Has Nokia Phone Design Stalled?



That's a pic of the new Nokia 6225 CDMA2000 1x phone launched last week here in Spain at Totally Board along with their new 3200 series with the "make your own faceplates" phones which seemed to get all the press. But this phone above is really quite impressive as a comment on The Motley Fool (of all sites) tipped me off today. It's a light, color, camera phone with Java, MMS, FM Radio, GPS and CDMA2k 1x chipset for fast downloads on a semi 3G network. It doesn't have Bluetooth, but beyond that oversight, it's quite the neat little phone, especially for the CDMAers.

Now, CDMA may only have 165 million subscribers globally right now, whereas GSM has over a billion, but the fact is that CDMA tech is the future and holds a significant sway in the U.S. A smart looking functional CDMA phone from Nokia like this could help it penetrate into the U.S market and continue to boost its percentage of mobiles sold from the roughly 40% it has now even higher.

So from that sense - a business and technological sense - this phone shows that Nokia is on the right track.

Now, the part that make me wonder lately is if Nokia is losing some of that stuff that makes "Nokia" one of the top brands in the world. What I'm talking about is not their business sense or the technology, but the simple question of Design. Mobiles have become fashion accessories as much as they are utility items and I'm not sure if Nokia is keeping up with this trend. This may seem nuts days after the launch of the the 3200 which definitely gets high marks for innovation and got press *everywhere*. But seriously, it seems to me much of Nokia's new designs have been simply a combination of wacky keypad layouts and ever-so-slightly differently shaped bodies. The DIY covers on the 3200 helped jazz this sort of thing up a bit (because it is a neat idea) but from a basic industrial design point of view, the phone itself isn't very much different than all the *rest* of the multimedia phones that Nokia offers.

Standardization is a wonderful thing. I can't imagine how much money Nokia is saving having standardized on Series 40 as their mass market phone User Interface. However, when *all* your phones have the same exact UI, and you design your phones around it and its static screen size, and that UI stopped innovating over a year or so ago, eventually the design of the phones themselves are going to eventually become stale. That, to me, is what's happening. Check out some of the Series 40 phones for yourself and decide.

Several things made this apparant to me lately. One is the launch and success of the SonyEricsson T610. I personally know of 4 different people who have purchased that phone lately. It's really quite a well-done, light phone, with the latest technology, big screen and Sony-chique. My friend Greg Brown told me about a couple of his friends who went out phone shoppping looked at all the Nokias, yet decided to go with the T610. These were "die-hard Nokia fans," he said. There's tons of them out there, but they're being wooed away by a neat new user interface and cutting edge industrial design. And for those people who *must* have a flip (and there are lots of those people too), SonyEricsson has take the same exact phone and made it into a clam shell with the Z600 as well! It's all about the design and catering to customer whims, yet Nokia seems to be stuck on the S40 model-type, and doesn't make flip phones.

The thing that really tipped it for me was this article in mobile review about creating new skins for your T610's UI. I had *no* idea that was possible, but it's a fantastic idea! Series 40 has nothing like it, and Series 60 needs special add-on programs to do something similar, but not nearly as integrated and seamless. This was possible I assume because the phone, from the UI up, was designed just recently when you could see that this sort of feature would really be cool. It's a fun, compelling feature that really adds to the T610 as a neat device to have both from a technical and style point of view.

Now, I don't know what the future will hold for Nokia designs, but it seems to me that right now wacky keypads seem to be the extent of what Nokia is doing with their phones. Even their Series 60 phones could use a little oomf. The 6600 looks great from a very utilitarian point of view, but compared to how light and streamlined the Samsung SGH-D700 will be, it's not at all well designed. (I got to fondle the D700 in May, and it seemed *very* light. It's impressive that it's a S60 device). I've read that in the future Nokia will continue to push the Symbian/Series 60 down from high-end phones to where the S40 phones sit now. This may help *a lot* from a systems point of view since S60 phones can do *anything* but even this will become stale unless Nokia jazzes up the shapes, sizes and forms of the phones themselves.

So from a business perspective, its obvious Nokia knows what they're doing. They've got over $8 billion in the bank and their market share keeps growing while competitors like SonyEricsson battle for 4-5% of the market and struggle to gain financial viability. From a technical perspective, they've got the amazing S60 platform and functional home-grown CDMA2000 chipsets. But from a *design* perspective, it really looks like Nokia has stalled and I have to wonder how long it will be before that comes to start affecting their bottom line as well.


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