16 July 2019
Florian Seiche, CEO of HMD Global, presents new Nokia devices during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 25. Photo: Reuters
Florian Seiche, CEO of HMD Global, presents new Nokia devices during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on February 25. Photo: Reuters

How Nokia sparked more buzz than Samsung in new launch

The Mobile World Congress, the biggest annual event for the wireless telecoms industry, is underway in the Spanish city of Barcelona, drawing almost all the big names in the sector. Top executives of various firms are using the opportunity to showcase new products and upcoming launches.  

Among the participants, Samsung unveiled its latest flagship smartphones, the Galaxy S9 series, touting features such as enhanced cameras, an AI-powered voice tool and software that turns selfies into instant emojis. 

The world’s biggest smartphone maker attracted a lot of media coverage, but the Korean firm got overshadowed by another phone brand when it came to sparking online buzz in the past three days. 

In case you are wondering, it is Nokia we are talking about.

To the surprise of many people who had assumed the brand to be almost irrelevant, Nokia has become the subject of much chatter in social media forums as it announced its own new products.

On Sunday, HMD Global, which now controls the Nokia brand, unveiled a new version of the iconic Nokia 8110 handset that can connect to 4G Internet.

The firm also announced a series of new Android-powered smartphones, but it is the Nokia 8110 that has generated the most excitement among consumers, going by the hot keywords online.

For those not familiar with the Nokia 8110 handset, it was considered an iconic product in terms of design back in its day. 

First released in 1996, the 8110 was often referred to as the “banana phone” due to its distinctive curved shape, as CNBC noted. The phone was used by Keanu Reeves’ character Neo in the 1999 movie “The Matrix”, helping it become one of the world’s most popular gadgets at that time.

Now, two decades later, the Nokia 8110 is set to return to the market as HMD has decided to revive the classic model into a 4G compatible affordable feature phone that will be priced at below US$100.

The new phone will have a slider that is similar to the one on the original feature phone and can connect to 4G Internet and act as a Wi-Fi hotspot.

The 8110 will run an operating system known as Kai OS. HMD Global, a start-up created by former Nokia executives, is working with Google and Facebook to bring apps to the device when the phone hits the market in May.

“Nokia had these very iconic design legends and different people remember the 8110 for different reasons — but, certainly it’s a lot about that emotional factor,” Florian Seiche, chief executive of HMD global, told CNBC.

This is not the first time that HMD brought a classic Nokia phone back to the market. Last year, the company remade Nokia 3310, one of the best-selling mobile phones in history.

The phone was said to be quite popular among Nokia fans but one of the disadvantages it had was that it was only a 3G phone. But now, the new Nokia 8110 comes with 4G and Wi-Fi, which should help lure more users.

Despite the rapid penetration of smartphones across the world, feature phones still sell in many markets, catering to price-sensitive consumers and the elderly.

According to an estimate from a research firm, feature phone shipments this year could amount to as many as 400 million units.

HMD understands that people cannot fully rely on a feature phone for all their needs life in this era, so it has wisely positioned the Nokia 8110 as a secondary phone for users in developed markets.

The selling point is clear: a classic slider design with 4G and Wi-Fi connectivity and offered at a low price point.

There is good chance that many smartphone users will buy the Nokia 8110 to recall the “good old days”, and to make it their stylish personal hotspot.

The positive feedback to the Nokia 8110, in a way, reflects the weariness of consumers over the current crop of smartphones in the market which almost look the same with similar touch screens.

Unlike in the feature phone era, when a Nokia phone buyer often had multiple choices in terms of the color of the phone, smartphone users now have little or no personalization options.

If a person wants to show off his or her individual taste after buying a handset, one can only do it by opting for a unique phone case.

Also, it is a fact that the smartphone has not seen any groundbreaking design change in the past decade.

That’s the reason why Apple’s iPhone X, as well as several flagship devices from other handset makers, are failing to prompt many users into ditching their older phones quickly.

If there’s any lesson from the buzz surrounding Nokia’s new 8110 feature phone, it is that the smartphone biggies need to step up their thinking and reorient their focus and strategy.

Tinkering with hardware specifications and offering incremental improvements just isn’t enough. 

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EJ Insight writer

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