Did Nokia CEO Stephen Elop trust too fully in a roomful of strangers, or is he trying to start a viral online campaign about his company's upcoming Windows Phone devices?
That's the question after Elop flashed a smartphone running Windows Phone at a crowd of people, seconds after asking them to put away their cameras. "I'm going to share something with you," he said, "something that is super-confidential and we do not want to see out in the blogosphere."
However, the audience not only refused to put away their cameras-but at least two started shooting video, capturing in full glory what looked like a Nokia N9 smartphone running Microsoft's mobile operating system, a project apparently code-named "Sea Ray." Those videos promptly found their way to the blogosphere.
(Two videos found online were clearly shot at an elevated angle, with the heads of other audience members at the extreme lower end of the frame. That suggests the devices taping Elop weren't exactly hidden, and perhaps gives weight to the idea that the "revelation" was in fact a deliberate attempt at disseminating information.)
As it currently exists, the N9 runs MeeGo, one of two operating systems that Nokia eventually plans to discontinue in favor of Windows Phone. One of the N9's main selling features is the ability to swipe a finger across the 3.9-inch AMOLED (active-matrix organic LED) screen to navigate away from an application. Nokia has curved the screen's edges in order to facilitate gesture control, and married it to a body engineered from a single piece of polycarbonate. Other hardware includes NFC (near-field communication) technology, which allows the user to share photos and other data by tapping their smartphone against another NFC-enabled device, and an 8-megapixel camera.
Despite MeeGo's eventual Nokia phase-out, Elop apparently seemed determined to use the N9 to demonstrate his company's aptitude for building high-end devices. "Innovation is the heart of our strategy, and today we took important steps to demonstrate a new pace of innovation at Nokia," he wrote in a June 20 statement tied to the N9's unveiling. "It's the beginning of a new era for Nokia."
In his remarks before revealing the N9-like smartphone running Windows Phone (and right after asking everyone to turn off their recording devices), he made a similar claim: "We think it's important for all of you to understand how this innovation lives on and how well we, as a company, are today executing."
It's that execution that has some analysts worried, especially considering how the first Nokia smartphones with Windows Phone aren't expected to debut before the end of 2011.
"We would continue to avoid the stock as Symbian smartphone sales are falling off faster than expected and we are skeptical that new Windows Phone (WP) models will be able to replace lost profits," Stephen Patel, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., wrote in a May 31 research note. "Our checks suggest mixed carrier support for Nokia's transition for WP."
Other analysts have been more upbeat, with research firm IDC predicting that Windows Phone, boosted by Nokia's worldwide reach, will eventually overcome both Apple's iOS and RIM's BlackBerry franchise to become the second-ranked smartphone platform (after Google Android) by 2015.