Last month as well as culling some 12,500 Nokia staff new owner Microsoft took an axe to the Nokia product portfolio, apparently hacking off the entire low end of devices — leaving it to focus entirely on its Windows Phone based Lumia smartphones. Because focus.
In a memo to staff on the changes last month, Microsoft’s Jo Harlow wrote that “all Mobile Phones-related services and enablers are planned to move into maintenance mode, effective immediately”, adding: “This means there will be no new features or updates to services on any Mobile Phones platform as a result of these plans.”
Which sounded a pretty clear klaxon that the Nokia basic mobile phone was a done deal. But apparently not. Today Microsoft has announced a new basic Nokia mobile, costing €19/$25 and called the Nokia 130.
Lest you think that handset is just whatever was left in the Nokia mobile making pipeline — and this release is just Microsoft clearing those pipes — speaking in an interview with Re/code Microsoft’s Harlow rowed back from the words in her company memo saying Redmond is in fact committed to the very bottom end of the basic mobile phone portfolio for the long-term. “Microsoft doesn’t have any other project that can reach these consumers,” she noted.
So much for focus then.
The rationale for the super-low-end-device reprieve is apparently a similar strategy to the one conceived by former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop when he forked Android with the Nokia X platform with the aim of becoming a Microsoft Trojan horse. Problem was, Microsoft killed off that project last month — but is now apparently reviving the Trojan horse concept with these super basic handsets. Although perhaps ‘horse’ is a little too grand a term here. More like Trojan Pony.
Harlow told Re/code that Microsoft sees an opportunity with basic Internet-connected phones to introduce customers to services such as Bing and OneDrive. “These consumers will create a Microsoft account and become part of the Microsoft ecosystem,” she is quoted as saying, pointing to the more than a billion people who don’t currently own any mobile phone at all.
The new Nokia 130 is about as far from the Internet as a mobile device can get nowadays, with the focus on sharing content manually via an SD card or Nokia Bluetooth transfer tech slam. Its main selling points are a built-in video player, MP3 player and FM radio. If there are Microsoft-branded services inside this Trojan Pony they are very well concealed.
The Nokia brand itself remains stamped on the outside of the phone — as is to be expected, given that Microsoft bought itself the right to use the name on mobile devices for a period of time when it shelled out $7.2 billion+ for Nokia’s device making division.
But still, it does rather raise the question whether users of the Nokia 130 and its ilk will really become brand-loyal to Microsoft — to the tune of shelling out orders of magnitude more money to own a Lumia device when they’re able to upgrade from their super basic Nokia. Or whether they continue associating the idea of the basic mobile phone with the company that brought it to so many people: aka Nokia.
Time will tell whether Microsoft’s super basic Trojan pony has any legs at all. But one thing is certain: Microsoft will sell a lot more of these handsets than it shifts Lumias.