A look at Nokia on the long road back to glory

(This post contains a bunch of personal stuff, post-rationalization and opinions – typical planning bollocks -, just so you know. If you make it through the text there’ll be some nice videos though.)

First, some background. I always liked Nokia. When I was a teen, as far as I remember Nokia was a synonym for modern times and a cosmopolitan view of the world. They were not exactly on the cutting edge of everything but compared to the likes of Ericsson, Siemens and others, they were symbols of a connected global world. I got my first phone when I was 14, a blue Motorola that somehow looked like an egg, and then a pretty flashy panasonic that my dad wouldn’t use anymore. But my first real mobile was a Nokia 6210. It was the phone I used to text my girlfriend back then – first love and all. I think it was able to store a bunch-load of texts, which was obviously a plus, considering all the important teen texts that were not to be deleted.

There was no doubt that my next phone would also be a Nokia, though I’m not even exactly sure which one it was, with all the number combinations they used. I only remember that it was one of the first ones with a color screen – that unfortunately also didn’t last very long. Then however, I became unfaithful and jumped on board with Motorola when the 3G version of the Motorola Razr came out. It was the smallest 3G phone available, the RAZR was the coolest shit around and I gave in (contrary to what most people think of themselves, advertising works fine with me). Over in Vancouver I picked the cheapest phone available, which coincidently also was a Motorola with the same crappy software.

Then back home in Vienna, after quite a bit of pondering and looking at what Nokia had done in the meantime, I decided against the N95 and for the iPhone. It was a hard decision (not real-life hard, but in the realm of products), not because I had anything against Apps or the product, but because already back then I hated the way that a bunch of idiots who had no idea of what Apple used to stand for, of technology or of the creative industries, were wearing their white headphones like a badge of honor, proudly showcasing their iBooks/Macbooks, bashing Windows and Linux and in general pray at the altar of Jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I always loved their OS and hardware but already then “The Great Product Claim” and the way that Apple’s smug “brand behavior” rubbed off to a lot of their now mainstream customers got on my nerves big time. The “I’m a Mac” campaign, while obviously catchy, made Apple look like a bunch of arrogant idiots.

I still bought it because back then, there was no comparable product experience in terms of touchscreen and applications. It just wasn’t there. But I do have the feeling that Apple, while building their ecosystem-empire and growing bigger and bigger, were constantly withdrawing from their “brand equity”, from the symbolic resources that shaped their public perception. Sure, that’s not going to bother them in the short term, because they can still sell this one device in all kinds of different sizes, but their success came – no matter how often Amir Kassaei repeats it – never only from the design and simplicity of “the perfect product” (that it isn’t and that doesn’t exist), but also from the symbolic resources it provided. Symbolic resources that went into the common knowledge about Apple because a bunch of nerds and hipsters from the creative industries were Apple, loved the OS, had the G4s, made their flyers on it and used it to DJ once they became to lazy to mix with vinyl. Think different and all.

Now, not so much anymore.

And so, while Nokia’s software was and is apparently crap for the last years and couldn’t remotely keep up with Android and Apple, and while they also neglected the symbolic parts for ages – I haven’t experienced anything that would make me feel a Nokia brand in Canada and also nothing in Austria for a while – they at least seem to have woken up. If Apple is moving away from their old heritage and Android is working on becoming the new mobile Windows, Nokia is in the strange position of being the challenger brand, while still being market leader.

This means that they simultaneously have to work on fixing their OS/App-store issues, but also work the edges of culture and their developers, the ones that Apple doesn’t give too much of a damn about anymore. And they have to continuously throw out millions of phones to defend their market share in the meantime. They have a chance to build what Apple built on one device and what Android is trying to do with all the different bloated brand versions of their OS, on a base of hundreds of millions of users of one brand who will trade up for smart-phones at some point. Think about it: if all the others are joining Android, and Palm and Microsoft more or less take themselves out of the game, why would you not be the third big guy in the market. (BB will always be business niche.)

Judging from what has come out of Nokia since the Nokia World, it seems like they at least get the symbolic part right and they’re working with different communities and developers to get their vision out there into reality.

Typical W+K brilliance, this is just lovely and puts different communities of do-ers and makers in the spotlight. DIY is a rich territory right now and you can break out every single project for different length features.

