Tales of a Nokia World Newbie

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For those who don't know, I only started out on my writing career late last year. So, not only was Nokia World 2010 the first Nokia event I'd attended, but it was the first event I'd attended as a member of the press. It was also the first time I'd met other members of the All About Symbian team in person, having previously only spoken via Skype. One thing is for sure, those two days at the ExCeL Centre were certainly a learning experience for me. I hope what follows will be of particular use and interest for anyone who is hoping to follow the same path as I'm currently forging - i.e. technology journalism. To those of you with more experience and for whom this sort of event holds no novelty, I at least hope to inspire a little nostalgia :-)

Attending Nokia World 2010 as press

Attending Nokia World 2010 as press

Getting up and at it

Having clocked up a serious amount of miles the previous day, and having had little sleep due to unfamiliar surroundings, I began my first day of Nokia World surprisingly clear headed. The first order of business was to get to the Nokia World area of the ExCeL Centre and find somewhere to sit down while the team assembled! Ewan and I were the first to arrive, and he wasted no time in grabbing his first podcast interview. Unfortunately, it was not meant to be that the whole team would be in the same place at the same time, as Steve wasn't able to attend due to a family crisis, sadly. However, Richard (Bloor) and Rafe soon turned up, and Ewan set to recording the first segment of our on-location podcast. Being surrounded by Nokia employees, it was good to see we were the first press team getting to work - How could I tell? Everyone's passes and lanyards were coloured coded by profession!

David looks on as Ewan gets the first podcast interview of the day

I look on as Ewan gets the first podcast interview of the day

The first session of the day was the keynote speeches. Attendance was high this year and so walking into the auditorium was quite an awe inspiring sight, both for the size of audience and the panoramic screen that had been constructed for displaying presentations. After a few chats to PR people on the side of the hall, we took our seats and started spreading out our equipment. Rafe was providing live coverage and I was on photo duty. This is where one of the persistent problems at Nokia World reared its head - connectivity. Members of the press were issued with a card telling them which WiFi access point to use, and its password. Rafe could only only get an intermittent signal, and the netbook he had lent to me couldn't get any signal at all. To add to the connectivity problems, my Vodafone-toting E72 couldn't get a signal either, so tethering was out of the question. Thankfully, photo duty was still possible with my trusty N82, thanks to GiffGaff having such a strong signal.

Lesson #1

When attending large press events, don't rely on complementary connectivity; bring your own, and bring a back-up! 

The Nokia World 2010 keynote stage

The Nokia World 2010 keynote stage

After resigning ourselves to the limited connectivity, we settled down for the keynotes. With the departure of Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia's now-ex CEO, and the intended resignation of Executive VP Anssi Vanjoki, I was curious to see how the keynotes would be handled. Niklas Savander (Executive VP of markets) took OPK's place, making one very quick initial comment without even naming OPK, and then jumped into a speech quoting the previously published line of "starting the fightback with the N8". He went on to confidently quote sales figures and the reach of Nokia's service layer; no surprises, but good copy.

Niklas was followed by Anssi Vanjoki, who I had been looking forward to seeing, partly because it would be the last chance to see him speak for Nokia. His speech was heavily focussed on the new devices: how the C6(01) and C7 offered a rich social layer, how great the N8's camera is, and he pitched the E7 as the return of the communicator grade device. He even addressed the criticism that I am anticipating Symbian^3 will face (that the user interface looks, at a cursory level, the same as Symbian^1), by making the analogy of someone not buying a new car just because the dashboard looks like that of their old car.

Anssi Vanjoki making his final keynote

Anssi Vanjoki making his final Nokia World keynote

No plan survives first contact with the enemy

Once the keynotes were done, I headed to the press room to type up the final keynote, which I'd covered solo. The main work area was a long row of tables, with IBM Thinkpads, connected via Ethernet. Most people were pushing the Thinkpads out of the way and taking the Ethernet for their own laptops though. Space was certainly at a premium, and I saw some journalists choosing to sit on the floor against the wall, just to get a mains supply. I got to work on my story, and there was a certain novelty to be sat writing my story among other journalists and bloggers; as opposed to where I am writing this story - at home on my own computer. It was a buzz, but the hectic atmosphere wasn't really conducive to clear thinking. On the other hand, being in the same space as my colleagues was certainly useful for having impromptu conflabs. One last thing, as an Ubuntu user, using the unfamiliar Windows 7 was something of a hindrance too.

