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Nokia’s response to the iPhone?

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By Jesse Hollington

Social Media & Software Editor, iLounge
Published: Wednesday, July 18, 2007
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Although I’ve picked up an iPhone for research purposes, being in Canada it is not realistic or practical for me to use an iPhone as my everyday phone quite yet. Further, as a traditional PDA/smartphone power user, I’ve found the current feature set on the iPhone to be somewhat limiting compared to the sort of features that I traditionally require as part of my day job.

Once the iPhone becomes available for use in Canada, I will definitely also be using one as a secondary phone for non-business use (to replace the Moto RAZR V3i that I currently use for this purpose), but for my actual business use, the iPhone unfortunately falls quite short of my requirements.

So, last week I went out and picked up the new Nokia E90 Communicator for use as my primary smartphone/PDA device—a direct upgrade for me from the Nokia E62 that I was previously using.

While I did not buy this phone with any intention of using it as a multimedia device, one thing that particularly surprised me when I started looking at the software options available was Nokia’s Media Transfer Suite for Mac. Although primarily targeted at Nokia’s N-series multimedia phones, such as their flagship N95, this also supports the E90. This piqued my curiosity enough to check it out.

What I found was a surprisingly well-thought out application, with very tight integration into iTunes and iPhoto. The phone can be configured to show up as a digital camera in iPhoto or Aperture (so pictures taken with the device’s built-in camera can be quickly and easily transferred), iPhoto albums can be transferred back to the phone for viewing, and iTunes playlists are synced from a playlist folder directly to the phone.

As an added bonus, it even offers an “iTunes Fill-Up” mode, which will fill up a user-defined percentage of the phone’s memory card with random music from the iTunes library.

Configuring content to sync from iTunes or iPhoto is as simple as creating new playlists or albums under the device-named folder that gets created in iTunes:

Playlists and contents located within this folder are automatically transferred to the device—possibly the first time we’ve seen an actual application make practical use of the playlist folders in iTunes.

Once configured, the tool itself simply runs up in the menu bar, with a drop-down menu providing configuration and transfer/sync options. Clicking on the menu bar item and choosing “Connect and Start Transfers” will offer the option to either connect the phone over a USB connection, or even connect via Bluetooth for wireless (albeit very slow) data transfers:

The manual menu option is really only required to start a sync over Bluetooth. Syncing via USB is actually just a matter of connecting the device itself.

Once the transfer process starts, the menu updates to show the actual transfer status:

(note the dramatic time differences above in transferring via Bluetooth versus USB).

When the transfer completes, a nice shaded notification overlay even pops up.

There is not any kind of reverse syncing provided, nor are things like ratings and playcounts updated back in the iTunes library. Further, there is naturally no support for traditional DRM-protected iTunes Store tracks, although the transfer software is intelligent enough to not even try to copy these tracks to the device. “iTunes Plus” 256kbps AAC tracks do transfer and play on the device with no issues, however.

The media player on the device itself is nothing particularly special, and it’s certainly no iPhone interface, but it does a respectable job, including support for displaying album artwork (from tracks that have it embedded), and browsing based on the internal tag information.

Sound quality on the E90 itself is not quite on par with any current-generation iPod (or the iPhone), but is more than respectable for casual use. On the other hand, from my brief experience with it in the store I found that the N95 produces excellent sound quality to rival that of the iPhone or any current-generation iPod.

Further, since the E90 and N95 phones do in fact support the A2DP profile, stereo Bluetooth headsets can also be used directly with these devices.

Obviously, this isn’t about to make me replace any of my iPods, and for me the more media-focused N95 will never win me over compared to the iPhone.  However this does provide the useful option to keep a few tracks with me on my phone for casual listening when I may not have my iPod with me, or may not want to be bothered taking it out.

While the E90 is definitely not a phone for the average user, nor is it particularly media-focused, Nokia’s more media-oriented N95 device is a very well-rounded multimedia phone that provides a realistic alternative for users who find the iPhone feature set coming up a bit short. When combined with the more robust feature-set on the N95, this additional integration with iTunes makes it an interesting consideration for those looking for a phone that provides features the iPhone currently lacks. This latest media transfer software would seem to indicate that Nokia realizes this and is trying to raise the bar to compete with the iPhone by significantly enhancing their Mac and iTunes support.

With Nokia’s dramatically stronger presence in Europe, it is going to be very interesting to see how the European iPhone release fares in comparison to the options that are already available in that market.

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Comments

1

Well, being an owner of the N95 and contemplating getting the E90, I can say that the iPhone will have a very hard time here if it is as crippled as the US version. Europeans are much more sophisticated and mature than the American mobile phone consumers and the iPhone in its current form will be DOA. The Nokia phones (E90 and N95), while having some minor issues (new phones, new software) are quite solid and have very good sales figures. These are interesting times.

Posted by Don Trammell on July 18, 2007 at 12:03 PM (PDT)

2

I’m glad you see that there’s room for more than just one device.  Each device has their own strong and weak points.  Whether we’ll ever have one device that consolidates all the features we want from every other device is highly unlikely, especially at a reasonable price.  I say enjoy them all.  If it works for you, use it.
Companies trying to combine cellphone, multi-media player, HTML browser, GPS, HQ camera, PDA, text messager into one device that has good battery life and fits into your pocket have a tough road ahead and at this point in time will have to make lots of compromises.

