Nokia, the mobile phone brand that arguably created as well as led the mobile phone market for many years, once died a tragic death, first the victim of its own arrogance at being the early leader; then the victim of Apple and Google and their domination in smartphones; and then dealt the final blow by Microsoft, who acquired it but failed badly at trying to resuscitate the brand in its own form.
Now Nokia the mobile phone brand is back — by virtue of a company called HMD, backed by Foxconn, and staffed by a huge number of alums from the old Nokia. HMD has licensed the Nokia name, and it’s hoping to right those three wrongs as it unveils three new smartphones today on the eve of the Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona: the Nokia 3, 5 and a new, global version of the 6 (originally announced in January for China only).
All three will be rolled out globally in Q2 in this year, Nokia said, alongside a retro feature phone (which you can read about here). They will be priced as “affordable” smartphones: €229 for the Nokia 6, billed as an “immersive” entertainment device; €189 for the smaller Nokia 5; and €139 for the more pared-down Nokia 3. And you can now pre-register for them at nokia.com/phones.
If Symbian and then Microsoft’s Windows never did Nokia any favors in the smartphone race, then HMD is wiping the slate clean (or trying to, at least) with this lineup. The exterior is clearly branded Nokia, and other hardware like the camera mechanics have been developed by the team at HMD (with full endorsement: “We would not license the brand to just anyone,” Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri said today).
But inside, all three are powered by by Google’s Android — and not just any kind of Android but the most straight down-the-line update of Android that there is out there of the newest OS, Nougat 7.1.1 when they hit the market, along with monthly security updates, and all of the newest features, such as Google Assistant. “We really believe that pure and secure is the right way,” Juha Sarvikas, the company’s chief product officer, said.
Will this be enough to bring in new users, and those who still have nostalgia for the old Nokia brand?
HMD believes that there is reason not to meddle with Android these days. “Three years ago, the dialler for example on Android would not have been a great experience, but today the best is actually the Google service” Sarvikas said. “Android has arrived at a point in time where the best user experience is to align with it.”
The Nokia 6 will come with a 5.5” full HD screen and is built out of a single block of 6000 series aluminium (in fact, in a demonstration of the device, he presented me and other journalists with a piece of metal that is similar to what they use when they build the handset). It also comes with a smart audio amplifier, dual speakers allow consumers to experience a deeper bass and unmatched clarity, and Dolby Atmos. It will come in four colours: Matte Black, Silver, Tempered Blue and Copper. A separate Arte edition will come with an additional 64GB storage and 4GB RAM, encase in a black high gloss package and will retail at €299.
The Nokia 5 is also made out of a block 6000 series aluminium, but at a smaller scale. Gorilla Glass display is 5.2”. Inside, it is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 430 with the Adreno 505 graphics processor. It is available in four colours Matte Black, Silver, Tempered Blue and Copper.
Nokia 3 meanwhile will also come with an aluminium frame and a Gorilla Glass screen, as well as an 8MP wide aperture cameras in front and back. It’s also available in four colours: Silver White, Matte Black, Tempered Blue and Copper White.
There is another reason for this: it gives the company the ability to focus just on building hardware and marketing, without pushing resources into the work needed to build a new platform, and the ecosystem around it.
Besides, as I mentioned earlier today, the game has moved very far along indeed, and the days for building completely new smartphone platforms, at least for now, may be finished, with resources going into the next level of intelligence and interactivity.
That still begs the question of whether a mobile phone company that is not developing these tools itself can succeed longer term. Others that tried to go pure Android and hope for the hardware best, like Motorola, weren’t knockouts.
But Nokia is different. When you look at all the pieces of Nokia that fell by the wayside over the years, there were several attempts at building new platforms too (remember Meego? Or what about the team at Sailfish and Jolla?). Could HMD wearing Nokia’s brand ever try to build its own experience again?
Interestingly neither Juha nor Florian Seiche, the president of HMD (pictured here on the left, with Sarvikas to his right), would rule out ever building a platform itself, although for today, it’s very much a Google story to test the appetite for Nokia smartphones.
“For us right now, we’re committed to Android,” Seiche said. And indeed, during an event in Barcelona today, Google exec Jamie Rosenberg appeared on stage to “Welcome Nokia into the Android family.” As a family, it’s an unlikely union if you know the history of Nokia, but perhaps that new approach is what the brand needs to see if it can succeed again.