Nokia N8 - delay or no delay?

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This week we've seen an increasing amount of speculation that the Nokia N8 has been delayed. This speculation is the latest in a long line of rumours about the N8's availability; something which has seemingly become almost standard for high profile devices. This time round the rumours range from a delay of a few weeks up to around a month and a half. So what's the reality? Has the N8 been delayed?

Delay or no delay?

Here's what Nokia Conversations, Nokia's official blog has to say on the matter:

As we have previously said, we still expect to start the shipments by the end of the third quarter. As with every global launch, when the device reaches the hand of the customer will vary by market and operator.

We have received a record number of online pre-orders for the Nokia N8. We had targeted our online pre-order customers to receive their N8s by the end of September. As it can take time from the beginning of shipment to arriving at their doorstep, in full transparency, we have advised our pre-order customers that they should expect their new Nokia N8 in October.

At the N8's launch in April, Nokia stated that it would be available in Q3 (i.e. between July 1st and September 30th). Past experience suggests that devices tend to be available in small numbers, in select markets, in their launch quarter, and become more widely available in the following quarter. A good example of this was the first S60 5th Edition device, the 5800, which launched in a handful of market in Q4 2008 (Russia launch), before becoming more widely available in Q1 2009 (UK launch).

Since the N8's launch, Nokia has never deviated from its Q3 estimate in public statements. Of course, there have been various retailers, including Nokia's own online shops, who have accepted pre-orders with delivery estimates ranging from late August to October. It's not unreasonable to draw the conclusion, from these various pre-order delivery estimates, that Nokia hoped to ship the N8 in early September. However, a commitment to 'not ship until it's ready', largely the result of learning's from the N97, meant that didn't happen. A 'delay' of a few weeks to improve the initial user experience is well worthwhile, both for consumers and for longer term sales (initial device reception and operator uptake being two big factors in the overall device sales equation).

Nokia will no doubt ship the N8 somewhere in the world in Q3 and don't be too surprised if there's a press statement to that effect on September 30th. All Nokia need to do to meet their Q3 deadline in name is to have one N8 leave the factory in retail condition. Given the time-scales and logistics involved, widespread shipments now look set to begin in October.

So is there a delay or not? Ultimately, it comes down to a question of semantics. What constitutes a delay? Missing an internal timeline (which probably has happened) or missing an external timeline (which, in precise terms, has not happened)?

I think the reality is that the N8's is going to be on shop shelves around three to four weeks later than Nokia originally intended. However, it will still, technically, fall within the Q3 launch window. So a delay or not? You decide!

Oh, and incidentally, those who have already pre-ordered will get their handsets in early October. If you order now you'll likely have to wait until the end of October. Maybe that's another kind of delay though!

Why the excitement?

Bearing in mind that the N8 is only a phone (gasp), you might be forgiven for wondering why there's so much fuss about the exact launch date. Part of this can be explained by the high profile of the device. After all, the N8 is one of Nokia's most important launches of the last few years. It has been described as the device that represents 'the start of Nokia's fight back'. While that might be a little melodramatic, there's no doubting that the first Symbian^3 handset is an important waypoint for Nokia as it seeks to regain momentum in the high end. 

As such, the N8 is receiving attention from both the media and a small number of consumers. However, this should be seen in the proper context. The vast majority of people who will buy an N8 will never hear about or be aware of any of the delay speculation. Day one device sales may be important, but they are dwarfed by the sales numbers of the following weeks and months.

And while timing is important, especially moving into Q4, it seems unlikely that a 'delay' of a few weeks will make a big difference, especially when you consider the trio of Symbian^3 devices following in the wake of the N8. 

Rafe Blandford, AAS, 22 Sept 2010