opinion


Nokia’s “new dawn” shines in through the Windows

So it’s happened. Nokia’s debut Windows phone is out and, in what must surely be a first for Nokia, which always used to unveil phones that wouldn’t be available for several months, the new Lumia800 is shipping now. In a neat touch, Stephen Elop called up a live link to one of the firm’s manufacturing facilities in Salo, where a phone was ceremonially boxed up and shown ready to go. And that was all we saw of Finland in the keynote session here at Nokia World.

As you’d expect, all the talk was of differentiation. But the overwhelming sense that Elop and co. were projecting was that Nokia is now much more similar to the companies that have, over the last few years, well and truly eaten its lunch. There were no Finns involved in the presentations. Today’s Nokia is a North American company in look and feel.

For the section of the presentation that dealt with the new flagship, we were essentially watching a Microsoft demo. And when Kevin Shields, the man in charge of that flagship, bellowed that the phone was AWESOME, so loud that it hurt my ears, it felt like a Steve Ballmer tribute act.

There was a lot of that kind of language. “Awesomeness”, “amazingness”, that sort of thing. And it smacked of trying to fit in, rather than trying to stand out. Nonetheless, Shields made WP7 look good, which is great for Microsoft.

In a nod to Apple’s legendary focus on industrial design, much was made of the “beauty” of Nokia’s new products; the WP7 pair as well as a range of feature phones destined for emerging markets, about which more later.

Elop talked about “creating the beautiful effect of depth” with the firm’s choice of materials; he emphasised craftsmanship. Like an American waitress who simply tells you to “enjoy” without conceding that there is any other possible outcome, the Nokia brass were insistent about the aesthetic appeal of their new products. It wasn’t up for debate and, right on cue, the evangelist plants in the audience whooped and hollered their acquiescence.

In another, more pointed nod to Apple, Shields stressed how well the antenna works on the Lumia800.

Elop’s team led on services, on the availability of free, turn by turn navigation and commerce applications. Gartner’s handset specialist Carolina Milanesi suggested in a tweet that the focus on services reflected the fact that Nokia hadn’t had enough time to truly imprint its personality on the platform. Maybe it doesn’t want to; maybe Microsoft doesn’t want it to. Nokia would disagree with Milanesi; Elop’s comment, a touch snide, that this is the “first real Windows phone” tells us that much.

There were links to the past, as well. For millions of people, the first mobile phone was a Nokia. And this meant that the second and third mobile phones were Nokias. That’s how the firm rose to its peak of more than 40 per cent market share. Now the firm is hitting the emerging markets hard with feature phones in the hope that it can repeat the trick, armed this time with the knowledge of where it went wrong. Milanesi tweeted that she thought Nokia was the only vendor going after this market with a truly tailored approach.

They sing in the old blues songs that it’s always darkest right before the dawn. Lumia means light, Elop told us, and the phone represents a “New Dawn” for Nokia, he said. A new dawn it may well be – and it can only be a good thing that the company most synonymous with mobile phones is back on the high end playing field. Now Nokia just has to make sure it’s not a false dawn.


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