In many ways, Nokia came to Mobile World Congress 2014 as a company at a crossroads: after being the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones for over a decade, the company proved unable to keep up with its competitors in the touchscreen era, losing market share and relevance to Apple and the various manufacturers of Android devices. The company’s descent into irrelevance hit a new low in 2013, when their mobile phone business was bought out by Microsoft.
However, the company came to MWC with a plan, and it involves gaining an increased presence in the developing world. In Barcelona, Nokia announced the release of the new Nokia X line of devices. The Nokia X line will be the brand’s third line of mobile devices, made up of three mid-tier devices, all priced in between Nokia Asha and Nokia Lumia devices.
The company stated that the Nokia X line of devices, as well as similar entry-level smartphones from the Asha line, are a part of its dedication to providing affordable devices for people who may never have had the chance to own a smartphone before, a market that the company refers to as the “next billion.” This strategy could end up paying real dividends for the company.
“At this point, Nokia’s brand name doesn’t carry much cache in the developed world,” said Scottsdale Arizona entrepreneur Jason Hope. “The Windows Mobile devices they’re pushing just aren’t gaining much traction, so they have to start selling from a different perspective. Luckily for them, right now, one of the last unserved mobile user groups on Earth is just starting to open up. They’re called the ‘next billion’, which is significant, both because it indicates that there are a billion of them, and because it indicates that they’ve been waiting to become a part of this global connected network that goes along with owning a smartphone. Now is the time for them to get connected, and Nokia seems to recognize that fact.”
There are plenty of Microsoft fingerprints all over the Nokia X devices, reflecting the new relationship between the brands. However, unlike the high-end Nokia Lumia devices, the Nokia X devices will not run the Windows Mobile operating system. Instead, they will run a modified form of Android that will also connect to Microsoft services like OneDrive, Skype, and Outlook. Instead of connecting to the Google Play store like a traditional Android device, the Nokia X devices will use Nokia’s own app store, although the company says most Android apps will be compatible with the new devices. The company aims to establish the new devices as a best-of-both-worlds compromise, providing Android apps and Microsoft services. The decision to create a device that doesn’t use a single recognizable operating system is one that could end up backfiring for the company.
“To me, all this talk about providing the best of both worlds just feels unnecessary and overly complex. If the idea is to create an affordable device that can easily be used by people who have never used a smartphone before, then it needs to meet those two criteria; frankly, everything else is irrelevant. If it is affordable and easy to use, then why try to make it anything fancier than that? If you don’t handle it the right way, you’re just as likely to create something that’s the worst of both worlds. I think it would have been a better use of the company’s time and resources to focus on doing one thing well.”
The first device from the family to go on sale, the Nokia X, will be priced at 89 euros, and will be offered in Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. The devices will come with basic specs like a four-inch display and a three megapixel camera. They will also be sold in a variety of different colors, including bright green, bright red, yellow, cyan and black.
The new devices seem designed to keep the new bosses at Microsoft happy as well: with the connection to Microsoft services, including free trials of paid services like Skype Unlimited World, the phones are intended to help open up a vital new source of customers in the developing world for Microsoft.