It’s official. It was made official a few days ago. Nokia’s first proper Android phone is coming in 2017, possibly in the early months of the next year. Although there is no date that has been shared by Nokia, now powered by HMD (another story, some other time), but chances are that the company will make a splash at the Mobile World Congress in late February. Given how close is the launch of Nokia Android phone, should you wait for one? Well, the answer is a cautious yes. But at the same time, there is a very strong chance that this Nokia, the Nokia we will see in 2017, might be very different from Nokia of the old. And no, it won’t be because of any fault of Nokia. It’s just that the world, and worth of phones, has changed so much in the last 10 odd years.
To begin with, the phone market has commoditised in a big way. Except the iPhone, and a handful of other high-end phones, almost every phone in market today looks similar. It uses the same hardware, is manufactured by the same set of phone makers led by Foxconn, and has similar features. In fact, given the concentration of features inside the Silicon on Chip (SOC), there is hardly a way to offer come with a phone that is truly unique. Every phone nowadays has fast charging, dual SIM functionality and will soon have dual-rear camera setup. This is not because all phone companies — from Vivo to Samsung — have the same sort of R&D centres. This is because all these features can be easily implemented by a phone maker using a Qualcomm processor. The company just needs to follow certain guidelines that core hardware makers like Qualcomm prepare and they can have a phone as competent as any other in the market.
Given this background, it is not easy to see how different Nokia’s upcoming Android phones will be. In the past the company’s phones found favour with consumers because they had this extra sauce in them. Nokia phones came with fantastic cameras, were built like tanks and had some special features like great audio performance or a truly remarkable screen. But at the same time, these Nokia phones seemed special because they competed with the phones that were just bad, with confusing user interface and hardware that was suspect. The arrival of Android changed that. The software become better — and was available to all phone makers — and hardware too standardized with companies like Qualcomm, and now MediaTek, taking the lead.
This is one reason why when Nokia made the Windows Phone devices they went nowhere. The Lumia phones from the company were as good as other smartphones the company created in the past. But this time the competition was so much different.
Nokia, even after all these years, enjoys a lot of trust and brand recognition. And whatever the new Android phone it comes out with will be probably a solid phone. But whether that will be game-changing and dazzling? That is not guaranteed
This is the same different competition that Nokia will meet again, although this time armed with Android, it will definitely have better chance of matching the Galaxies and Pixels of the phone market. The key bit, however, is whether Nokia can surpass the others. It sure can. But nothing is guaranteed. There are things broken in the phone market right, things that the new Nokia can fix and win consumers. It can offer consumers a sort of Android that will be updated to the latest version fast and will get the relevant software updates quickly. It can offer consumers a sort of magic camera, something similar to what Nokia 808 once had. And it can offer consumers phones that are reliable, without heating issues that afflict many other Android phones.
But none of this is going to easy for Nokia. In the past the company won because it probably had the world’s best R&D centre for phones. Now that doesn’t matter because the phone R&D happens with Google and Qualcomm and similar other companies. Coming back to our original question: Should you wait for the Nokia Android phone? I said the answer is a cautious yes. The reason is because right now Nokia is promising a lot, and something that may redefine the market, with its new phone. Whatever that is coming is just a few more months away, so it does make sense to wait a while. But at the same time, also keep your expectations in check. So far everything that has leaked about the upcoming Nokia Android phone — it goes by the name Nokia D1C — so far points to a mid-range phone that may not be all that different from whatever companies like Xiaomi and Lenovo sells right now.
Creating truly unique phones, particularly the hardware and design wise, is very difficult right now. Samsung tried to squeeze an extra large battery in the Galaxy Note 7 and probably made an error of less than 1mm here or there and you can see the results. The phone just exploded and in the process destroyed Samsung’s phone business for this quarter.
Nokia, even after all these years, enjoys a lot of trust and brand recognition. And whatever the new Android phone it comes out with will be probably a solid phone. But whether that will be game-changing and dazzling? That is not guaranteed.