BARCELONA—Anyone who expected sparks to fly during today’s keynote that featured both Nokia CEO Stephen Elop and Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie was sorely disappointed as the two were perfectly civil with one another.
The topic of the panel was “Connecting the Dots: A 360 Degree View on Consumer Electronics,” so as moderator Ben Wood of CCS Insight pointed out at the start, the subject of Nokia’s partnership with Microsoft on Windows Phone 7 would not be a big part of the agenda. The news that was announced Friday has dominated a lot of the discussions here at Mobile World Congress (MWC).
But in a Q&A with panelists after their individual presentations, Wood did ask them about Elop’s widely reported comments regarding the desire to create a “third ecosystem,” one that left RIM out of the equation. Asked about how RIM remains relevant in that kind of scenario, Balsillie talked about providing efficiencies that are light – as in non-taxing – on the carrier networks and resources, including energy, in addition to security. A common theme of his comments revolved around partnering with carriers, which RIM has done for years around the world quite successfully.
For his part, Elop said the third ecosystem is about a philosophy or point of view. He and Balsillie will have healthy competition in some markets, he said, but there’s a shared philosophy as well, and that appears to be in aligning with the carriers.
The discussion quickly turned to the only operator represented on the panel, NTT DoCoMo President and CEO Ryuji Yamada, who said what’s most important for network operators is to make sure they are not reduced to the dumb pipe. DoCoMo is determined to avoid that by all means, and having intelligence reside on the network is part of that strategy, he said. By way of example, the carrier has embarked on an automatic language translation service, in which the translation is done by the network.
Wood noted that Google demonstrated a translation service of its own at last year’s MWC, and the DoCoMo executive acknowledged that it’s a race between network operators and those that offer such services as third parties, but he said DoCoMo is determined to win the race.
In his prepared remarks, Paul Jacobs, president and CEO of Qualcomm, said the wireless industry has gone through radical change in the past 10 years, transitioning from a voice-centric service to data, and he even mentioned the PDQ device that Qualcomm launched about 13 years ago that didn’t do too well in the market – that was back when Qualcomm had a handset division – but the innovation in the industry over the years has led to where it’s at today – a very Internet anywhere/anytime-focused place.
Elop emphasized what Nokia and the industry can do to connect the unconnected in regions around the world, including those in lower income areas. Nokia wants to connect more people regardless of the economic pyramid. It also wants to expand Nokia Money and other services, introducing more services at affordable price points.
Balsillie was particularly proud to show off the BlackBerry PlayBook, RIM’s first tablet device. He said the essential question going on at the show revolves around how mobile operators and consumer electronics manufacturers work together in a world of over-top-players and those who will go around the carriers. In his view, it’s about constructive alignment between the carrier and consumer electronics companies to create transformative experiences for consumers where there is sustained prosperity for the carriers.
When the topic of North American-centric innovation came up, Jacobs said only 5 percent of Qualcomm’s revenue is coming from the United States, whereas it’s growing in mostly Asia. “I think innovation is coming from a lot of places,” he said. The nice thing about wireless and its global nature is collecting best efforts from all over the world, he said.
Elop said he’s the leader of a proud Finnish company based in Europe, and when one of the first images of its new products got leaked to Engadget, he was told it was the single most popular in the site’s history, which illustrates how much attention Nokia can get even when it has not been a popular device maker for the United States of late.