Looking to merge mobile phones with PCs, Nokia has expanded its presence in Silicon Valley and is exploring a wireless network that local developers can use to try out new applications.
At its recently opened Nokia Research Center in Palo Alto, California, the Finnish mobile giant is opening up its local research efforts by bringing in startups and developers to talk about new ideas. Previously, Nokia's work here was focused on supporting the company's internal efforts, said Tero Ojanpera, Nokia's executive vice president and CTO.
Ojanpera and other executives spoke at Nokia's Mobile Mash-Up event on Tuesday in Santa Clara, which brought together venture capitalists, developers, and partners to discuss new mobile applications. The world's largest mobile handset maker is reaching beyond phones into handheld data devices, such as the N800 Wi-Fi computer, and sees mobile platforms at the heart of future computing, they said. Along with that, they want a more open development culture similar to that of the PC industry, in which ideas percolate up from many small startups.
"As long as it touches mobility, we're interested in it," said Bob Iannucci, senior vice president and head of the Nokia Research Center.
The company is studying the possibility of a wireless network on which developers and selected consumers could try out new applications, Iannucci said. The network might use 3G (third-generation) cellular, WiMax, Wi-Fi or a combination of those and other technologies and could be available in several linked areas, such as Palo Alto and Berkeley, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Nokia has another development facility, he said. It would initially be limited to a few thousand developers and users, such as university students. The plan is long term, possibly building up to serving 1,000 people within two years, he said.
One example of mobile innovation that Nokia showed off at the event was Point & Find, based on technology the company acquired along with a startup called Pixto. Point & Find lets people point a camera phone at an object or picture and find out more about it or buy it just by clicking once when its name comes up on the screen. It works by linking a set of image properties with a URL for information about what's in the image. When a user points the phone's camera at something, the system compares what the viewfinder sees with sets of image properties in a database. Also taking into consideration the user's location, it then delivers useful information about what the user is looking at.
For example, pointing the phone at a movie poster and pressing a key could make a page pop up that offers an ad for the movie and a way to buy a ticket at the theater nearest the user. Pointing the phone at the street might bring up a contact page for a local cab company. The system could give retailers, transit agencies, manufacturers, and others the chance to reach consumers while making it easier and more intuitive for consumers to find things, Nokia said. Point & Find was demonstrated at Mobile Mash-Up but is still under development.