Lesson #2

Have your own laptop with your own software and connectivity (see #1), then find as peaceful a work-place as possible.

My first glimpse of the Nokia World 2010 Experience Lounge

My first glimpse of the Nokia World 2010 Experience Lounge

I had scheduled myself to sit in on quite a few of the Speakers' Corner talks on the afternoon, although what with writing up my keynote coverage as quickly as I could and having a few team discussions, I ended up missing the first, and the second wrapped up early. So I had some spare time on my hands to explore the experience lounge. After such a long night and morning, trying to take in all of the demonstrations and displays hosted in the experience lounge was quite overwhelming, and my initial walk around proved to be more of a reconnaissance trip for the following day.

Marko Ahtisaari, senior VP of design, at Speakers' Corner

Marko Ahtisaari, senior VP of design, at Speakers' Corner

In the end, I only caught two complete Speakers' Corner talks. First was the 'Smart Design' talk by Nokia's senior vice president of design, Marko Ahtisaari, where he talked about current design plans, both in hardware and user interface, and their intentions for the future. The intriguing take-away line from his talk was "Nokia wants to let people have their head up again, by giving a glancable user interface". The next talk was something that didn't really have any bearing on the Nokia scene, but it was a very cool talk by Jane McGonigal (PhD), giving a speech on how video games can save the world, very much based on her popular TED Talk. Not helpful for a new journalist wanting to report on Nokia news, but it was certainly an enriching talk to have attended.

Jane McGonigal (PhD) at Speakers' Corner talking about making the world better through video gaming

Jane McGonigal (PhD) at Speakers' Corner, talking about making the world better through video gaming

At the end of day one, I was utterly worn out. The All About Symbian team met up for a quick podcast session to talk about our impressions of the day. After which, Ewan snagged the guys from Rovio (of Angry Birds fame) for a podcast inteview, which the rest of us sat in on.

There is always an evening party after the first day of Nokia World, and that would have been the next part of this feature, but I'm afraid that I was far too tired to attend - So that was that for day one. I had planned to be constantly posting content from the show floor, but what with trying to get around talks and getting written content to All About Symbian on the day, it just didn't work out that way.

Lesson #3

Don't have any expectations about how you'll be able to spend your time, these events are really unpredictable.

Day Two

The second day was much simpler, by comparison, because there were less scheduled events. So, there was more freedom to look at things, take a step back and think, write notes, and then move on. Of course, there were keynotes in the morning, which were kicked off by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, and then followed by S40 and emerging market announcements from Mary McDowell.

Once the keynotes were done, it was back up to the press room for a little editing of the previous day's work, again hunting for available power outlets. Not finding any, I opted to use one of the complementary Thinkpads, rather than Rafe's netbook. It was great that Nokia provided these computers, but their Finnish keyboard layout rather slowed me down. Using the Thinkpad made me wonder about security and privacy. I made sure I was using the private browsing mode so that my passwords and browsing history wouldn't be saved, but I wonder how many other journalists and bloggers were?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee speaking at Nokia World 2010

Once I'd done some preparation for people I was hoping to meet, it was back down to the Experience Lounge, which was perhaps the most fun part of the two days for me. Having looked around the day before, I had an idea of where the most interesting things were. Still though, for anyone who had gone to all the keynotes, and several Speakers' Corner talks, there was just too much to see in the Experience Lounge. Don't get me wrong, that's a good thing, although if I had my time over again, I think I might have spent it differently.

I had been undecided how I would take notes, I had my E72 for typing or voice recording, and I'd even brought along a notepad and pen. Straight away, it was clear that the space was too noisy for audio recording. So, having tried to makes notes from memory immediately after a couple of chats, I decided making on-the-fly written notes was the way to go. So off I went, feeling like an old school journalist with paper and pen for the rest of the afternoon; and of course the N82 was on call for photography duty. The paper notes were then typed up on my E72 during my train ride home, and emailed to myself for back-up purposes.

I was genuinely enthused by all the current and future tech that I saw at Nokia World, and I'm looking forward to carrying on writing it all up for you to read here on All About Symbian. Did I enjoy my experience? Yes, absolutely, there are some great people in this community. The whole event was a great learning experience for me, and I'm looking forward to my next chance to report on a large event.

David Gilson for All About Symbian, 21st September 2010