Nokia sent out a press release about the announcement last week, but I wanted to dig further and therefore I interviewed Juha Kokkonen, Director, Discover Product Group.
First: a little primer on the N79 Active.
How the N79 Active is Unique
Well, the phone itself is no different – it’s the same recently released NSeries phone with 3G network speeds, Wi-Fi, 5-megapixel camera that can take great video, GPS and Symbian operating system.
However, the N79 Active comes with a few accessories that make in an active person’s dream setup.Â First, it features an arm band for wearing while you’re doing your sport, whether it be cycling, running, rowing, mountain biking, sailing or whatever.Â Most importantly, it features a Polar chest band that communicates with your N79 and a new 2.0 version of the Sports Tracker application.
Using the N79’s GPS chip, the Sports Tracker application has long been able to graph your speeds, altitude, average speeds and other workout data.Â But now with the heart rate information, you know metrics on how your body performed under these outside conditions.
A video of the N79 Active is below:
On with the interview!
Jason Harris: What was the path to creating and rolling out the N79 Active?
Juha Kokkonen: We looked at the big trends right now with our product line and two stood out to us including the Internet with web-based services and health/fitness.
Secondly, the Sports Tracker application and corresponding web service has been quite popular.Â We have millions of downloads and our users are reporting that they love tracking their workouts and sharing their data with their friends.
We’re always looking for ways to enhance our applications and Sports Tracker is a popular product, especially here in Scandinavia, that we wanted to add to.Â There are many active people here in Finland and we thought adding the body metric data to Sports Tracker would further enhance the Sports Tracker user experience.
Inside Nokia, we learned that heart rate information is very important to those doing exercise activities.Â What types of devices are these people using?Â Runners and cyclists are alreadyusing equipment that track their heart rate so they can measure their activities.
Jason Harris: What sports or activities is Nokia targeting with the N79 Active?
Juha Kokkonen: Any activity really: skiing, cycling, biking, running. I even used the N79 Active recently while I was sailing.
Also, I have a contact in Spain who is a cyclist.Â He uses the N79 Active to track his route, heart rate, but also to listen to his MP3’s along the way.Â He was then able to put his data online for his cycling friends to see and evaluate.Â The Spanish cyclist could also share his pictures and video he took along his workout and share them on the Sports Tracker website.
Also, with the heart rate information, Sports Tracker has a new realm of usages indoors.Â Before, when Sports Tracker only tracked location, the application wasn’t very useful to capture any indoor sports because there’s no GPS availability indoors.
Jason Harris: If you already have an N79, can you buy the Polar chest band separately?
Juha Kokkonen: Perhaps in the future, but now you have to purchase the N79 Active as a package to get the Polar chest band.
Jason Harris: Where are you currently selling the N79 Active?
Juha Kokkonen: Primarily in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Finland and South Africa.Â These are the three initial countries where we are collecting feedback.Â So far the feedback has been great so we plan to expand the selling footprint as time goes on.Â We are not in a position to announce more countries at this point in time.
Jason Harris: How fast will you roll out sales to other geographies?
Juha Kokkonen: We plan to see how sales go in our existing markets and roll out the N79 in other areas accordingly.
Jason Harris: What technology provides the link between the chest band and the N79 phone, what other technologies are involved?
Juha Kokkonen: We are using a Bluetooth to link the chest band to the N79.Â The only other new technology involved is a new 2.0 version of Sports Tracker which is custom to this N79 Active package at this point in time.
Jason Harris: OK, so there is no reason the Polar chest band couldn’t be sold as a standalone product and made available for other existing Nokia devices that have GPS and Bluetooth?
Juha Kokkonen: That’s true.Â On paper, the Polar device could be used with an N95, E71, or other NSeries device.Â Yes – we designed this Polar hardware to be easily expanded to other Nokia devices.Â We are collecting feedback on the N79 and evaluate expansion to there handsets and a point in the future.
As time goes on, we may look at selling it as a standalone product, but right now the N79 Active is the way to go.
By releasing the N79 Active, the NSeries team inside Nokia has made the Nokia N79 even more versatile.Â As a result, the N79 will now be injected into yet another portion of active exerciser’s life.
Armed with body metrics that are combined with the distance, altitudes, pace and other exercise figures; we can track our workouts and their corresponding effectiveness.Â Also, with Nokia’s Sports Tracker website and Facebook application, active folks can share their workouts with friends and challenge others to the same routes.Â Sports Tracker, like Nike+, makes these solo activities such as running and cycling and makes them more social.
One note: I think Nokia is being too sheepish with the N79 Active roll out.Â I believe the N79 Active could be a very popular product within the active communities.Â I know many cyclists who use a Garmin GPS Watch combined with a chest band already AND carry around a cell phone in their bags as well.Â I think these folks would jump at a chance to use their NSeries phones as the collector of this data, especially since they can snap photos and video along the way and have all this media along in one central place.