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WiFi for data – Nokia dials for future phones

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Donal O'Connell, Nokia phones' R&D veep, said that WiFi will form a part of its future high-end handsets at an analyst briefing in Irving, Texas today.

O'Connell offered a few glimpses of future directions for the handset business. Next generation phones will have Gigabytes of storage, megapixel cameras and morph into super-IM clients, with the user notified of the status and whereabouts of each contact. Even if this proves to be too intrusive for many, Nokia will be able to return a users profile, so you don't interrupt them during a meeting.

802.11 will be an option, he told us, but just another option. That doesn't mean that WiFi will be used for handling voice calls, however. The WiFi bubble may simply be, as one attendee succinctly pointed out, a way to persuade gullible VCs to part with their money, but it remains highly improbable that public (as opposed to corporate) 802.11 networks can find a successful business model which involves punters willing to pay with their money. Outside of a very few moneyed tech hang outs, and "captive" spots such as airports, public WiFi is struggling to justify the investment. Which is hardly surprising, when people expect it to be offered for free.

Along with other handset vendors, and carriers, Nokia is rushing to embrace the walkie-talkie functionality called "Push To Talk", currently offered by Nextel on its iDEN network in the US. Using SIP, this is a limited voice over IP trick which allows a user to dial a group of friends. But only one can talk at any one time. Nokia thinks kids will love this, but I fail to see the attraction for all but retro-radio nostalgiacs. The obligation to say 'OVER' when you've finished talking, so the other part can reply, is something I thought we'd done away with a very long time ago.

Design

Nokia says it expects high and midrange phones to run Symbian OS and although it has been investigating Linux it doesn't see any compelling reason to offer the open source OS too.

We asked Donal why Nokia had shunned the clamshell-style design popular in the US and Asia in favour of one piece phones. He said that with so many near identical silver clamshells, it would be harder for Nokia to differentiate itself. Since it's led with design ever since entering the digital phone business, and leads the pack, it's unlikely to start playing me-too now. More practically, he added, the more moving parts a phone has, the more likely things are to go wrong.

He also promised an "explosion of form factors". One of the most remarkable of these, the Nokia 6800, is now available in the US market with Cingular offering the phone on its online store for $249.99 with a two year contract.

Accompanying the 6800 is an ingenious accessory: a small deskstand stereo speaker which as well as charging the phone, amplifies the phone's FM radio, and allows other audio equipment to be attached too. It makes for a fairly unmistakable alarm clock, using the phone's software.

And Nokia has finally embraced pen input, albeit in a very limited way.

Although the new 6108 Nokia that announced yesterday is a triband world phone, it appears to be a play for the Chinese market, having been designed in Beijing. With its 128x128 display, the 6108 appears to be a Series 40 phone, although this isn't explicit in the announcement. You can see pictures of the device here.

More from the event tomorrow. ®

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