Interview: Nokia's N-Series Dir. on N79 Active

By Brian Dolan

N79 Active

Last month Nokia introduced a handset package called the N79 Active, which includes a Bluetooth heart rate strap from Polar and an updated version of Nokia's Sports Tracker application. The device, which debuted at the Consumer Electronics show last month in Las Vegas, includes an N79, 4GB of onboard memory, the Polar-powered Bluetooth strap and heart monitor all for €375 ($500). Last week mobihealthnews caught up with Nokia's Director of its N-Series line of phones, Juha Kokkonen to discuss the advent of the N79 Active, "social exercisers", U.S. availability and the likelihood of future N-Series phones with other biosensors (preview: "not likely".)

Read on after the jump to find out which three countries get the N79 Active first...

mobihealthnews: Why did you decide to include a heart rate monitor with this phone and why, in particular, did you use Polar's technology?

Kokkonen: We introduced SportsTracker solution some time ago and it has been extremely successful without any marketing and so on. It has gotten millions of downloads thanks to viral marketing. We have gotten lots of positive feedback. We then analyzed how we could take it to the next level and the trends we noted--especially the health and sporty types have begun lots of money and time and energy [on these types of products] so we were looking for the convergence of the convergence of these [fitness and mobile] applications. We came to the heart rate monitor as our solution, because when are you doing the more serious exercises your heart rate is typically the vehicle that helps you do your exercises. It's also fun to know how you are performing.

Why Polar? Polar was chosen because they are clearly the leading brand in this heart rate monitor business. We wanted to be serious about this and wanted the best in class heart rate monitor to complement our best in class mobile computers and devices, so they were a natural choice for us.

mobihealhtnews: Who was the N79 Active developed for--which demographic are you targeting?

Kokkonen: We are particularly targeting what we call the "social exercisers". The people who really want to stay healthy--they want to stay fit and they have a very active social life. They are part of the Internet community and this solution helps you do what you do but also lets you share your exercises with your friends. With this solution you can share your specific location and the music you listened to during it. So you can see, we not only include the serious information [like the health stats] but also the fun information [like the music]. We are not really targeting the very serious exercisers who are professionally involved in running, for example, but taking a more expansive target at the running group of people who just like to stay healthy, fit and stay sociable. Internally we refer to this group as the Technology Stylist: People who want the latest technology but are also concerned with style issues. Typically, ages in this group are 23 and 30 year-olds.

mobihealthnews: Will this phone be available in the U.S.?

Kokkonen: This whole package, Nokia N79 Active initially will be available in Scandinavia--Norway and Finland as well as South Africa. This is where we are starting and selling that as a bundle. Then once we see how that goes, we will see how we will go forward and decide how we scale and move to other countries. Right now I can only announce those three countries though.

mobihealthnews: While this package is geared more toward the "Social Exerciser" group, as you called them, it does include a heart rate monitor. How much of an opportunity do you see to include other types of biosensors in N-Series phones moving forward?

Kokkonen: If you look at where Nokia has started with our N-Series brand--we started with the phone functionality and messaging. Then we included cameras. Then we include MP3 players and then we recently began including GPS functionality and mapping applications. It's a natural evolution with cell phones or, as we call them, multimedia computers, that you include converging technologies. When it comes to these converging technologies like the heart rate monitors--it is one of those things that could soon be included in all mobile products. I do see this more of the perspective from the fitness perspective/lifestyle perspective than from the serious health measurement perspective.