the N900," this is, you have a lot of N900 fans out there, "were when you took big risks," and this person said, "When are we gonna see more risks?" This, you know, you had this reputation for iconic daring cellphone design. Is that where you see your future? -Yeah, I think, for example, today, the location-based services feels for everybody that this is like a natural thing to do. -Uh huh. -But we took some risks actually saying a couple of years ago that we are gonna invest a lot into this space. We are now seeing the results so I think there has been a risk taking and we need more and there are a lot of exciting technologies that we are working on. -And I know that you do services but can you speak to design at all? 'Cause you have pretty such sort of iconic design phones. I mean, the N8, I saw, it comes in different colors, at least. -Yeah, we have different colors, lime green, orange so which one would you like to get but we have a lot of-- I think design is important. It continues to be important. And I think if you look at for example the new C7 with the very slim design, et cetera, so, we'll be investing into design. -Uh huh. Do you think that we are past the era where one phone can really rule them? You know, we were looking at the iconic Nokia candybar phone of the past which I feel like everyone in America had at one point. Is that day gone? -I think the focus is really now more like a combination of the service and the design and it's like when you think about the lifestyle people have, it's like, okay, somebody likes, they like to go shopping so they want to have the shopping application. We work with the retailers how can they improve their service, et cetera, so it's more like that this combination and I think, of course, beauty is important. I think the device with its iconic looks is great. It's important but that's enough anymore. You need to really focus on the service and that's why our investment into location, music, applications, and how do you tie all of that together. -Right. So, let's talk a little bit about all those platforms and that idea of competition. Do you think that consumers are going to get burned out on the sort of preponderance of operating system choices or do you think they will eventually just choose based on services? -I think it will go that they will choose based on the services so a little bit like when you think about it, what are you really going to do with your phone? It's like which consumer is more valuable, the one who downloads 10 apps but didn't ever use them or one who actually downloaded two apps and it's always everyday using. Like we work with the companies like Tesco in the UK, we've developed a shopping app. People are using that everyday, compare prices, they get variable information. I think it's all about, in the end, services. What do you do? What kind of lifestyle you live? If you think about like sustainability or green, so we have our special section for green applications. You can get sort of hints how to live more a sustainable life. There is a link to the charities, et cetera, so I think that's-- you pick your lifestyle and you pick your service. That's more exciting than the operating system. -So what do you think then is Nokia's special sauce? If you really had to sum up what it is that would make someone choose you over an iPhone or an Android device, what's the number one thing? -I think-- -Don't say Angry Birds. -I think if you think it's a combination of this. When you think about the location and other service and merging them into something that goes beyond what can we do with the one service or one application. It's like that Nokia device is like your intuition, your sixth sense. It learns what you are doing and you might wonder what does it mean in practice. That sounds like a very futuristic but if you take this example of the Ovi Maps so you are waking up in here, in San Francisco. You are getting to fly next morning so actually the-- or, let me actually back up there. You're actually going to bed and you think about, okay, next morning, you go for a flight and so now, actually, our service will predict how long does it take in this rush hour, in the morning rush hour, to get to the airport. It proposes you that maybe you need to wake up at 5:30 to catch your 7:30 flight because I know that you have been actually typical user, 30 minutes to get ready and you're good to go so it's all about that information you extract about the user's pattern and turn that into your valuable information for the user. -And is that the future plan or can it do that now? Because I need that. -Yeah, you can take Ovi Maps and traffic jam predictions, et cetera, so you can do it. Probably, it's reality today. -Yeah. -A lot of that is, of course, it gets better when we develop it further. -So what do you think, just to wrap up, what do you think are the big trends in features and design over maybe, say, the next five years. -I think one of the things I'm very excited about is what I call is the connection between the virtual and real. -Uh huh. -That you really kind of link where you are, your physical world into the digital world. Whether it is through technologies like NFC, near field communication, that you can touch the environment and something you trigger your point. Also, we are working with the technology like point and find. You take your phone and you pinpoint it, the camera into the environment and then it triggers action based on that. It's more like the interaction paradigm that rather than starting at the screen, it's like off the screen. You see what's happening in the environment grounded to your reality. That's kind of the vision where I see we are going. -Interesting. Alright. Dr. Ojanpera, thank you so much for joining us and that will do it for today's Conversation. You, too, though, can join the conversation in the comment section at our blog at CNET.com/conversations.