With the news that Microsoft, owners of Nokia over the past year, are dissolving the brand-name into their vast product line, we take a look back at the good times and bad of our favourite Finnish mobile company.
When we think of Nokia, we think of nostalgia. It’s a brand of the past, with fond memories of getting our first mobile phone, playing Snake on simple black-and-white graphics, and kicking around a Nokia 1100 because it was invincible.
There was a time where Nokia was arguably the most successful mobile phone developer in the world. It became a household name in the mid-to-late 90s, when the technology had just become affordable and accessible. At the time competitors such as Samsung and Motorola were left playing catch up with how user-friendly Nokia phones were.
And yet its history starts much earlier than the 90s. The Nokia Company was founded in 1865 as a wood pulp mill by a river in Finland. This makes Microsoft’s decision yesterday to fade the Nokia name away all the sadder – Nokia has existed in one form or another for the last 149 years.
In the time since it has dabbled in rubber manufacture (Nokia galoshes, anyone?), electricity production and, at the advent of World War 1, telegraph cables. Nokia we beginning to look vaguely like a telecoms company.
Nokia began developing wireless telecommunications technology since the 60s, mainly in military radios, and were in prime position to release one of the very first true mobile phones in the world, the Mobira Cityman 150 in 1987, and my oh my does it look retro. It came out with the price tag of about £3,600, yet was enormously successful, being a symbol of the yuppie status on Wallstreet.
You’d think the price would have decreased to roughly £1.00 with a free copy of Heat Magazine by 2014, but I can see auctions on eBay starting at £90 on what the sellers describe as an “antique.”
The Mobira Cityman 150 was so hip even Gorbachev was seen muttering down one.
Nokia weren't simply manufacturing electronics that they thought people would buy – they were actively pushing the boundaries of technology, and they were a large part of the development force behind 2G technology – the transition of data over radio waves other than voice traffic.
That’s Nokia’s legacy: not vague nostalgia of bulky grey phones, but the driving force behind furthering mobile communications that, arguably, has now gripped our civilisation.
Sadly, Nokia’s visionaries did not read the market well in the early 2000’s, underestimating the appeal on the market of sliding and flip-phones. They've maintained a static-body design which only began to become popular with edge-to-edge smart phone screens. Evidently they peaked before their time.
In response to missing the pulse of mobile design, Nokia responded with… well, some of the oddest designs yet seen. They were always looking to innovate a surprise, in the same way that Apple did when Steve Jobs were still alive. They did not have nearly as much success as Apple, of course. Remember the 7600? Nokia would rather you didn’t.
With Apple’s iPhone hitting the market in 2007, and Samsung’s Galaxy range taking hold not long after, with the rise of Android since, Nokia’s share of the market collapsed, which is when Microsoft swooped in sensing a deal. To begin with, this was just a partnership, whereby Nokia’s Lumia smartphone range would run on Windows OS, but sales and share prices continued to deteriorate.
Microsoft eventually bought out Nokia’s mobile phone business in September 2013, and instantly became subsumed into “Microsoft Mobile”. Just over a year later and Microsoft is ready to ditch the Nokia name forever, pushing their devices purely under the domineering Microsoft label. It’s a sad end for the brand after 149 years.
That’s not to say Nokia has gone. Only its ailing mobile phone business was sold off to Microsoft, and it continues to develop telecoms across the world, but as far as Western countries go it’s now been fairly marginalised. It continues to run and fund a large amount of research in collaboration with learned institutes around the world, and continues to be especially influential in India.
This is a farewell, however, to a recognisable and well-respected brand that we’ve kept in our hearts, and our pockets, for many years. While the Microsoft acquisition was certainly the only event preventing the company’s utter ruin, it’s still sad to see such a historical name disappear into the ever-expanding umbrella of Microsoft. But hey, at least the "Lumia" name will live on in Microsoft phones that we will never buy.
God speed, Nokia. We’ll light a candle by our indestructible 1100 just for you.