Nokia aims low ... and that's okay
Nokia is not forgetting about the emerging markets and will try to bring smartphones to a wider audience
Those expecting Nokia to use Mobile World Congress 2013 to unveil its competitor to the HTC One and the upcoming Galaxy S4 may have been disappointed with its showing but you have to remember that Nokia is thinking big. Nokia may be uniquely positioned to bring smartphones to the masses on a global scale.
Look, my colleagues and I are generally not that interested in what we call "low-end devices." Nokia showed off its 105 dumb phone which can make calls, text and take pictures - the type of phone that I would have used ten years ago.
But that's coming from a very Western and smartphone-centric perspective. The Nokia 105 only has to be charged once a month, costs about $20 and will be an important life line for tens of millions of people around the world.
Nielsen reports that in markets like the United States, United Kingdom and South Korea, smartphones are being used by the majority of mobile users but it's not even close to the tipping point in markets like Turkey, India and China.
We're talking about billions of users and potential customers who may not be able to afford a smartphone but still want some smartphone-like features in their device. Because of this, Nokia is trying to bring smartphones to the masses by making superchaged feature phones and low-cost smartphone.
"Connecting the next billion is a huge undertaking," said Nokia CEO Stephen Elop during a Mobile World Congress keynote. "The real challenge, and thus opportunity lies, in getting the consumer experience right and making the costs of entry affordable to the individual."
The Lumia legacy
Nokia's Lumia lineup with Windows Phone is widely considered its last chance of a true turnaround and there are signs of success. Nokia reported its first profit in six quarters recently and sales of Lumia smartphones continue to grow.
But Nokia needs to find a way to find more people to buy its Lumia phones and it is going to be very difficult to compete at the high end with the likes of the HTC One, the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S4 and the next iPhone. Nokia can leverage its strengths and experiences in the emerging markets to court the next generation of smartphone buyers.
Nokia sold 4.4 million smartphones last quarter but it sold 9.3 million Asha devices during that same period. We don't spend much time covering these devices but the Asha often feature full touch screens, 1GHz processors, decent cameras and would be considered smartphones if it weren't for its Symbian operating systems.
Nokia said that it will be bringing the design elements of its Lumia lineup to its broader portfolio and that was fully on display with the Lumia 720 and the Lumia 520. Both have that nice, in-hand feel we grew accustomed to from the Lumia 920. But that design ethos cut both ways, as both also feel a little chunkier than what the competition is putting out.
The specs on the Lumia 520 and the 720 are respectable and the most exciting thing about these Windows Phone 8 handsets may be its pricing. The Lumia 520 will be able to be purchased for roughly $180 and the Lumia 720 will be about $325. Remember, those don't come with long-term contracts, those are the prices to buy these unlocked smartphones outright.
The Lumia 520 will be coming to the United States via T-Mobile and it's unclear if there will be a subsidized pricing (I wouldn't be surprised to see it land for free with a contract). The Lumia 720 won't land here but both devices should provide an affordable Windows Phone for the masses.
Nokia isn't the only player going after the next billion users, as Huawei, ZTE, Alcatel, Coolpad and a host of other players are keen on being the first phone that people ever use. It's also not quite clear how profitable the so-called emerging markets will be in the short run, as let's not forget that only Apple and Samsung are making profits in the smartphone space right now and both do extremely well in the high-end markets.
Nokia didn't have the most exciting Mobile World Congress but it did outline a smart strategy that it can execute. It still needs to excite at the high end but this sort of steady progress in the middle and low end is good for Nokia and may very well be good for the world.