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Nokia WidSets

Nokia would disagree with T-Mobile about the potential of mobile TV, but will certainly be eyeing part of the carrier's business in its 3G and Web 2.0 activities. The most advanced handset maker in its grasp of these emerging ideas, the Finnish giant has launched a framework for automatically feeding content to handsets and other devices - "bringing Web 2.0 to your mobile device", as Tom Henricksson, director of Nokia's Emerging Business Unit, puts it.

The WidSets technology delivers functionality more commonly found on PC-based systems, where internet behavior is increasingly user-driven, collaborative and community focused.

A key aspect of Web 2.0 is the web site that searches out and amalgamates content from many other related sites, and this is the main aim of WidSets. "It goes to other internet sites and gets feeds from them, but [users] determine what internet services they want to have visible on your phone," explains Nokia. WidSets allows users to build a content library that may include RSS syndication feeds, blogs and photo upload sites that are multicasted to Javaenabled devices.

It updates selected content and forms a 'symbiotic' relationship with the web to allow both the device and the web to work together, explains Henrickson. "You have exactly the information you are interested in, but in a cost-optimized way on your handset," he added.

This is another breakthrough that builds on many of Nokia's recent obsessions. Web 2.0 plays to the advantage of such vendors in that it puts the focus and intelligence on the network itself, and the user interface/browser, rather than the server (something of which Intel, with its wireless strategy, has been highly aware). So Nokia has been working on developments such as more intelligent and mobile-friendly browsers, in its joint development with Apple, and on 'human centered' design for its next generation of 'multimedia computers', as it now calls its most advanced handsets.

This means allowing the handset to go a step beyond the role Nokia assigned to it a few years ago, of being a single hub connecting a user's whole lifestyle from work to digital content to communication; and becoming the key tool for a user's full participation in the virtual community.

In terms of applications, Nokia sees location awareness as critical to social networking, and is working with a widening selection of Web 2.0-oriented software houses. These include embedding the Flickr client in the Gallery application on some handsets, and working with MySpace. As with Web 1.0, though, most early players are struggling with ways to monetize their investments, and Nokia is no exception.

WidSets should appeal to end users and enterprises, providing a single Java dashboard for all content and the ability to create or suggest their own widgets to enhance the platform. But the company admits it is harder to work out how to generate revenue from this, beyond a hoped-for boost to handset sales - though advertising is an obvious option.

Nokia will also need to decide on whether to collect this revenue itself or leave it to cellcos to do. It has recently - with the launch of its own music download store, for instance - showed signs of wanting to provide content and Web 2.0-style services directly, under its own brand, partnering with companies like Yahoo but sidelining the role of the cellco as content provider.

The balance between vendor and operator brands, and the position of both in the increasingly complex mobile value chain, are two of the ongoing critical themes of the current telecoms world, and Nokia will be hoping that its Web 2.0 weapons strengthen its own bargaining power.

The focus on such concepts not only aims to keep Nokia in its number one spot for mobile devices but also to accelerate its shift towards software, rather than hardware design, as its key differentiator. Software platforms can be licensed, where appropriate to the vendor's model, and their elements can often be developed once and adapted to different markets, such as enterprise and consumer.

They also create a far larger barrier to entry for challengers than handset design on its own - an area where Nokia has made various missteps, such as ignoring the clamshell for so long, and where the whole sector is subject to constant leapfrogging, with associated spiralling R&D and design costs.

Jarkko Sairanen, VP of corporate strategy, said in an interview: "In the short term we'll make money from selling devices... whether that will be changing over the coming years remains to be seen."

Copyright © 2006, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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