Sounds a heck of a lot like a hungry challenger brand. And that is a good sign.

How far away is ‘The Future of the Book’?

So everybody shared it by now anyways. Nicely done as you’d expect from IDEO. I think the first one is the hardest in terms of data analysis and evaluation. The second one could be built rather quickly and the third one is basically what Marcus Brown has been doing for a while now, but with budget, a design company and an iPad at his hand.

Growing up

Screen in the dark

This last few days have mostly been about heading west from Vienna to work on a brief with lovely guys and girls at an agency there. A couple of quite strange firsts for me. First night staying at a hotel for “business” reasons, which in my ears still sounds absolutely douchy (in relation to myself). First time “expensing” taxi rides from a train station to an agency. Haven’t done that before either, and feels equally strange. Could it be that at some point along these lines the day comes when people actually expect something from you because of all this?

I also learned how to get my telco to unlock tethering on my slowly fading phone (hat tip to Steff). I found out that I should read visa registration documents more carefully next time (hat tip to the guy who said njet). I learned that fundraising isn’t a very easy thing to do (which in turn teaches you a lot of things about advertising and “awareness” – ehem). And I learned that the 3G connection on trains here is quite horrible, which might be a good thing after all.

Heading To Tanzania

Update: If you want, you can donate now.


Every now and then in life an opportunity comes along and you just know you have to do something about it. An opportunity to put words and good intention into action. An opportunity to do the right thing.

Some of you might have already read Neil’s blog post about the project in Tanzania he decided to join as a team leader: The Great Football Giveaway.

The Great Football Giveaway 2010 from The Great Football Giveaway on Vimeo.

When I read and saw this, I was at the same time amazed and sceptic. The trained critical thinker inside me thought, “Well, this isn’t quite going to save the world, is it!?” It pondered how there are bigger problems, bigger things that need to change for Tanzania (and a lot of countries) to accumulate wealth and get out of poverty. “Sure there are things more important than bloody football, right?” Right. There are.

On the other hand however, I immediately and intuitively fell in love with the pure simplicity and goodness of the idea. I admire people that do things, people that actually make things happen. “The Great Football Giveway” and Neil’s inspiring jump in at the deep end would most certainly be one of those actions for good.

In the end, intuition won. I realized that I fell into the “macro trap”: “countries”, “wealth”, “poverty” – I won’t be able to change anything at this scale – you know, the world hunger crisis etc. – anytime soon, while these kids would love to kick a ball about right now. The great Football Giveaway isn’t about saving the world. It is about giving kids joy and happiness. About sharing some of what we have to make a basic pleasure happen in a very rural and poor part of Tanzania. This was about action on a “do-able” scale. And it needs doing.

So I am joining a group of people based out of London and New York, who I mostly don’t know personally, but who I am sure are all awesome, in The Great Football Giveaway from November 4 to 14. The flight to Dar es Salaam is booked, jabs are to be arranged and most importantly fundraising is about to begin in earnest very soon. (We do pay for flights, accomodation, food etc. ourselves and are responsable for raising the funds for the balls.)

So much for my background in this, from now on, this place is going to be about what counts: getting as many balls directly into kids’ hands as possible. Once the fundraising starts, please do consider spreading the word, donating a ball or let me know if you contribute anything else to the project.

From the category “Things that Austria/Europe should be ashamed of”: ‘Red Cards’ for Asylum Seekers

Red Card

All of you probably know and remember the “Jew Star”, that Jews in National Socialist Germany had to wear for identification. Well, while of course not a measure as drastic as the this – what happend back then shouldn’t be compared lightly and therefore played down – a new action taken by the Austrian Social Democrats and the Conservatives bears some resemblance in spirit with these dark times.

Asylum seekers – transformed into a synonym for reckless criminals by Austria’s biggest newspaper – now have to stay in the refugee camp for five days and are not allowed to do such basic things as to go to a supermarket. (They have, of course, never been allowed to work, to ‘protect‘ the labour market and keep it in the hands of party-dominated chambers and unions. Fear of Eastern and Turkish invasion is still looming in Austria, even though the Turks aren’t even close to being the biggest minority here.) Now as one mayer of a town with one of the two refugee camps, with the daunting number of 80 inmates – can you imagine the hordes? – says, they are “not locked in [to the camp], because they can move freely in the area”. How nice, no cells for now.

