We maybe twenty, forty, or sixty years of age, and yet when he hear from Nokia, we instantly think of the golden age of the telecom market. For decades, this Finnish company has been ahead of every competitor, producing more innovation than any other, and setting the trend in the tech, product, and design arenas. Ever since its beginnings in the 1860s as a paper pulp mill, and a rubber factory, all the way to the late 90s, and early 2000s when it led the mobile market throughout the world; and even after Apple introduced the iPhone and it started its slow decline, this brand has been an important part of our lives. And with the recent announcement that Microsoft is planning to kill it in oder to replace it for its own, it is certain that a big void will be left in the hearts of all of us who grew with its devices on our hands, and their technology powering up many aspects of our lives.
Nokia’s Three Revolutions
It has been 54 years since Nokia first created its Electronics department, it’s first incursion into the telecommunications market. It was this division that at the late sixties led the first of many revolutions to come in the phone business. In that opportunity it was set by the introduction of the pulse dialing system, a technology fully developed by its engineers which vastly increased the capacity of phone wires.
During the 70s, the company made its first big international expansion, when it begun to export transmission equipment to different countries throughout the world, and especially to the Soviet Union.
A few years later, the creation and implementation of the DX 200 as a universal commuter platform marked the second revolution led by Nokia. This digital switcher – the first of its kind – managed to standarize the telecom market’s digitalization, a process which, up to that point, was a mess of technologies and norms.
But it was the third revolution that marked the beginning of Nokia’s big positioning as a leading brand in the telecommunications sector. It occurred in the 1980s when, alongside Motorola, this brand walked the first steps of the path that would bring mobile technology and users together. This was achieved with the launch of the Senator, the company’s first cell phone. It’s weight of 10 Kg. didn’t make it exactly portable, although its size made it a perfect option to stay connected in the car for world leaders, businessmen, and other VIPs. Two years later, in 1984, the company achieved another major breakthrough when it lanched the Mobira Talkman, which broke the 5 kilogram brand. Battery life wasn’t very good though. Three years passed before the company broke the kilo mark when it launched the Mobira Citygram, which was only 800 grams heavy. This phone was available for $3,726, ($7,858.29, if we adjust it for inflation). In spite of this high price, the device was extremely popular and had far higher demand than it was ever projected.
The Golden Decade
From them on, it was one big hit after another for the Finnish manufacturer. Even when by the early 90s mobile technology was only available for the higher classes and for large businesses, as the market grew, manufacturing costs began to plummet. The 15 million cell phone users which made up the entire market in 1991, quickly scaled to 135 million by 1996, beginning a trend of exponential expansion that lasted for almost two decades. And Nokia managed to remain an essential player all along:
- On November 10 1992 the company launched the Nokia 1011, the first-ever phone powered by GSM technology. This gives this phone the odd privilege of being the only one capable of functioning on today’s networks. With a weigh of 495 grams, and a robust body, this phone could store only 99 contacts. Its small screen was, of course, monochrome, and it was incapable of utilizing any value added service, which were still long ahead on the road.
- Two years later, the Scandinavian OEM marked its print once again by launching the first phone to be able to send and receive SMS texts, the Nokia 2110. It also added the capability of storing a record of the last made, received, and unanswered calls. It was due to that phone’s success, that these features have become so obvious in today’s devices.
- By1998 Nokia understood before any of its competitors that it was time to open up the mobile market for a new kind of consumers, not necessarily related to the business world. Once again, the company hit a home-run with the Nokia 5110, which included interchangeable color faceplates, a younger design and – perhaps the most fantastic feature of all – the “Snake” game, which became an absolute classic. Needless to say, this phone was a complete success, and the best selling up to that point in the company’s history.
- In 1999, the Nokia 7110 saw the light. Its compact design, and its automatic slider cover, made it look very futuristic. And indeed it was, as it was the first device to include predictive text for the SMS function, the Navi Roller (a wheel which allowed users to switch through functions), Internet connectivity, e-mail, and even the possibility to read the news though its WAP browser.
- In 2003 the company hit a bump when it launched its innovative N-Gage, which combined a mobile phone with a gaming device. The phone was a total failure, a first for the company. Perhaps it was due to its rare design, the awkward position of its mic and speaker, or maybe because the market wasn’t ready yet. However, in spite of this device’s inability to appeal the public, Nokia kept its leadership by offering a wide range of phones, which outsmarted every competitor’s, which led it to monopolize the high end market, and to become a synonym with status and tech savviness.
- 2004 was another bumpy year. That year Nokia launched the first touchscreen phone, and maybe due to a poor implementation, or to a market that wasn’t mature enough yet, it didn’t succeed. Rather than insisting, the company abandoned that technology altogether. A big mistake considering that only three years later Apple would be launching the iPhone turing this, into one of the new device’s biggest assets.
- 2005 was, however, the year that marked the company’s last big hit. The launch of the N series. This line of multimedia smartphones became a bestseller world wide, placing the company once again ahead in innovation, and separating it light years from its competitors. Of all the available models, which came in all kinds of shapes and sizes, the N95, launched in 2006, was undoubtedly the most successful. It run the latest version of Symbian with smoothness, and it incorporated a Zeiss camera, plus a VGA frontal cam. It also included GPS, an MP3 player, a mini USB port, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi connectivity, an infrared port, a crisp 2.6 inch screen (an enormity by that time’s standards), a 332 MHz dual processor, with 64 MiB of SDRAM, 160MB internal store, and a MicroSDHC card slot that allowed for memory expansion of up to 32GB. For that time this was, indeed, a powerhouse.
But on January 9 2007, an event shaked the whole mobile industry in a way no one saw coming. With a 3.5 inch touchscreen, a single button in the front, a 2MP camera, a completely innovative design, and a user experience that beat everything ever created thus far, the iPhone was launched. While it was first received with mockery and scepticism, and no response at all from Nokia and other OEMs, the phone became a big hit. Even after brands like HTC and Samsung begun to offer an appropriate answer with Android and other innovations, Nokia stay put, lagging its decision to finally ride the new trend.
The Endless Search for a New OS
Even though it continued to manufacture amazing quality phones, with great design and many features, Nokia’s resistance to adopt Android and stick to Symbian, and later MeeGo, ultimately led it to its near demise. Stephen Elop, the company’s CEO, never abandoned the idea that differentiation was the key to success, no matter how hard the facts were hitting him. By the time Nokia adopted Windows Phone it was already too late. And even then, Microsoft’s OS wasn’t mature enough to break the newly formed Android-iOS duopoly.
The Lumia series, powered by Windows, however allowed the company to recover some ground and recover its reputation as a builder of quality phones, and it allowed it to recover some positions, especially in markets like Latin America where, while it is far from leading, it has some respectable market share.
The Big Decision
After acquiring the mobile division of the company in May 2014, Microsoft has finally made a decision many thought it wouldn’t dare to make: it announced it will eliminate the Nokia brand, and will continue the devices business under the Microsoft Lumia brand, which effectively makes the Nokia, as a brand, a memory of the past.
Will the Redmond company be able to gain market share and manage to position itself in the smartphones market as reputable third player? Only time will tell, in the meantime, we can only hope they will keep the tradition of making amazing devices alive.
Photo: Kristof.k y nmuseum