Chapter 26 – Rockstar

Hi Andrew,

Would you like to join Nokia for a two week trip across the US next month demonstrating some of the capabilities of the Nokia N97?

And thus, in the summer of 2009 this humble blogger of some eight years got his fifteen minutes of fame. I don’t think I was WOM World’s first choice for this gig, but that didn’t matter; I wasn’t the first choice to tour Asia with The Second City either way back when, but I still got to go. How could I pass up an opportunity to visit four cities on someone else’s dime, with a worldwide audience watching our every move?

Two amazing weeks that July were spent in the lovely company of three fellow bloggers — Matthew Bennett, Jon Bruha and George Kelly. Dan Silvers was our chaperone in Los Angeles and San Francisco, then rejoined us in New York City after we had a few days in Chicago on our own. Fond memories of “N97 24/7” are many; a few of my favourites:

  • The unabashed geeky joy of some high-level phone talk on the hundred dollar-plus cab ride from LAX to our boutique Hollywood hotel.
  • Our meet-up in San Francisco, where I met Dennis Bournique of WAP Review, Myriam Joire from Engadget and Ewan Macleod, a mobile entrepreneur from the UK.
  • A failed “challenge” in Chicago, which turned into a rather awesome bender in a bar at the base of the Willis Tower.
  • A decidedly over the top wrap-up party in Manhattan, full of “beautiful people” who mostly had no idea who we were, or even what the event was about.

Oh yes, the phone… I viewed the N97 as an iPhone with a secret weapon — the pop-out qwerty keypad underneath. An over-simplification perhaps, but that seemed to me to be the best way to pitch the device to non-Nokians. Unfortunately, it was a pretty hard sell. Where the iPhone was elegant the N97 was clunky, if ultimately more powerful. I had never before tested a mobile device to its limits like I did during those two weeks, and all too often the N97 came up short. Battery power was a constant issue, despite each of us having two devices. The built-in GPS radio took forever to lock on to a signal. Worst of all, we simply spent too much time hunting through menus to get to what we were looking for.

I think its a testament to the character of our blogging quartet that we took the perceived failure of this tour so personally. We had three scheduled meet-ups, one in every city but New York. The turnout was pretty good for the first, fantastic for the second and something on the order of two people for the third. I’ll never forget looking at an entire wall of catered food and then across an almost-empty room at the University of Chicago.  In retrospect we probably could have had a lot more fun with the challenges that WOM World handed down to us. But at the time we took our role as Nokia ambassadors very seriously, perhaps too much so.

I didn’t get to keep a souvenir N97 from the tour, but I did end up winning one in a contest the following Christmas. I used it as a test subject for some theme hacks, but never as my full-time phone.