Can the new Nokia be no.1 again?

Nokia can regain its lost lustre, but to do so it needs to play its cards right, feels Rajiv Makhni
The new Nokia 6, the latest and first android launch from the stable of the cellphone giant of yore
The new Nokia 6, the latest and first android launch from the stable of the cellphone giant of yore
Published on Jan 28, 2017 08:28 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByRajiv Makhni

Let’s be very clear here. Nokia was the number one in the mobile phone business. Barring none! By a long shot. Absolutely nothing and no one came close! Nokia dominated the market to the point that it was a hopeless pursuit to even try and compete. There was Nokia on one side and then there was everyone else combined on the other side. And then, in a series of missteps so baffling, so comical and frankly so stupid – they lost it all!

But it’s back

For die hard fans and the romantics amongst us, the biggest piece of news for 2017 is three words. Nokia is back! But it is not the Nokia we knew. The new Nokia is a pretty convoluted arrangement. Nokia, the original company, has licensed its brand name and IP to a new company called HMD Global. But HMD Global won’t be manufacturing the Nokia phones, it has outsourced that to a Foxconn sub-company called FIH Mobile. Really confusing, right? But eventually what matters is that Nokia is back and if it does all the right things, it could do something very dramatic and change the current mobile phone game! Here’s what I think could be make or break for the new Nokia.

Play the warm and fuzzy game

The name Nokia still evokes a lot of nostalgia and loyalty. The new Nokia needs to capitalise on it and ensure it comes in hard and strong from the start. It can’t begin the innings in a small way but needs to come in swinging a big bat and hit the ball out of the ground in as many countries as possible. It needs people to have the new Nokia phones in their hands and to become its brand ambassadors. It needs to bring back the days when the Nokia ringtone was the most identifiable piece of sound in the entire world.

A smartphone with a gaming system, the N-Gage was meant for the compulsive gamer
A smartphone with a gaming system, the N-Gage was meant for the compulsive gamer

Slam dunk the differentiator game

Nokia stood for real innovation and also took risks. Unlike most of the current mobile phone companies, they never played safe, innovated all the time and pulled off the impossible. Think about it. They actually had a round-shaped phone, a phone built only for gamers with gaming controls built in, a phone with a 41 megapixel sensor (other companies still haven’t matched that till today), brightly-coloured phones with polycarbonate unibody design, a wireless charging phone when no else knew how to spell that and a slew of other firsts. They need to do that with each new phone.

Differentiate and stand out. In stunning design, in never before features, in all new materials, in camera and optics – they need to shake things up hard and fast. A Nokia phone always had something magically different about it and that legacy must continue. It is now playing in the Android business and if it comes in and become a ‘me too’ brand with nothing to make it dramatically stand out – then it’ll be dead on arrival!

Nokia 7600 is a 3G handset that was aimed for the fashionable ones
Nokia 7600 is a 3G handset that was aimed for the fashionable ones

Nailing the price war

Nokia has to be careful on price and can’t just become a mid range champion as that’ll kill the brand. It needs to play in all segments and take on Apple and Samsung in the high- end, and Xiaomi and One Plus in the middle. It needs to keep a premium attached and not play a low margin game. Nothing will dig the new Nokia’s grave deeper than playing a small profit game like Xiaomi and Le Eco do. And it needs a phone in every segment and price band within the first six months.

Tunnel vision and nothing else

The new Nokia needs extreme focus to get its phone business set and in full throttle before it starts getting adventurous. It doesn’t need to dabble in tablets, TVs, notebooks, routers or IoT devices. Pure play mobile phones for the next few years and truly crack that market open. Anything less than singular tunnel vision will sound the death knell for it very quickly.

The Nokia 3660 has a Symbian OS
The Nokia 3660 has a Symbian OS

Set their house in order fast

The new Nokia will have to get all its decks in order very quickly. The Nokia brand always stood for trust. Think service centres that make people believe they will be taken care of, a warranty that beats the industry standards from the start, services like music and movies as soon as possible and some bundling deals with some service providers that have never been attempted before. That will get the Nokia fire ignited all over again.

The Nokia comeback is happening at a very interesting time for the mobile phone industry where business is starting to become completely commoditised, lacks innovation and every brand seems to be doing exactly the same things. If the new Nokia comes in with all guns blazing, it could truly start off a new order in a business that is starting to look old and haggard. Can the new Nokia become number one again? Maybe not. But it could regain a lot of its lost lustre if it plays its cards right.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, January 29, 2017

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