Nokia smartphones in 2017 may be dead on arrival because the "real Nokia" has moved on

It's not easy to pull off a Nokia today and that is the exact problem HMD Global will face apart from the fact that the Nokia brand is still in one way or another, rooted to Microsoft, its previous owner.

Microsoft's CEO of its Asia-Pacific branch, James Rutherfoord, has gone on the record stating that HMD Global is teaming up with Nokia and will launch multiple devices in the remainder of 2016 and beginning of 2017. Nokia Power User also points out that there will be "two new phone products in the fourth quarter 2016 and at least two smartphones in the early second quarter 2017" by HMD.

Line this up with Nokia CEO Rajeev Suri's MWC 2017 keynote and it is enough to get fans around the world excited about Nokia finally making a comeback, but this time with Android inside.

The Problem

Just mention the word "Nokia" to a member of the tech community and everyone gets nostalgic. Some loved those crazy (and at times unwieldy) designs, while others will remember how "stuck up" the company's Symbian software was, and are glad that the world has moved on without them. Nokia mobile phones and smartphones till this day are still known for the reliability and those designs. You could toss and throw one around and simply assemble it back and it would start working. Their designs would reflect (and at times inspire) fads or trends in fashion, and were less of the slabs of glass and metal that we have seen in recent years.

One thing Nokia smartphones were not good at was software, because it simply refused to evolve and this itself led to its downfall, after Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone and iOS. In short, it's not easy to pull off a Nokia today and that is the exact problem HMD Global will face apart from the fact that the Nokia brand is still in one way or another, rooted to Microsoft, its previous owner.

Why Microsoft?

Back in 2013, Stephen Elop gladly handed over Nokia on a platter to his ally Microsoft. Microsoft picked up Nokia, did nothing with it other than retaining some of its design elements (which it eventually let go off as well) and used the smartphone business to push out its Windows Phone software on Lumia hardware, which was a mess back then, still is and forever will be.

With Windows Phone on board it was easy to say that the only element about the Nokia smartphones was the build quality and design, both of which did a good job at making Windows Phone look appealing to buyers. The plan however did not last long and Microsoft indeed had to find ways to get rid of this so called "loss-making machine" and sold the brand off to a company called HMD Global.

However, HMD is funded by Smart Connect LP and it includes to two wounded Nokia soldiers, Arto Nummela (who now heads Microsoft’s Mobile Devices business for Asia, Middle East and Africa) and Florian Seiche (who also now works for Microsoft). So it is getting easy to see how Microsoft still holds the reigns when the world thinks that Nokia is finally separated from Microsoft.

The smartphones will be made by FIH Mobile Ltd (a Foxconn subsidiary), so there's nothing Finnish about this new Nokia anymore. One element that could turn out to be the brand's saving grace, is that HMD will have to follow Nokia's design guidelines. But after the iPad-like N1 tablet made by the new-age Finns (Nokia Technologies) themselves, it is hard to see how much HMD can deviate from the current smartphone norms.

Nokia smartphones in 2017 may be dead on arrival because the real Nokia has moved on

The above image gives us a side by side comparison of what was considered to be a Nokia smartphone, what became of it after Microsoft took over, and what Microsoft thinks its smartphone should look like (the 950 was really nothing to talk about).

The "real Nokia" has moved on

Nokia OZO

In a piece titled "Why Nokia Couldn't Beat The iPhone" by Justin Fox, it was clear from the book Against all odds that Nokia has to look beyond the smartphone. Ex Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila said, “After a metamorphosis, Nokia will probably find some new area into which it can grow.”

What remains of the "real Nokia", is Nokia Technologies, which is now into networks. It's CEO Rajeev Suri is expected to make a big announcement at the upcoming MWC 2017. But since Nokia is into networks, this could be something related to 5G networks and not smartphones. For Nokia Technologies the Nokia OZO 360 degree camera is the new bold step.

Nokia is no longer a smartphone maker, it is just a brand. There's nothing Finnish about it, so it is high time we stopped expecting Nokia (the brand or HMD its owners) to make a big dent in the smartphone world.

HTC and Apple had shown the way for smartphones a few years ago and now every other smartphone out there looks similar. The world too has moved on.

Even though many are waiting for a company to break the monotony of the slab-like chocolate bar design, in this economy (of large screens, media consumption, premium design is metal and all that jazz), that is just not going to happen. Even if HMD builds a Nokia-branded smartphone with a metal and glass construction and Android inside, it will just be treated as another Android-powered smartphone, not the bold and whacky Nokia that we remember.