Posted by Constable Odo on July 18, 2007 at 12:31 PM (PDT)

3

“... a realistic alternative for users who find the iPhone feature set coming up a bit short.”

What’s “short” about a phone that lacks basics like voice dialing, MMS, and *full* Bluetooth connectivity - all things my 4-year-old T616 can do? LOL.

Not to mention 3G… Once the N95 is US-compatible in this respect, I will quickly line up for one.

The iPhone is too lacking in too many (basic!) respects to succeed outside the telephony-ignorant US market.

Posted by Doctor Mantis on July 18, 2007 at 1:59 PM (PDT)

4

Guys don’t you see it happening all over again? Remember all the iPOD killers??

Think this: Buttons are so yesterday.

Anything with buttons is going to be viewed as inferior at this point. Apple’s already programmed us all to think this way by its approach in launching the iPhone.

Good luck!

Posted by lrd on July 18, 2007 at 6:48 PM (PDT)

5

Nokia. Ha ha ha ha. You guys are living in the past, and you don’t even know it.

Posted by Earl Smersh on July 18, 2007 at 9:56 PM (PDT)

6

I’ve been using this app heavily with my new Nokia N75 and its a godsend.  The only slightly odd thing is that you have to create new iTunes playlists and place them in the special folder just for syncing to the phone.

I’ve been experimenting with loading different playlists onto different MicroSD cards (Nokia et al need to get serious and support the new SDHC standard!).  I create a new iTunes Playlist folder for each memory-card, and copy those playlists in and out of the “master” folder used for syncing.  Then once the sync is complete, on the phone I run the Music app’s “Refresh Music library” function, and it quickly resyncs the contents of the new memory-card to the app’s own internal playlist system, completely replacing what was there from the previous memory-card.  The app also cross-references tracks by artist, album, genre, and composer.  Also its wise to leave plenty of space on the card for photos and video clips.

I don’t own an iPod.  I’ve played with the iPhone several times and find it impressive, but it lacks too many fundamental features that I use all the time, and boy it sure ain’t cheap!!  I love touchscreens, but LOATHE touchscreen-keyboards.  It took me around 10 tries to enter a simple URL in the iPhone browser.  Note that with a standard phone keypad, you can train yourself to dial a number with one hand while not looking at the phone.  iPhone requires both hands and your eyeballs, and does not support voice-tag dialing.  And lastly, you can load your Nokia up with all kinds of neat 3rd-party apps, like Google Maps and Internet Radio clients.

Posted by Mark M on July 19, 2007 at 12:19 AM (PDT)

7

Nokia is a Creative of today. I remember how Creative launched 100 million dollar campaign against iPod and ended up losing money and accepting Apple offer to become its supplier of accessories or something like this. Nokia will continue to sell its little cheap handsets while its multimedia or cameraphones will be beaten by iPhone. See the flop of Ngage? Thats because each industry has its own strength and games were not NOkia’s core business. Similarly, in music Apple is much stronger. I foresee however SE being hit most.

Posted by Kyross on July 19, 2007 at 1:34 AM (PDT)

8

I hope Nokia DOES do well (or at least keeps trying). One feels all clever predicting the downfall of this or that attempt by a manufacturer…well, surprisingly, that’s right more often than it’s not, because most ventures DO fail.

And it is these failed ventures that guide and direct future manufacturers.  If it weren’t for innovators pushing the envelope and attempting to break into a solid market, we wouldn’t have apple computers, cell phones, etc.  Now…more than likely, most ventures WILL fail, this one included…but it will force Apple to continue to innovate.

And that’s good for us, the consumers.

Posted by OnlyShawn on July 19, 2007 at 5:22 AM (PDT)

9

Where in Canada can you pick up this phone?  Even the Nokia Canada website doesn’t list the E90 yet (though I found it through the UK site). 
I’m also in Canada and don’t expect the iPhone to be available here anytime soon.

Posted by Sanjay on July 19, 2007 at 4:31 PM (PDT)

10

All you “industry analysts” predicting the demise of Nokia is just showing your huge lack of knowledge and narrow-minded US focus.  Nokia is a hugely successful company with 70+% market penetration in some non-US markets.  They are continually pushing the envelope and bringing out new products.  They are truly a leader in the mobile computing market.  Their phones of 2-3 years ago have features that put the iPhone to shame.

Yes, it truly will be interesting to see how the mainstream in Europe accept the iPhone, what with all the excellent choices they have over there.

Posted by kokketiel on July 24, 2007 at 6:18 AM (PDT)

11

If the european iphone does not support 3G and does not support MMS and does not allow users to use mp3’s as ring tones, then the Iphone will fail in Europe. Europeans are used to having them luxuries in their mobile phones.

Whats the point of having a camera on a phone, when you cannot send it via mms to another mobile phone user?  Whats the point of having slow EDGE internet speed, when you have great 3G fast internet speed in Europe.  Nokia are the leaders in the mobile market, and apple will never succeed in this market, unless they make changed to the iphone.  I am not an anti mac fan, i love macs, i have a mac mini myself, but for mobile phones, unless apple can bring out a better version of the iphone, then i am afraid i will always stick with my great nokia mobile phone.

Posted by mr miyagi on July 31, 2007 at 2:33 PM (PDT)

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