Most cynical though is the fact that they can actually leave the camp, but they will be identifiable with a red card so the police can immediately arrest them. This is, by the way, the actual reasoning used to justify this policy. When caught, they are threatened with administrative punishment and detention prior to deportation. All of this was summed up in the newly created German word “Mitwirkungspflicht” (obligation to collaborate).  Sounds nicer than “Internierung” (internment), doesn’t it?

So there it is, the breaking of another taboo in terms of treatment of refugees, another law tightening the grip over people who were not born – and who “we” don’t want – here, another policy mixing the vague and perfectly exploitable concept of “subjective feeling of safety” with immigration and refugee law. Heck, we didn’t even need the right-wing party to do this, the Social Democrats and Conservatives are willfully doing their job.

In light of Roma deportations, drownings in the Mediterranean and deaths at the borders of the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, this is just another sign of what we can expect from an entity devoid of any restriction, one that regards constitutions as as worthless as the piece of paper it was written on (because “fuck it, we are the ones who write it …”).

[T]he modern state is a compulsory association which organizes domination. It has been successful in seeking to monopolize the legitimate use of physical force as a means of domination within a territory. To this end the state has combined the material means of organization in the hands of its leaders, and it has expropriated all autonomous functionaries of estates who formerly controlled these means in their own right. The state has taken their positions and now stands in the top place.

Max Weber, Politics as a Vocation (Politik als Beruf, 1919)

So let’s just all worry some more about Google Streetview, ok?

(If you are into German you can read more about the new red cards here, here and here.)

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions

So was at the Ars Electronica in Linz today, to get exposed to some new thoughts, experiments and visions about what is going on in this world today and I must say I came away pretty impressed. Not only because the venue is spectacular in its own right or because I met Lauren, but because I think there were some projects that were seriously inspiring.

(Now I have to admit – and I somehow can’t help it – that when I say that about art it is in a way “instrumental”. With that I don’t mean a pure sense of functionality, but rather the fact that I can feel some sort of “purpose” in how it relates to my life or issues that I think are relevant. So this doesn’t mean the other stuff is shite, obviously, I’m just officially not well-versed in arts, probably have a biased approach to it anyways and wanted to state this as an intro here.)

That said, one project that I found particularly interesting is “Dropping Knowledge” or the documentary that developed out of it: “PROBLEMA – sometimes the worst enemy is our own perception”.

112 persons from 56 countries convened at the Table of Free Voices in Berlin in 2006 to provide answers to global questions about such things as the economy, ethics, war and nation-states. Now, director Ralf Schmerberg (DE) has made a film out of the resulting 11,200 statements interwoven with footage of some of the defining images of our time. The result is major intellectual marathon.

There are different reasons why I find this very interesting. The first one is obviously the content. Don’t have to discuss this I guess. Another reason is scale. It’s a massive marathon of perspectives, intellectual data points from all kinds of different people from all over the world, answering questions about all kinds of things. This is fascinating and mind-bending on its own.

What really does it for me though is the use of questions. I once had a professor who at the end of a session about cognitive media effects asked students a simple question: if they knew some tool or event or person – I’m not quite sure what it was. Then he counted raised hands. At the beginning of the next session he asked again who knew the the person/tool/event. Percentage raised. “Damage” done. (This is of course simplifying matters as it isn’t persuasion in the strictest sense but only this thing called awareness (recognition, to be strict), but it shows how questions, as a special form of message, can lead to action and investigation into a matter without telling anybody to do anything.)

Now I’m obviously not an expert in socratic philosophy but I’m fascinated by the sheer power questions bring with them (plus I have to be because I need this as an excuse to get on people’s nerves constantly …). They frame issues in a certain way, shifting the perspective and focus. They have a higher chance of “change” or “persuasion” if you wish by the simple fact that we can hardly not think about an answer to it.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going here but it seems to be something as banal as: Well-framed open questions can lead to thinking and discussion which can lead to insight on the side of the one who answers. And an insight one gets on his or her own, instead of having it told from somebody else, is something one doesn’t let go of easily.

Every effort to change the world starts with people asking questions. I like that.