Spec Wars? What Spec Wars?

Wed, 02/29/2012 - 6:15am
Monica Alleven

BARCELONA—Well, one of them started it. It's just not clear exactly which one. The "it" in this case being the friendly feud between Nokia CEO and President Stephen Elop and HTC co-founder and CEO Peter Chou, who shared the morning keynote stage here Wednesday at Mobile World Congress (MWC) along with foursquare's Dennis Crowley.

By most accounts, it appeared to have started backstage, before moderator Rajeev Chand of Rutberg & Co. had a chance to sit the two OEM chiefs down, once and for all, after their presentations and compare the basic outward appearance of their companies' respective phones. (Which were pretty similar on the outside but, of course, different on the inside.)

Scratch that – this war apparently started more than a month ago, back at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

During his presentation, Elop referred back to CES when he also shared a stage with Chou, who announced a 16-megapixel phone. Of course, at the time, Elop admitted, Nokia & Company publicly responded to HTC's accomplishment with the sentiment that it's not the number of megapixels but the algorithms and other engineering feats in a device that really matter.

All the while, they went back home to work on that camera. Hence, "it's time to announce the 41-megapixel camera," Elop said, laughingly adding: "Sorry, Peter."

Nokia this week introduced the Nokia 808 PureView with 41-megapixel sensor. The HTC Titan II introduced in January sports a 16-megapixel camera.

Elop went on to describe how Nokia views the mobile ecosystem and sees a very real opportunity to create the third ecosystem. He noted that one year after announcing the deal with Microsoft, Nokia is offering four Windows phones, the Lumia 710, 800, 900 and most recently, the more affordable 610, which is designed to catch the eye of those higher-end feature phone users who haven't yet adopted a smartphone.

Elop also outlined some of Nokia's current philosophy, which includes participating in the app economy and making sure it's sustainable. He also used the occasion as an opportunity to talk about Nokia's expertise in mapping and how it plans to leverage that with continued investment.

While the "who, what and where" are three things that guide people throughout their day, Nokia wants to be the one to enhance the "where" part of that equation. Nokia also intends to provide the widest array of payment and monetization options; it has operator billing in place with 150 operators in 40 markets. It also offers micropayments, in-app purchasing and in-app ads that are often supported by third-party ad networks, he said.

Earlier during his part of the keynote session, Chou talked about how HTC's design skills really excel with Sense 4, the latest iteration of Sense that's featured in the new HTC One, which will be available through AT&T in coming months.

Between Elop's presentation and the time for keynoters to take their seats for a Q&A, Chou asked for a moment to respond to Elop's CES story. With permission granted, Chou shared his version of what happened that day in Las Vegas, at one point at which he realized: "I know this guy will come back."

After all was said and done, Chou put his arm around Elop in a gesture of friendly rivalry and took his seat for the roundtable discussion.

Asked about Nokia's expectations for Windows phones, Elop reminded the crowd that MWC is of two minds, the public setting that sees the announcements and the private meetings with operators that take place in small rooms where next-generation models and plans are discussed.  Elop also said what he's said previously: Nokia's No. 1 focus is competing with Android.

Is it a spec war, around processing power or megapixels? Elop said he hopes it isn't; the discussion should be centered around what consumers want, a sentiment that Chou agreed with.

For his part, foursquare's Crowley didn't pick a favorite between HTC and Nokia devices but diplomatically pointed out that people like to personalize their phones with stickers and phones reflect the unique personalities of their owners.


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