Finnish Hotcakes

Thanks for the Memories, HMD Global

Astonishing, unprecedented, through the roof — these are some of the adjectives and metaphors used to describe the reboot of the Nokia 3310. The phone isn’t shipping yet, but all signs indicate that the Nokia brand, once among the world’s most valuable, still has some clout.

HMD Global has released a sentimental feature phone in the age of super smart devices. The news stood out at Mobile World Congress 2017 because of the contrast. As leading companies at the event boasted of a 5G future for their brands, HMD Global released a playful 2.5G $50 phone from the past (see Mobile World Congress 2017: Smartphones).

The company successfully exploited the Nokia name and its classic style to pull at the heartstrings of customers. Of course, nostalgia itself is not a long-term business strategy and HMD Global can only piggyback on the past for so long. The company, a licensee of the Nokia brand, also unveiled three new mid-tier Android phones.

This is where the real challenge begins. Although HMD Global cleverly used the launch of the Nokia 3310 to generate press and Internet chatter, its executives realise the future is in smartphones. When the halo effect of the 3310 fades, the company will be left to fend for itself in a market full of cookie-cutter Android smartphones.

HMD Global chose to start in China with its first Android device, the Nokia 6, a 5.5-inch mid-tier device priced at about $240. It runs the Android 7.0 Nougat operating system, allowing Google to maintain the software experience. Since sales began in January 2017, the handset has sold out in China through several series of Xiaomi-like flash sales — although it should be noted that no volumes have been revealed.

The Nokia 3 and Nokia 5 phones will soon follow as part of HMD Global’s Android family, as the company expands its portfolio and geographical exposure. Eager Nokia fans in markets such as Europe and India appear to be fertile ground for the company.

It’s notable that the handsets are promoted on Nokia’s Web site. HMD Global has built a wall of separation between itself and its devices. Given that a majority of its employees are former Nokians, there’s a thin line between the two companies. There will be plenty of legacy in those phones.

So far, signs have been encouraging for HMD Global. The 3310 is a great first step in resuscitating the Nokia brand, but time will tell how sincere this attachment is. In the meantime, let’s see whether the wave of nostalgia is so strong that there’ll be a refresh of the 8110 or 8800 too.