Some High (and Low) Points from Nokia’s History
I was recently asked by a journalist to pick out the five most iconic Nokia phones, presumably to feature in a piece charting Nokia’s rise and fall ahead of being acquired by Microsoft. This provided a great opportunity to reflect on which Nokia devices I believe had the biggest impact over the past 20 years. I realise that these types of list are always incredibly subjective, but here are the five devices that stand out for me. Feel free to comment below and highlight your favourite Nokia devices and tell me why you’ve selected them. I’d love to hear what everyone thinks.
Arguably the most iconic mobile phone of its era, this device certainly provided the DNA for all candy bar phones that followed. The design crystallized a number of hardware and software elements. In hardware it cemented the keypad layout, with the “send” and “end” keys easily accessible and buttons to select the “soft keys” displayed on the screen. The software offered a logical way to navigate through menu options and also introduced new features such as the ability to send text messages. The 2110 was also one of the first phones to support mobile data when connected to a cellular data card.
Nokia Communicator 9000
This product was a revolution when it was unveiled at CeBIT in 1996. I remember how amazed we all were when we started hearing rumours about a phone “that opens and has a computer inside it” after Nokia had given a private showing at a VIP event at the Austrian ski resort of Zell am See. It is easy to look at it now and make jokes about its size and weight, but this was one of the first mass-market smartphones. It was also an incredibly important device in terms of intellectual property — Nokia was so far ahead of the curve with the Communicator that it was able to file patents that would be critical to anyone making smartphones in the years to come.
The Nokia 7650 was the first Symbian Series 60 smartphone. It was launched over a decade ago at the 2002 Mobile World Congress in Cannes. It was also Nokia’s first camera phone, featuring a 0.3 megapixel sensor. With its iconic sliding design and “open” operating system, it set the benchmark for rival smartphone efforts and initiated a long line of Symbian products that at their peak dominated the smartphone landscape.
The N95 was probably the pinnacle of Nokia’s smartphone efforts. Announced in September 2006 at a lavish event in New York, it was described by Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia’s charismatic head of Multimedia Devices, as “what computers have become”. Little did he know that Steve Jobs would walk onto a stage a few months later and pull the iPhone from his pocket, changing the smartphone world forever.
At the time, the N95 was the Swiss army knife of phones. Not only did it have a five-megapixel camera but it featured integrated Wi-Fi, GPS and a powerful Web browser. Its dual-slider design included multimedia controls that could be used when listening to music or watching a video. Looking back, the N95 and its successor, the N95 8GB, marked the point that Nokia lost its way. Although Nokia’s market share peaked at a staggering 40 percent in the following year, the devices that followed, the N96 and the truly awful N97, were the start of the downward spiral that ultimately sunk the company.
The Lumia 1020, particularly in its bright yellow incarnation, has emerged as a modern classic. It’s a contemporary Nokia device that deservedly sits in my top five. I’m lucky enough to try lots of different camera phones and this product beats everything else I’ve tried by far. Its roots hark back to the N90 (which nearly made my top five), a product that saw Nokia embark on a technology partnership with Carl Zeiss. The Lumia 1020 features a version of Windows Phone that irons out a lot of the rough edges of previous iterations. This is probably the phone people will remember as the last iconic product from Nokia before it becomes part of Microsoft. I’d argue it has also contributed to the recent uptick in Nokia’s market share, albeit as a “halo” product that helped sales of cheaper Lumia devices in the range.
Others That Almost Made It
There were lots of other devices that came to mind while putting together this list and some of them deserve a quick mention.
The Nokia 8110 (also known as the banana phone) was an evolution of the Nokia 2110 that made it into my list above. It was one of the first phones that really made a fashion statement and it was considered a cool phone at the time — helped by the fact that it was also featured in The Matrix film (albeit with a spring-loaded slider that was never actually supported on the 8110 — it came later on the Nokia 7110).
The Nokia 7110 was the first WAP phone. I vividly recall the huge crowds at Mobile World Congress in Cannes trying to catch a glimpse of it. Having the Internet on your phone was an incredible breakthrough, although a pretty disappointing experience in reality. The 7110 also featured a new user interface with a Navi Roller. This was a great idea, but its high failure rate meant it became a real thorn in Nokia’s side.
The Nokia 5110 was important because it was the first mass-market Nokia phone with easily interchangeable covers. They allowed people to personalise their phones and a huge accessories market sprang up around them. The approach was ground-breaking and copied by almost everyone.
The Nokia 6310 was the most ubiquitous business corporate phone of its time. Seemingly indestructible and blessed with a battery that would last for a week, it still has fans today, with a thriving market on eBay for second-hand and refurbished units.
Ones to Forget
Nokia also had a few products it would probably choose to forget if it could rewrite history. The first of these is the Nokia 3650, which launched soon after the iconic 7650. Its circular keyboard was almost unusable, and a definite misstep given the popularity of texting in 2003. Nokia realised the error of its ways and launched a version with a conventional keyboard, but by that time it was too late.
The Nokia 7600 followed in a similar vein and was equally unusuable. This time, the keyboard was down either side of the screen.
Another product that deserves an ignoble mention is the first version of the N-Gage. It was undoubtedly an ambitious move by Nokia to break into the mobile games market, but the N-Gage’s “side talking” design prompted nothing but ridicule. There was even a Web site dedicated to pictures of people holding all manner of consumer electronics products (and worse) to their heads, mocking the design.
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