Nokia: From Cell Phones to Content, Social Media

NEW YORK Nokia’s purchase last week of Enpocket is yet another sign that the Finnish company plans on becoming much more to consumers than a seller of cell phones and multimedia devices.

The $57 billion manufacturing giant is embarking on a strategy to introduce content and services that connect consumers in ways that will put it in competition with social networking sites such as MySpace.

Case in point: Nokia’s rollout of a mobile content sharing platform known as MOSH, which enables consumers to swap photos, videos and audio files via cell phone. A beta version of MOSH—shorthand for mobilize and share—launched on Aug. 9 and by last week had attracted 2 million users, or an average of 100,000 a day, according to a Nokia representative.

Now Nokia is seeking a point person for the service who will interact with users, Nokia executives and outsiders, including the media. The position, which Nokia has dubbed “Russell,” is not unique to the Internet—Microsoft’s Xbox has “Major Nelson” who blogs, answers questions and monitors problems—but the move further illustrates the hardware manufacturer’s drive to reinvent itself.

“We see the growth of our company as getting into Internet services,” said George Linardos, director of business development and marketing for MOSH. “The idea behind that is we have a global user base of 850 million Nokia phone users. We’re selling phones at a pace of about a million phones a day right now.

“So, we truly have a broad network of users, and the smart phone category is just getting bigger and bigger,” Linardos said. “We’re putting so many phones out there that have advanced video capability and WiFi. So, the more that we can put services behind them, the more we can connect people, do really interesting things [and] grow ourselves in interesting ways.”

Nokia also is launching its own music store this fall under the banner of “Ovi,” a collection of Internet-based services that includes gaming and mapping. MOSH will generate revenue from banner and contextual ads and, like many of Nokia’s services, is accessible from all makes of phones.

The rationale for Nokia’s open sourcing approach is that the “day of the discrete device has passed and functions are converging on mobile phones,” according to a Gartner research report released Sept. 7.

But the Gartner report was skeptical of this premise: “It is not entirely true. Some consumers prefer converged devices and some prefer discrete devices. We feel Nokia would have a more credible message if it acknowledged this.”

The Enpocket deal—the terms of which were not disclosed—is expected to bolster Nokia’s abilities in the mobile ad platform realm. The 120-person shop will be integrated into Nokia’s still developing ad services offering, helmed by Enpocket CEO Mike Baker.

By providing content and services, Nokia also is rubbing up against the wireless carriers it supplies phones to. “Nokia is not intentionally trying to alienate operators—after all, they are its biggest customers,” the Gartner report noted. “It … will need their support if its new devices and services are to succeed.”

In many ways, the Russell search illustrates how Nokia is changing its game plan. A job description Nokia posted on technology-oriented blogs indicated that Russell will be the “face and voice” connecting MOSH to its core target of early adapters. The posting further noted that “if you’ve never imagined yourself working for a large corporation, you are probably right for the job” and that the hire won’t “participate in exercises such as ‘trust falls’ or be required to explain common sense in PowerPoint slides.”

The cheeky tone stems from MOSH being a “change agent exercise overall within Nokia,” explained Linardos. “We’ve been operating in ways that are a little different from the normal process. We’re obviously still respectful of protecting the interests of our company, but at the same time [we’re] trying to move at a different speed and with a greater authenticity in this space.”