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Staying Cool at Nokia

Staying Cool at Nokia

How new design chief Alastair Curtis keeps the hot handsets coming

By Jack Ewing
BusinessWeek Online

Alastair Curtis, Nokia Corp.'s design chief, loves to say that his job "is much more than just style."

To ward off the generic and boring, Curtis has teams of scouts tramping through Milan, Rio de Janeiro, and other centers of fashion and youth culture. They speak to architects, furniture designers, paint specialists, plastics engineers, and students. "By observing people, you see the way they interact, the way they do things, the strange rituals they have," says Curtis, who makes a point of visiting public spaces such as parks to see how people use their phones. One insight: People tend to share photos by simply passing the handset to a friend. So Nokia built some of its newest N series models with screens that fold out and pivot for easier sharing.

Curtis, a graduate of London's Royal College of Art, jets constantly between Nokia design centers in Helsinki, London, Los Angeles, and Beijing. But he never loses touch with top managers or sales executives. "In addition to being a designer, he thinks and speaks in business terms," says Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. Dreaming is also part of the job, which Curtis sometimes does while out for lengthy rides on his racing bike. "You think five years out, six years out, and then you come back in. You create stepping stones to the future," he says.

So where do those steps lead? Nokia's trend oracles say customers will want to be connected all the time, seeing their handsets as entertainment centers and as a way to share their lives with friends and family. "We are moving away from phones as tools to phones as companions," says Elise Levanto, Nokia's "senior consumer vision manager." The N93, due out later this year, plays music, shoots high-quality video, surfs the Net, and has a fold-out 2.4-inch screen for watching TV. Further away are phones that will capture an image of an object, and then search the Net for more information about it. Point the handset at a bus to get the schedule, for example, or aim your phone at a restaurant to read a review. Says Curtis: "What you see today is nothing compared to what you're going to see." Nokia is counting on him to see it before anyone else.
If you really think critically about the types of applications that Nokia is envisioning for the next five or six years, you will realize that there will have to be a shift on the device side to the use of personal eyeglass displays. When Nokia talks about aiming your phone at a restaurant to read a review, they are talking about next-generation location-based services, or consumer augmented reality services.

As described here many times, Microvision's technology is uniquely suited to meeting the information display needs of the mobile industry's next generation devices, due to the inherent qualities of scanning beams of light vs. fixed-pixel, flat plane displays.


  1. It's a fact that what these company's are planning is kept close to the vest so as to keep one step ahead of the competition. I bet Tokman would love to share all the facts about who they are in active talks with and exactly who is doing what. But if you look at who he is luring away from GE and who is buying millions of stocks and warrants that should speak volumes. I think it took was it four days to sell all the shares?

  2. These guys who leave GE to move across the country to run Microvision did not come here to fall on their face in the first six months.

    They came to take a tiny little company and make it a big success (and make a ton of money, I'm sure).

    Just a really tough market right now, and in the absence of hard news about revenue, we'll just go where the market takes us, it seems.


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