Nokia Pushing Convergent Technologies

Finnish wireless phone maker Nokia is extending its reach
to devices that don’t involve a PC with the development of next-generation
products using Flash and Visual Basic, officials announced Wednesday.

The introduction this week of Flash technology in its cable TV set-top
boxes and a Visual Basic platform for one of its digital wireless
telephones marks the company’s first baby steps into the world of
converging technologies. It’s expected that consumer demand will expand
the products and services worldwide.

So far, converging technologies, like those used in set-top boxes and
wireless phones, have met with little demand. Cahner’s In-Stat/MDR, an
Arizona-based research firm, predicts that trend will change in the coming
years as more and more consumers become aware of the advantages the new
technology will bring.

In-Stat predicts a 41 percent annual growth in Internet access devices
between 2000 and 2005, even though PC’s and wireless phones will continue
to dominate that growth.

Cindy Wolf, In-Stat analyst, said the industry’s ability to grow at its
current pace will be undercut by the many devices coming out in the near
future.

“Despite our optimistic forecast for this market, there are still several
factors affecting all of its individual segments,” she said. “In the coming
years many of these product segments will face increased competition from
each other as device functionality converges.”

To answer that challenge, Nokia has set its operations on bringing a wide
variety of its own branded products into the converging technology arena.

The Nokia Mediaterminal, a digital cable set-top box used for interactive
TV, now includes Flash programming so users and marketers can take
advantage of services like interactive advertising, electronic programming
guides and personalized settings.

Peter Meechan, Macromedia vice president, said Flash’s existence on 98
percent of the world’s PCs makes its migration to Internet devices a
natural extension.

“What’s exciting about Flash in Nokia’s first digital convergence product
is that in addition to applications like digital recording and gaming, you
have a home entertainment system that provides a compelling reason for the
1.2 million Flash developers out there to make more applications on these
devices,” he said.


Meechan said Flash development for set-top boxes brings its own challenges,
given less-powerful CPUs, the memory constraints, less display resolution
and lack of navigation devices (like mouses and keyboards) when compared to
the PC.

Macromedia also has Flash supporting deals with set-top makers OpenTV,
Liberate Technologies and Microsoft TV.


Flash technology also lets home users surf Web sites heavy in Flash
programming, one of the main developer languages used in advanced Web site
design (the other is Java). With the Nokia media terminal, users can also
play back downloaded MP3 audio files.

Response to set-top services has so far been tepid, with companies like AOL
Time Warner and Microsoft Corp. seeing
lukewarm response to their AOL
TV
and Ultimate
TV
products.

But some industry analysts expect the technology train to pick up steam as
consumers become more comfortable with new technologies.

Michelle Abraham, an In-Stat multimedia services senior analyst, said
although only about seven million set-top boxes have been sold by September
2001, a boom in interactive TV is down the road, with annual shipments to
reach as much as 26 million in 2005.

“Recently the question of whether the digital TV set market has been a boom
or bust has arisen. The answer to this question depends both on the region,
the definition of a digital TV set, and the original expectations of those
asking the question,” she said. “In our opinion, hitting 26 million units
seven years after introduction qualifies DTV sets as a boom market, not a
bust.”

Mobile enterprise is a market Nokia has long courted to expand its wireless
phone product line.

On Tuesday, officials
announced
VB developers would be able to create applications for their
Nokia 9200 Communicator series of mobile phones, although the term phone is
a misnomer. In addition to making phone calls, it’s innards open up to
give users a personal digital assistant (PDA)-like environment with
applications like

The company penned a deal with AppForge to create a toolkit for programmers
of the object-oriented language, which is now available. AppForge has
plenty of experience in creating toolkits for Internet-enable devices, having
worked with Palm in the past
to create a VB toolkit for their personal
digital assistant (PDA) line.

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