Nokia taps nostalgia, yet keeps eye on the future

A Nokia 3310 being presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February. The phone, one of two new devices which went on sale in Singapore this month, is a reboot of the feature phone with the same name from 2000.
A Nokia 3310 being presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, in February. The phone, one of two new devices which went on sale in Singapore this month, is a reboot of the feature phone with the same name from 2000.PHOTO: REUTERS

But analysts say Apple, Samsung give brand stiff competition

Singapore fans of Nokia could be forgiven for thinking they are in dreamland after two new Nokia phones went on sale on Oct 14. But the iconic brand, once the world's biggest phone maker, faces an uphill task here against incumbents like Apple and Samsung.

The Nokia 3310 is a reboot of the feature phone with the same name from 2000, and the Nokia 8 is an Android-powered smartphone. They are emblematic of the new Nokia - one harks back to its glorious past, while the other points to its future.

Leading the comeback is Finnish start-up HMD Global, which has launched five Nokia Android phones, as well as five feature phones, around the world this year.

The Nokia 8 is the best smartphone in its Android line-up, with competitive hardware such as a top mobile processor and dual rear cameras. But it may find it tough competing against other flagship phones. And it comes out just weeks before Apple's latest iPhone X is available on Nov 3.

"The Nokia brand is still familiar to many due to nostalgia. But the competition is now very stiff with many players in the market," said Ms Tay Xiaohan, senior research manager for client devices at IDC Asia-Pacific.

She said local consumers have moved on, with Apple and Samsung the dominant brands here, but she believes the Nokia phones stand a stronger chance in emerging markets where the brand is still strong.

An HMD Global spokesman said brand awareness for Nokia phones is high, and that "in China, 90 per cent of (those) who bought the Nokia 6 are millennials". Also, the firm is focused on top-notch craftsmanship as well as having bloat-free phones with regular updates for a more secure user experience.

Global sales for the new Nokia phones, available in developing markets like China and India, appear to be off to a good start.

In an interview last month with an Italian Nokia fan blog, HMD Global chief marketing officer Pekka Rantala revealed that millions of Nokia smartphones and tens of millions of Nokia feature phones have been sold this year. Earlier this month, Mr Francisco Jeronimo, IDC research director for European mobile devices, also shared via Twitter that Nokia sold 1.5 million Android smartphones in the first half of the year.

 

The start-up, led by former top Nokia executives, acquired the rights to use the Nokia brand from Microsoft last year. It is similar to what BlackBerry did last year - license its branding to third-party firms to build phones.

Microsoft had bought Nokia's faltering handset business in 2014, but wrote off the US$7.6 billion (S$10.4 billion) acquisition a year later and laid off 7,800 employees. Taiwanese firm Foxconn bought Nokia's manufacturing and distribution assets from Microsoft last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2017, with the headline 'Nokia taps nostalgia, yet keeps eye on the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe