Sunday, February 24, 2019

New Nokia phones

Because I've had two Nokia smartphones and also own some Nokia stocks (of a company that hopefully get some royalties from the licensee HMD for its Nokia-branded phones – although the primary source of income should be the propagation of the new generation 5G mobile data networks and devices now), I watched the today's Nokia event at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Five new phones were presented: a new cool dumb phone Nokia 210 for just $35 – the cheapest price to get to the Internet now (instead of one iPhone X, you may buy 28+ Nokias 210) and the phone actually has an App Store so "dumb" is probably misleading; three "roughly mid-range" smartphones of various sizes 1.1 Plus, 3.2, and 4.2 (with a small disk-shaped sensor inside the display instead of the notch); and especially the new Nokia 9 Pureview whose existence, appearance, and price was sort of leaked in advance.

But the HMD folks still presented some details that were stunning.

The phone will be available from March for just $699 – or roughly €599 – and it has 5 rear cameras, as expected. Two of them have color sensors and the remaining three are monochromatic – which actually sounds clever because the human eyes opportunistically incorporate some monochromatic cells in the retina, too. With these monochromatic cameras, they can collect all kinds of light and get to some amazing resolution.

Some clever combination of machine learning and other software may distinguish 1200 layers in the scene, basically an infinite number, and create pictures whose resolution is... and this is no typo... 240 megapixels. You probably run out of memory and disk space quickly if you store some raw files with these pictures LOL.

The number of megapixels is an old-fashioned "sports discipline" where we finally see some progress again. Note that with its Carl Zeiss optics, the top photographic older Nokia phones got to some amazing parameters. In particular, Nokia Lumia 1020 that was released already in 2013 had 41 megapixels. For quite some time, it was about the maximum that a mass-market camera phone offered. But finally, there's some visible progress – 240 megapixels is almost six times higher.

So the megapixels may still go up – and the Nokia brand will probably return to the optics of those users who take their photography a bit seriously. The resolution of smartphone displays has also gone up in recent years.

However, when it comes to the other parameters of computers, tablets, and smartphones, especially those that are relevant for calculations, would you agree that the progress has slowed down considerably? I still have this 17-inch laptop from 2012 – it is seven years old – and for the same price, I can actually only buy a laptop of the same size that has almost the same frequency of the microprocessor and the same memory. At least the doubled memory to 8 GB should be a necessary condition – but it seems the 4 GB laptops still dominate a bit.

These quantities describing the brute force used to follow Moore's law – and they were doubling every 18 months or so. I would have to look at the sources to get reminded what was the exact quantity that was growing at this rate. Whatever it was, it is absolutely self-evident that the progress has slowed down in the recent 7 years. There's been at most one doubling of the computers' brute power in those 7 years, I think. Would you agree with this summary?

Last year, the mass production of 7-nanometer chips began and next year, we may get the 5-nanometer ones. This progress in the size of the transistors still looked promising but how it translated to the actual power of the devices was less impressive. More seriously, the 5-nanometer size may be the end of the story because we have gotten too close to the size of the atoms, 0.1 nm or so, and the quantum tunneling that interferes with the "classical calculation" becomes impossible to neglect for the below 5 nm transistors.

If you watch the hype in the media and on social networks, you will see lots of Nokia cultists – and almost all of them are Indians. It's just amazing how these cultural preferences depend on the nationality. Look at the global Nokia vs Tesla pissing contest as quantified by Google Trends. It's almost a tie – Nokia beats Tesla 60-to-50 or so.

But try to change the "global" button to India: Nokia beats Tesla 50-to-4 or so. Wow. On the other hand, in the U.S., Tesla beats Nokia 60-to-6. Curiously enough, the three most pro-Tesla states are Nevada, California, Utah, in this order, around 95% (Oregon leads on the opposite side, just 85% of the Tesla+Nokia searches were Tesla). The brand recognition from one place often fails to generalize to other places.

Take Volkswagen and Skoda. The German brand beats its Czech daughter (in the current corporate sense; Škoda is of course much older historically) roughly 90-to-65 globally. But in India, Škoda beats Volkswagen roughly 80-to-70. Nokia and Škoda must surely think: Why isn't India richer or why isn't the whole world like India? Just to be sure, Škoda's brand in India has been polluted in the recent decade, especially by the bad service centers.

Some of these very different results are clearly explained by India's poverty. The average Indian is rich enough to think about buying a Nokia phone while the average Californian is rich enough to think about buying an overpriced Tesla car. But I still think that the preferences go beyond wealth. There's some significant national flavor in the "technological group think", too. Indians are poor but even if they were richer, they would care about value – and they would still prefer Cinderella-like brands such as Nokia and Škoda.

On the other hand, even if the Californians were poorer, they would probably prefer overhyped bubbles for spoiled kids such as Tesla and its unjustifiably praised CEO crook.

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