Device reviewers are an interesting bunch. They form a fairly tight-knit community yet individually can be as competitive as any triathlon participant. The reviewer who gets his or her hands on some heretofore unknown prototype is treated with both admiration and jealousy– and often a rallying defense by the community when one gets busted.
Such has been the case recently now that Nokia has reached its limit of patience with gonzo blogger Eldar Murtazin. The name should be familiar to most readers but for the sake of others, Eldar is the hard-hitting Russian Mobile-Review editor-in-chief known for a knack of getting access to devices so far in advance of production they sometimes seem like homebuilt projects. Many maemo.org members have long wondered about this ability, as well as the lack of a strong response from Nokia to previous incidents.
The final straw for Nokia apparently was Eldar’s early release of N8 details (translated from the original Russian). After no response from Eldar to a previous plea for the prototype’s return (the writer claims he received no such request), Nokia has now unleashed the hounds: Russian police have been asked to retrieve Nokia’s stray property. Pundits appear split on the subject, some asserting Eldar was overdue for this sort of response and others treating the blogger as some sort of Robin Hood.
Here’s what those leaping to Mr. Murtazin’s defense don’t seem to understand: Nokia has to vigorously defend its intellectual property. In fact, the company legal team likely erred by allowing him as much rope as it has for some time. And it’s not just legal issues involved here: prototypes by their very nature are not ready for review, and release of details too early in the product development process can skew public perception. Anyone who understands this business cannot realistically blame Nokia for wanting greater control over the message. With that said, the company definitely needs to gain more control over their prototype management process!
The case gets even more convoluted. Some bloggers claim that Murtazin is a Samsung consultant which, if true, would certainly taint any excuses he might make. Despite extensive searching, though, I have been unable to conclusively confirm or dispel this allegation. For the record, Eldar denies it.
Many covering this situation are drawing comparisons with the Apple-Gizmodo iPhone 4 fiasco. Police action was also involved in the aftermath of that event, but in that case it was mainly to seize the property of Gizmodo editor Jason Chen. As of now Nokia is only asking for its own property back, so unless its actions go farther than that the similarities are vague at best.
Regardless, Eldar is neither hero nor victim in all of this. He’s simply a smart and arrogant guy who flaunted an ability to gain access to unreleased products and is now dealing with the inevitable fallout. And on one hand it’s admirable that some in the mobile blogging community are circling wagons around him, but they would be better off considering what his irresponsible actions can do to everyone else.
As smartphone competition heats up, and device reviewers look for any edge, I suspect we may see more incidents like these followed by escalating responses from manufacturers. Things should really be interesting where the operating systems are open source (MeeGo, Android, Symbian) and differentiation is more about hardware.
While some observers want a more private approach to resolution, a public response is not only necessary for manufacturers to protect their physical and intellectual property, in my opinion it’s necessary to keep the community appropriately informed. Not to try offenders in the press, but to shine a harsh light of scrutiny on players at both ends of this cat-and-mouse game.
Readers, you know my opinions now; what are yours?