Saturday 24 February 2018

Is Nokia's Lumia a new dawn for the Finnish telecoms giant?

Matt Warman

AS NOKIA’s chief executive stood on stage in London yesterday, he claimed 'a new dawn' for the Finnish company.

He’d better be right because otherwise, in the developed world at least, it’s sunset for Nokia.

Stephen Elop, formerly of Microsoft, was unveiling two new 'Lumia' handsets, the first Nokia phones to use Microsoft's Windows Phone platform. Both the Lumia 710 and the 800 combine Nokia's superb industrial design - a quality of manufacture that is second to none - with what Nokia claims is unrivalled quality when making phone calls.

However, half the keynote speech was given over to announcing four other handsets - all aimed at the developing world. That highlights Nokia's current schism; on the one hand it claims the Lumia will be the best smartphone in Europe when it launches next month, and on the other it is focusing on growing sales of much cheaper devices in Africa, South America and China.

What Nokia believes, but never quite manages to articulate, however, is that eventually these two ranges will come together: it’s in selling smartphones to the developing world that Nokia hopes its future lies. Higher profit margins and expanding markets could mean it’s Finland that helps connect “the next billion” to the internet. Just as Microsoft owns the software on almost every desktop and laptop PC, so via Nokia it hopes to dominate a huge part of the mobile web in Africa and China.

Whether the firm really manages to do that remains to be seen. As Elop put it “generally people like Nokia. We are reliable, durable, trustworthy – we’d always send you a birthday card but that’s not enough.” He claims: “We want people to feel something special when they hear the word Nokia.” He wants Nokia to have the appeal of Apple and Google.

That’s a tall order: at one point during the unveiling Nokia’s Kevin Shields was reduced to saying “You’ve got to give me some applause on this”. He’d had plenty earlier, and the comment underlined the fact that the fallen giant retains a sense of confused entitlement. Shields even claimed Nokia had “finally solved the mobile music problem”, which will be news to the millions of Apple, Android and BlackBerry users who solved it years ago.

But it would be wrong to confuse some excruciating misjudgements in Nokia’s presentation with the real news: this is a company that is still the biggest phone maker in the world and it has a growing reputation in growing markets. Chinese brands such as ZTE and Huawei may well win out in the end, but Nokia is not going down without a fight.

Indeed, the new products, which include excellent navigation tools, have much to recommend them thanks to Microsoft’s operating system. Windows Phone turns the “lame grid of icons that sit there doing nothing” on other smartphones into a genuinely intuitive system. Turn on the phone, for instance, and information about the weather, your next train, flight or email is there instantly, without needing a button to be pressed. These are devices that are useful and they’re not for geeks. Nokia could be onto something. It’s optimistic to claim there will be “lust for Lumia” – but you no longer have to be mad to buy a Nokia.

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