We all agree that this has not been a year of stories of feeling good about technology. Whether it's Facebook privacy or YouTube algorithms, the Silicon Valley headlines have been a grim parade of lapses and disappointments. So let's take a moment to appreciate the development of a thread that everyone can get: the perfect kick party from Nokia.
You may not know the Nokia 3310 or the 8110 by name, but I would recognize them in the blink of an eye. They are two of the phones that made Nokia the dominant seller of oughts cell phones, the candy bar and the banana form factors that defined the pre-iPhone era.
In the last year, as you've probably seen, a company called HMD Global has resurrected both, updating and updating them for a world that still needs many feature phones. What could have been a lazy money-collecting restart, looking at you, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Michael Bay has resulted in two carefully designed and executed devices. And they could not have come at a better time.
A quick clarification: HMD is a company that manufactures telephones, both smart phones and those sold under the Nokia brand, so technically that is not the case. the same company that dominated the landscape of cell phones through the turn of the millennium. But HMD resides in the same building as Nokia's headquarters, and was founded by former Nokia employees, including product director Juho Sarvikas, who led the return of the 3310 and 8110, and started at Nokia more than a decade ago. . All about this is Nokia's DNA.
This is shown in his revivals of telephone functions. Let's take last year 3310, published nearly two decades after its namesake. It looks enough like the original for instant recognition, but it has just new design touches and feature enhancements, smoothing around the edges, a 2 megapixel camera, a web browser, to be viable today. Oh, and his battery still lasts a month.
That balance required more work than you might think.
"It really took us a long time to deconstruct the original 3310," says Sarvikas. It turned out that recreation required a certain degree of invention. "One of the most difficult things with the 3310 was to make the corner of the screen so close to the edge of the physical enclosure, that was an area where we had to develop a completely new solution that did not exist in this space."
And the reason why it did not exist is quite simple: feature phones are cheap, which means they are made with cheap parts products. All seem basically the same, because the companies that manufacture them normally buy in bulk from the same suppliers.
"Having phones with attractive features, standing out in the design, when the other providers that are using conventional phones are very simple, is an intelligent strategy," says Avi Greengart, technology analyst at GlobalData.
That's partly why the 3310 stood out so much; it was a face as familiar as the rethinking of a whole category of devices that had become obsolete.
A refined exterior also required serious interior engineering; the original 3310 had not had to accommodate interns for 2G or 3G signals; the 2017 model was launched with the previous one and got a network update last fall. "It's not about just putting together a nice shape for the design, there's a lot of advanced engineering and asset development that you have to do, it's amazing how much it matters a couple of millimeters," says Sarvikas.
This year's 8110, that's the banana phone, which you'll remember best from The Matrix presented an even more intimidating challenge both inside and out. Start with the form, which out of a nefarious flirtation with curvature of LG in 2013 simply no longer exists. The phone does not just curve; part of it appears by pressing a button.
"How do you set the length versus the thickness versus the actual physical curvature of the banana?" Says Sarvikas. "As you build the inner blocks and design the electromechanics around that, it becomes a really intriguing exercise – you could not modify a dimension without having to rethink everything and reconfigure it from scratch."
The mechanism Sliding also requires balance. You need to travel without problems from open to closed; it needs to close firmly but be easy to open; It does not need to wiggle when it is extended. And Sarvikas points to one last consideration: he absolutely must be able to turn it like a lid. "Spinning is the final trick of the game," he says.
The 8110 also represents a more ambitious effort under the hood; It comes with 4G and Google Assistant on board. And yes, even with that gold, the battery life is still approaching a full month.
It may seem strange, in 2018, to focus so much on the efforts of a company's phone. Smartphones, after all, govern much of the world. In the United States and Western Europe, feature phones account for less than 7 percent of sales. But in regions with broadband or limited resources in general, Nokia – again, really HMD – once again became a dominant player.
HMD sold 59.2 million Nokia phones in 2017, an increase of 70 percent a year earlier. That is not yet close to the territory of the iPhone; Apple sold 77 million of those in its most recent quarter alone. But think about what it takes to really increase sales of feature phones, to almost double them, in a day and age when you are in a decade's decline. And because the 3310 and 8110 stand out so much, they can demand a higher price than the competition.
"Will this make them number one? Obviously, I do not think that's going to happen," says Tuong Nguyen, a Gartner mobile analyst. "But it gives them a better foothold than some of their competitors, the guys who focus on features or safety or a super low price."
"Spinning is the ultimate party trick."
Juho Sarvikas, HMD
Part of that resurgence also comes from people who see the 3310 and 8110 not only as a journey of nostalgia, but a legitimate opportunity to disconnect from the lifestyle always active in the midst of Growing concerns about addiction to smartphones. The 8110, in particular, connects enough to not feel downcast, but not enough to keep it glued to its 2.4-inch screen.
"I think there is a growing number of people who want to buy a secondary device," says Sarvikas. "Very often it's something you want to use to disconnect a bit."
A second phone, argues Sarvikas, still needs to offer what he calls "lifeline communications," particularly messaging services that have gradually subsumed SMS. But maybe you do not need Instagram or Candy Crush while you take a long weekend. Maybe you just need a banana phone and Snake .
"For me, as a technology expert, I'm a little excited about Nokia products," says Nguyen. "I agree to give up many of those smartphone functions to have a lower cognitive load on a daily basis, I definitely feel like I would be much happier, even though I'm giving up on things like browsing and social networking."
The success of retreads has also had a halo effect for Nokia smartphones, largely by reminding people that Nokia brand, well, it still exists.
And they will continue. "A ton of Nokia's iconic designs await the revitalization; Greengart has his fingers crossed for the 8800, which figures prominently in John Wick Chapter 2 .and Sarvikas says they are far from doing.
"There is a lot to be drawn, and there are so many technologies interesting emergencies, "he says." I do not think we'll run out of fun things to do soon. "