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Nokia’s timely re-emergence, but…!

When Nokia relaunched its devices in Malaysia via HMD Global, HMD country manager, Vijay Thangavelu pointed out to the near-capacity crowd present at that historic event, that for most of them, their first phone had been a Nokia. The sense of nostalgia that swept across the hall was almost palpable at that point.

It was true.

It is also possibly true that the use of Nokia devices had been so pervasive during its heyday that the operating system which ran a majority of Nokia’s phones, Symbian, was almost synonymous with the Nokia brand itself. This is despite Symbian also powering phones from Motorola and Ericsson, which later became Sony Ericsson, and many more.

So, when the much more intuitive and user-friendly iPhone and iOS came around in 2007, not only was the Symbian OS hard hit, but its long-standing hardware partner Nokia, suffered as well.

Since then, so much has happened to Nokia as a brand, as a smartphone maker and as a technology company.

Most notably, in 2014 Microsoft had acquired Nokia and use of its brand and technology patents for the next ten years. What followed was an exercise to systematically replace the Nokia brand with Microsoft’s (or Lumia’s) in as many products and services as possible, like Mail, Chat, Conversations, social media sites, smartphones and even one theatre.

And then in May 2016, Microsoft’s short-lived two-year experiment with Nokia ended and they announced its sale to Foxconn and HMD Global.

Fast forward to 2017, HMD Global which was formed at the end of 2016 and which comprises a number of former Nokia leadership members, has taken over Microsoft’s feature phones portfolio and brand license, and are stamping all of its smartphones henceforth, with that iconic Nokia brand.

Fast forward again to 30th May this year when HMD ‘s Raj Thangavelu and APAC VP James Rutherfoord reintroduced Malaysians to Nokia smartphones…How much of a reboot has there been for Nokia?

Design

Nokia has had some hits and misses in terms of designs. Remember the Nokia 7280 aka lipstick phone and Nokia 7600 aka leaf phone? When good smartphone design ideas were in short supply, it showed.

Now in this touchscreen era, there are even less elements (like keys and keypad layout) for phone designers to play with, and it’s really, really tough to tell one phone from another these days.  But, Nokia is taking this opportunity to emphasise materials and quality.

The Nokia 7280. A nightmare to dial and text with.

The Nokia 7280. A nightmare to dial and text with.

Thangavelu said, “It takes one hour to machine the design out of one block of aluminium, after which it is polished five times. Then it takes a total 12 hours to complete (manufacturing of the phone), and there are 600 different tests each phone has to undergo.”

He also implied that no matter what price point their phones were at, they would always retain “premium design and a quality feel.”

Manufacturing prowess

Foxconn, or more specifically FIH Mobile, which bought Nokia assets, together with HMD Global, is a top contract smartphones manufacturer for brands like Xiaomi, Huawei and Oppo.  FIH Mobile’s manufacturing expertise, experience and economies of scale, might be what’s driving sub-RM1000 Nokia phones for the Malaysian market. For now.

I for one, hope that Nokia gets to sell a lot of phones, because a profit warning came in March 2017, that FIH Mobile is expected to record a net loss of USD110 million, due to the USD350 million Nokia acquisition.

Brand

A lot of work seemed to have happened behind the scenes to orchestrate the revival of the Nokia brand. Besides FIH Mobile’s economies of scale, the name “Nokia” and its captive audience is the only other thing, going for it.

But, quite a bit of time has lapsed since Nokia’s true glory days – that the short period between 1998 till 2000 was the period when Nokia truly shone, is debatable, as they hadn’t been much competition to outshine Nokia in the first place – but, how much of its’ future and potential purchasers (ie. millennials or Gen Y and Gen Z), are already viewing Nokia as “my parents’ or grandparents’ phone”?

Reports have come through that HMD Global is setting aside over USD500 million over the next three years, to market Nokia phones and tablets.

Operating system

Symbian to power the new Nokia phones, is out of the question. Nokia is turning to Android which is pervasive, palatable… familiar enough, and not to mention armed with an established apps developer ecosystem and apps store.

Thangavelu said Nokia phones will offer the best Android experience to consumers, with a clean interface that is clutter-free and devoid of any bloatware.

This, a lower than average price point and quality hardware, just might help Nokia sell a lot of devices.

Technologies

Sailfish OS version 2.0.2.51 running on Intex's Aqua Fish

Sailfish OS version 2.0.2.51 running on Intex’s Aqua Fish

HMD Global is an exclusive licensee of Nokia phones and tablets, but it operates within its capacity as a licensee nevertheless. There is still a larger organisation within which Nokia Technologies sits, and HMD Global works with this technology division to develop further mobile technologies.

I hope they don’t neglect security, and I also hope they don’t forget business users, because… what user wants to carry two phones for leisure and work each?

But, Nokia abandoned MeeGo when then-CEO, Stephen Elop announced full support for Microsoft’s Windows Phone. But MeeGo still lived on. In 2007, MeeGo had been “too little, too late” against the iPhone’s iOS. (Read more about Nokia’s dilemma all those years ago, here).

But ten years later, it has come of age as MeeGo Reconstructed or Mer, which was extended with a custom user interface to become the Sailfish OS. It lives within Jolla branded tablets and smartphones, as well as other devices in other markets after having been modified by these markets’ telecom operators.

Sailfish is also doing rather well in Russia, where its Communications Minister has mooted for the open source Sailfish to fulfil 50-percent of Russia’s demand/need for mobile devices.

Jolla is a Finnish phone maker that continues development of Sailfish OS, which is 80-percent MeeGo code, the same code that Nokia decided to discontinue all those years ago in favour of Microsoft’s Windows Phone.

I think it would not only be serendipitous if the Sailfish OS and Nokia hardware reunite again, but also rather fitting, seeing as how the mobile devices industry sorely needs more competition in terms of mobile platforms!

 




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