Nokia’s Numbering Doesn’t Add Up

Nokia launched another three phones this morning, and as soon as I saw the names I threw my hands up in despair. Once again it’s recycled numbers used for earlier phones. I think this will only confuse its customers and distributors.

The latest misstep’s the worst to date, in my opinion. Nokia has christened two of its new products the 6600 slide and the 6600 fold. Try searching on Google Images for “6600 slide” — you’ll get lots of pictures of an S60 smartphone that Nokia launched in June 2003.

The original 6600 is one of Nokia’s best-known S60 devices. It shipped millions of them all over the world. Now it’s launching two new products with 6600 in their name. But they’re not S60 phones; they feature the more basic Series 40 user interface.

Yes, I know many people don’t care which software platform their phone uses. They just want a phone that works. However, they will care when they download one of the hundreds of applications labelled “for the Nokia 6600”. It won’t work, because it’ll be an incompatible S60 program.

Software aside, another problem is that the 6600 slide and 6600 fold have different specifications. One has a two-megapixel camera and the other, 3.2 megapixels. One features Nokia Maps, the other apparently doesn’t. At a more practical level, try ordering an in-car charger, replacement battery or leather case on eBay and you’ll really see what buyers are up against.

The phones aren’t the first Nokia products to reuse old numbers. The company began this misguided approach with the 6110 Navigator in February 2007 and did it again with the 6220 classic a year later. The 6220 classic highlighted the perils of reusing numbers. The picture below is from a UK trade magazine. It reviewed the new Nokia phones announced at Mobile World Congress 2008 and used a picture of the original 6220 by mistake. If trade magazines that track the industry week in, week out are slipping up, you’ve got to feel sorry for customers trying to find a picture of a newly announced phone on the Web. I can just hear them now: “I’m not buying that — it looks just like a phone I had five years ago!”

Nokia 6220 and 6220 classic

What makes this situation even more disappointing is that Nokia foresaw problems back in September 2006. Keith Pardy (Nokia’s SVP, strategic marketing) stated during a Web cast to a Citigroup investor meeting in New York that “…what you will see from us in the future is not just a number system; you are going to start to see names that carry a meaning and are important to consumers”.

Admittedly, Nokia has made some tentative moves in this direction, particularly in its high-end products. The Nokia 8800 Arte and Sirocco Editions and the 8600 Luna are good examples. It also seemed likely Nokia would introduce an entry-level phone with a name when it announced “Barracuda”. Sadly, this turned out to be a code name for a phone it marketed as the 2630.

Nokia has created brand families using the Nseries and Eseries, which have introduced prefix letters of “N” and “E” to products, but this does not overcome the core problem of numbers in the majority of its product names. Nokia would argue that descriptors such as classic, fold, slide and sport are examples of what Keith Pardy was talking about in September 2006, but I remain unconvinced.

I don’t want to underestimate the challenge of finding names that are available as trademarks or don’t have unfortunate meanings in other languages. Just ask Toyota about marketing its MR2 sports car in France or Microsoft about selling the Zune in French-speaking Canada. At the very least, though, Nokia should try to devise a better strategy than picking numbers it’s already used.

Personally, I think this is one area where Nokia’s competitors have stolen a march on the market leader. Names like Razr, Chocolate, Shine and Soul resonate in a way numbers never will.