When we warned Apple to look out for Nokia's XpressMusic cellphones, it seems we were pretty near the mark: At the launch event in London yesterday for the 5800 XpressMusic cell phone some 150 people turned up — with a line going around the block — just to get hold of one. This was in the dingy, rainy, cold British weather even.
The event was at Nokia's flagship Regent Street store, and the small queue had been forming since the evening before. It's worth noting that when the iPhone was launched at Apple's store nearby only around 100 people turned up — and both the iPhone and 5800 were available at other retail sites too.
Part of the draw must've been the fact that the first 200 buyers were treated to extra gifts: a bundle of three films from Futureshorts and some free music-based apps. The first 100 buyers also got tickets to the giant music festival Benicassim in Spain, which is a neat tie-in to the music capabilities of the phone.
The first buyer, Guy Browne, underlined in an interview why Apple should take note: "I like my electronics. It’s good value for money, it’s 100 pounds cheaper than the iPhone."
Another buyer noted that: "I’ve had a mobile phone for the last 20 years, and I’ve always had a Nokia." Nokia's such a big player in the market that people have grown used to doing things the Nokia way, in terms of interacting with their cells to call and send texts. Personally I've always found Nokia's UI to be dreadful, but your mileage may vary...and the brand has undeniable momentum, so the 5800 will undoubtedly soak up some market share.
The pricing of the 5800 will attract the attention of Apple's execs for sure—they've already admitted they're looking into the iPhone's pricing structure. And the technical specs will be of interest to them also: Out of the box the 5800 does turn-by-turn GPS navigation—which the iPhone doesn't, though Apple's been researching that technology — and it has stereo Bluetooth, expandable memory via SD card, video recording and MMS, all of which beats Apple's device.
Apple does have its tight iPhone UI and integrated iTunes ecosystem for music and apps though, and those will both be hard nuts to crack for Nokia. Its XpressMusic system is aimed directly at iTunes, with millions of DRM-protected tracks that play on XpressMusic handsets, and must've represented a large investment on Nokia's behalf.
Nokia's clearly hoping to blaze a new trail for itself with the 5800—it's a touchscreen first, and is designed to compete in the smartphone market alongside the iPhone, G1 and upcoming Palm Pre, all of which have attracted massive public attention. Nokia clearly needs the phone to be a success too, after reporting lower than predicted profits, and a 10% slip in year-on-year handset sales.
The timing of the 5800's launch in other countries is also key, especially since there are hints about the upcoming G2 Android phone. And Apple has clearly been beavering away behind the scenes on the iPhone version 3, which has an extra year of Apple's R&D behind it.