If HMD Global was looking to use nostalgia as a leverage to create hype for the Nokia brand, it has clearly succeeded. Refreshing the most iconic phone in its history – the Nokia 3310 feature phone – was a masterstroke in so many ways.
But I wished it hadn’t. Or at the very least, I wished HMD Global tried a little harder to make the 2017 3310 more appealing than just a modern take on a classic device.
At the launch event, HMD Global introduced the Nokia 3310 in a fun, affable manner – this was no smartphone, but the CEO jokingly listed down the spec list as if it was. Members of the press were already expecting this, and so were more than willing to soak it in.
But as the euphoria settled as I left the event, something struck me: the new 3310 isn’t exactly great, even by feature phone standards.
Not Outstanding – Even by Feature Phone Standards
Let’s start with price. At 49 Euro or $52 or RM230, this isn’t an affordable device by feature phone standards. Take HMD’s first feature phone release, the Nokia 150, for example.
It is almost a carbon copy of the Nokia 3310 in terms of hardware (2.4-inch QVGA display, Series 30+ OS, microSD card slot, 22hr talk time and 31 days standby time) with only a few differences (VGA camera vs 2MP on 3310, 1,020mAh battery vs 1,200mAh on 3310, and an unspecified internal storage).
The Nokia 150 costs $26 (or RM159 in Malaysia) – half the price of the 3310.
Also, it is 2017. Even in developing nations, the popularity of messaging apps like WhatsApp and WeChat is escalating. Moreover, some previous Nokia feature phones had a dedicated button for WhatsApp, or even had Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp pre-installed.
Yes, developing nations are still heavily reliant on SMS. But if HMD were to truly live up to Nokia’s old “Connecting People” motto, the future would be on messaging apps that work even on basic internet like WhatsApp. After all, this is the same app that has a staggering 1.2 billion monthly active users, according to Statista.
So clearly, there is no way that Nokia developed the 3310 for emerging markets – it already has a strong portfolio of feature phones for that. No matter how you look at it, the Nokia 3310 is a lot of money for not a lot of phone (even if it comes with a new version of Snake).
This begs the question:
Why did HMD release a new Nokia 3310?
Let’s start by not talking about the device. HMD Global’s major challenge is how it navigates the extremely perilous smartphone market – it is competitive, fickle, and unforgiving; just look at companies like HTC, Sony, and LG.
And as a startup, it does not have the resources required to develop the very most premium flagship that can out-spec the OnePluses or Galaxies in the market. This move, coincidentally, is also a very expensive risk: fail, and you could end up losing the business entirely.
What HMD does have is the Nokia brand, and the nostalgia it carries for entire generations of consumers. Few people have not owned a Nokia phone in their lives, and those who do usually have fond memories involving T-9 keypads, Snakes, and Space Impact.
It also has what HMD calls “the most-memed” phone ever made. It may be 17 years old this year, but what other old phone gets compared to an iPhone and win (in a few areas)? Coincidentally, this is also a feature phone that is very cheap to make.
Combine these elements together and you have a financially sound strategy to build immeasurable hype for the brand, buying you enough time to establish yourself.
Will It Work?
Judging by the responses on social media, yes. Most of the chatter are about how they will buy this phone “for nostalgia’s sake”. But that is a two-edged sword: these are not likely to be repeat customers, which HMD will want.
What HMD needs is time, and the release of the Nokia 3310 buys itself some runway as it attempts to establish itself in the smartphone industry and, ultimately, sway consumers their way. But it will need more than nostalgia to do so, and by the looks of it, HMD has again taken the right steps.
All Nokia smartphones will be running on “pure” Android – that means no bloatware, and no unnecessary skins. This alone will be critical to influence the more hardcore community, and also play into the good books of those at Google, who is increasingly looking for control over the Android experience on smartphones.
It is also placing emphasis on industrial design, a Nokia hallmark. The new Nokia 6, 5, and 3 look fantastic with premium design and feel, which is a testament to a statement made at the event, claiming that “premium design should not be limited to only one device a year”.
The Hype Phone
The new Nokia 3310 may not exactly be a great device when you take a closer look, but its success will not be measured by how many units it sells. This is HMD Global’s bold move of its chess piece, and the next few quarters will tell if it is an inspired one.