This month saw Microsoft confirm that it will discontinue the Nokia brand, save for a few lowly entry-level handsets. So just how did one of the world’s most successful handset manufacturers fall so far from grace?
Picture the scene. It’s 1984, and the Mobira Talkman had just arrived. Amongst the world’s first transportable phones, it was built on technology developed by Nokia since the 1960s (with the company itself dating back to the mid-1800s). A remarkable device that would soon be improved upon on an annual basis, it gave an early indicator of just how pioneering the Finnish brand would soon be.
Skip forward to the end of the decade, and Nokia played an integral role in setting up the first GSM network- wherein data could be transmitted via mobile phone in addition to voice traffic. The first ever call using this system was made in 1991, by the then-Prime Minister of Finland, Harri Holkeri, and the rest, as they say, up until 3G, is pretty much history.
Between then and now the firm was responsible for not just advancing mobile technology, but also making it ever-cooler. At least for a good deal of time. The 3210 model, although useless by today’s standards, remains one of the most successful mobiles in the history of mobiles, a must-own item that shifted 160million units during its lifespan, and introduced a whole generation of users to the ever-addictive game, Snake.
Then we have the 1100, which arrived in 2003, and is still the best-selling handset of all time (200million units), followed by one of the earliest examples of a games-focussed phone in N-Gage- a precursor to the mobile gaming revolution that has emerged in recent years. With so many accolades, then, what exactly went wrong for the now-defunct former behemoth?
Well, for starters, the arrival of smartphones heralded a new batch of competitor brands with very deep pockets. Where there used to be Motorola you now had Apple, Samsung, LG and, a little later, Microsoft. Add to that Nokia’s determination to develop a stand alone operating system- Symbian- despite the fact this would mean developers had to create software on three (if not four) different platforms, and clearly the Scandinavian giant had its work cut out trying to convince people to remain loyal.
Nevertheless, for a while it remained competitive. The N600, for example, was the first smartphone to sell more than a million units; the E71 was renowned for its build quality and QWERTY keyboard. None of which would make much difference in the long run, though, with the Symbian system abandoned by 2011, Windows mobile OS taken on board, and then the eventual sale to Microsoft, leading to the death of Nokia as we once knew it.
Of course times will always change, with this a prime case in point. For people who grew up marveling at the 3210, the idea that within a decade we would be Skyping, Facebooking, tweeting and playing Grand Theft Auto on the bus, all through the wonders of superfast mobile devices, was as unthinkable as Nokia going under. We were just glad we didn’t have to find a payphone anymore when mum and dad needed to be informed the last bus had been ‘missed’.
It all seems thoroughly archaic now, yet without such striking steps forward many of the possibilities present today would never have materialised (Nokia being a key brand in the advancement of technological components, not just handsets). As such, consider this a brief lament and nostalgic look back at a company that defined an era, or two, of our lives, before our eyes inevitably look forward again.