|Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo|
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — When you’re going to be interviewed about the mobile device industry, there’s a very good chance you’ll be asked about the hot-selling iPhone. Nokia’s president and CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, didn’t wait for the question.
“I’m the first one to note, before being asked, that Apple made a big favor to this industry to show the U.S. and other consumers that this can be very exciting,” Kallasvuo said shortly after the start of last night’s Churchill Club event, where he was the featured speaker.
Later, moderator and Forbes magazine publisher Rich Karlgaard, asked Kallasvuo if he specifically liked the iPhone.
“Whether I like it or not, I definitely admire the people who make it happen,” Kallasvuo said. “I give Apple a lot of credit and thank Apple. They have done a service to the community. We have a credible competitor.”
“For the time being, they’re a niche player globally, but I need to take my hat off to them. It’s well done. We need to be able to respond.”
Part of that response is expected today in London, where Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is set to unveil its own touchscreen-based smartphone, called “Tube”.
In addition to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Kallasvuo didn’t shy away from volunteering about his company’s other competitors — and hinting at how the world’s largest handset maker plans to fight back.
He said “the jury is still out” on the emerging line of phones powered by the Google-backed Android operating system, and he’s waiting to see what new things they can bring to the market.
Kallasvuo credited Research in Motion (RIM) for “the clever manner it defined a solution behind the firewall” for its BlackBerry line. “When you buy a BlackBerry, you’re buying a solution, not a device,” he said.
The BlackBerry’s tight integration with corporate e-mail is “a good example of what can be done,” Kallasvuo added, promising Nokia will offer a range of integrated services far beyond what RIM (NASDAQ: RIMM) has accomplished to date.
One area where Nokia expects to become a bigger player is in consumer e-mail services for mobile devices, a space that he said need to be handled very differently than corporate e-mail.
As for Microsoft, Kallasvuo said he sees Nokia both competing and cooperating with the software giant for years to come. An example of cooperation he cited was a recent agreement to support Microsoft’s (NASDAQ: MSFT) Exchange software in its S60 line, for compatibility with corporate e-mail systems.
Open devices and the next wave of mobile innovation
Kallasvuo also had a great deal to say about the state of innovation here, saying that thinks U.S. companies and Silicon Valley will drive the next wave of mobile development.
The reason, he added, is that there’s a concentration of Internet companies and expertise in the U.S. that will be central to developing the next generation of phones and services. Nokia itself has about 600 employees based in Silicon Valley.
“We’re making the transformation happen here, but I’m the first to admit we need more skills, people and more partnering,” Kallasvuo said. “That’s very, very clear.”
He also emphasized Nokia’s commitment to openness, as evidenced by its recent decision to buy out the entirety of the organization behind the Symbian mobile operating system — Nokia already owned a stake in the firm — and make its software open source.
Though he’s read reports that making Symbian open source was a reaction to Google’s Android open source model, Kallasvuo insisted that wasn’t the case.
“I would almost say the boldness of the move is a good illustration of why it’s not defensive at all,” he said. “Openness is very much in our DNA, and it was time to extend that to the operating system platform.”
Kallasvuo also gave his view of the next big direction for mobile devices; in two words, it’s “adding context.” He mentioned location-based services that have e-commerce potential and will also let your friends know where you are, and vice versa.
“It’s the next big opportunity,” he said.
And the phone giant has the resources to pursue it. A year ago this month, Nokia announced its blockbuster purchase of Chicago-based Navteq for $8.1 billion. Navteq is a leading provider of digital map information for automotive navigation systems, mobile navigation devices and Internet-based mapping applications.