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As rivals eat humble pie, Apple plots its next

When Nokia launches an Android phone, you know the world has changed. Wait, Nokia’s mobile business is not even Finnish, and we can quite sympathise with nationalists in Helsinki after the company sold its mobile phone unit to Microsoft.

columns Updated: Mar 03, 2014 00:31 IST
N Madhavan
Nokia

When Nokia launches an Android phone, you know the world has changed. Wait, Nokia’s mobile business is not even Finnish, and we can quite sympathise with nationalists in Helsinki after the company sold its mobile phone unit to Microsoft.

For nearly two decades, the world watched in awe as Nokia brought Finland on to the world map like never before, championing sturdy handphones. In hindsight, the company relied too much on its engineering power and brand strength, not realising what Apple did: that Internet is an ecosystem in which openness pays more than closed loops do.

Microsoft’s Windows Mobile is also late to the party, and has used Nokia’s strength to build itself up. But there is little doubt what really matters in the coming days is not the handset but the strength of apps and services that can be run on smartphones and tablets.

So, at the annual Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Nokia’s Android launch was complemented by BlackBerry launching a handset as cheap as about Rs 12,000.

The giants are eating humble pie but for Samsung and Apple. Samsung has moved one step ahead. Apart from launching its S5 handset, it also unveiled its Gear fitness tracker and smartwatch.

App-centric devices are evidently the next wave in gizmos.

Last week, Apple said the Apple TV generated more than $1 billion in hardware and content sales in the last fiscal year. Apple has long referred to its set-top box for television sets as a “hobby” but CEO Tim Cook now says it a “little more difficult to call it a hobby.”

Apple did not invent either the MP3 player or the smartphone. But in both cases, it created a full ecosystem (iTunes and the iOS apps) that made it the cool, smart company in the space. Apple TV may be ready for such a leap as smart TVs get smarter and online videos and video apps take over living rooms.

In brief: brands do not matter much in the digital age if new products or services are not built into them or around them. Rumours have it that we should await a gee-whiz Apple TV soon. That might be the biggest thing since the iPad.