2017 could be the year that Nokia makes its big comeback. At least that’s what the stalwart brand name is hoping for. Once upon a time, Nokia dominated the cell phone space. But in 2007 when the iPhone came out and marked the dawn of the smartphone age, not even Nokia realized the major shift that was about to happen.
Floundering for years, Nokia sold off its phone division to Microsoft in 2013. The terms of the deal meant Nokia couldn’t return to the phone business until the end of 2016.
Now that those terms have expired, Nokia is boldly (or foolishly, depending on your perspective) venturing into the smartphone game again. It launched its new Android smartphone exclusively in China in December. HMD Global, a newly-formed company in Finland, is releasing the phones under the Nokia name.
This may very well be a test ground for future products. Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is upon us next month and the company is teasing an announcement. MWC is a stage for launching devices to the worldwide market so if a new phone is on the horizon; it would be Nokia’s return to the mobile phone business in a big way.
But will it be a triumphant return? Nokia screwed up a lot of things the first time around. Here are five things that HMD Global/Nokia need to do.
It’s time to park the nostalgia. For many people a Nokia device may have been their first cell phone and playing Snake was a lot of fun but Nokia needs to shake off the shackles of its past. The name value is important of course. People know Nokia. HMD Global is right to take advantage of that. However it needs a fresh start too, which is easier said than done.
The smartphone market is dominated by a handful of names (Apple and Samsung, you may have heard of them) and most companies have given up on the notion of taking these behemoths on. There have been enough flops over the years to show that launching a brand new smartphone name to the market is a lofty task (Amazon Fire Phone, anyone?).
When Google launched the Pixel, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t aiming to unseat Samsung but rather provide more choice on the market for consumers. This kind of attitude can also be attributed to the likes of Huawei and its more moderately priced devices. Nokia will never achieve a huge chunk of market share like it once had. Its glory days are behind it but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be successful.
The third point ties in with number two. Nokia needs to keep things simple. The iPhone is now 10 years old and while OEMs continue to tinker with new things, the foundation of what makes a good smartphone is well established. People know what they like.
No one is saying the new Nokia phones shouldn’t try to innovate but re-establishing the brand as an affordable, reliable one with quality products is more important. The trinkets can come later.
For many years, Nokia had used its own operating Symbian to run its phones. This changed in 2011 when it first hooked up with Microsoft to run the Windows Phone operating system. Hindsight tells us this didn’t work but at the time they could have had something. But Microsoft was similar to Nokia in the sense that it did not move with the times and keep pace with iOS and Android.
Despite best efforts, the two just could not turn Windows Phone into a significant player. Back in its heyday, Nokia was king at hardware, perhaps at the expense of software. This time Nokia is releasing Android phones. The ecosystem is established so users will be more inclined to try out a new Nokia and the company will need to continue to understand and appreciate the equal importance of hardware and software.
We’ve focused on how Nokia needs to keep things simple in order to get a little foothold back in the smartphone market. That is the first step but change is inevitable and Nokia will need to keep its finger on the pulse too. “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost,” were the infamous words of Nokia CEO Stephen Elop after the Microsoft acquisition.
In fact, Nokia had done something wrong. It rested on its laurels at the height of its success. Should it find some new success on this occasion after re-establishing itself, it needs to be ready, willing, and able to change with the times.