One of the biggest announcements at the Mobile World Congress 2014 was Nokia’s launch of the Android-based X series phone. There were rumors about Nokia going Android before MWC so probably that wasn’t a big surprise. But what might have been a surprise to many was how Nokia tweaked Nokia X line that has the Lumia tile-style interface and has access to Android apps.
The outcome is an attempt to blend Nokia, Microsoft and Google’s Android in a friend/foe relationship. In the strict terms, Nokia X is a not an Android phone because it runs on Nokia X OS. But why did Nokia finally join the Android band wagon after years of preferring symbian and later joining the Windows Phone platform through Lumia? We caught up with Nokia’s Sari Stahlberg, Vice President Mobile Phones Business Management at the Mobile World Congress who explained the rationale of Nokia X range.
Why did Nokia finally decide to make an Android phone?
We are going full-speed addressing the affordable smart phone market. We see a huge growth in this market where smart phones are under 100 dollars. We have seen an annual growth of 20 percent for affordable smart phones and it is growing four times faster than other smart phones, which is stunning.
When we were looking at the best way to address this huge potential which sits between our Lumia and Asha devices we found that consumers want access to android applications. So we were thinking of a solution that would bring the best of both worlds – Android applications and also Nokia hardware design and user experience which has a differentiated user experience that is not typical of Android phones.
We also found that users love the Asha Fastlane so we brought Fastlane to these devices. There is a huge market for apps and users can get lost in the many apps they download making it hard to manage installed apps. Our consumer research shows people want fast access to frequent used apps and that’s why we have included Fastlane in the range of Nokia X which also allows users to perform frequent tasks easily and fast.
Nokia has also brought other apps and services to the Nokia X range to add value to consumers. These include Skype, OneDrive, MixRadio, Outlook, Mail exchange and we are also adding the best of Microsoft and Nokia services like Here Maps which is a great offering because it can work offline.
We launched Nokia X, which is the more affordable introduction to the Nokia X family and has 512 MB memory, 3MP rear-facing camera and will retail at 89 Euros(Sh10,000). The Nokia X+, which has 768 MB memory and 4 GB microSD will retail at 99 Euros (without tax and subsidy). All the X series, including the XL come in six different bright colors.
So we are basically bringing the best of android and also the best of Nokia design at a great price.
The Nokia X range interface looks more like a Windows Phone than an Android phone. Why did you decide to go with the tile-based interface instead of the conventional Android look?
We wanted to make sure that Nokia consumers will not feel disoriented when using an Android phone and through consumer research, we wanted to make sure that when we introduce our users to the whole android they will be familiar with the interface. When they will be ready to buy a Lumia, it would be an easy transition to a higher device.
You also announced two new phones together with Nokia X. Tell us about the new models and how it fits into your mid-term and long term strategy.
It is our strategy to connect the next billion of consumers and we know this next billion will come from the growth markets, a lot of them being young people who connect to the internet via mobile phones. So this presents an opportunity for us and we want to provide the best devices to consumers across different price points.
The first device we announced is Nokia 220 and this is a significant announcement as this is our most affordable data capable device which brings the internet, social apps and search with 2MP camera at 29 Euros (Sh3298), without taxes. This is deliberate in bringing data and multimedia at an affordable cost and is suitable for consumers coming online for the first time.
We know social media is a big consideration for most users so we have preloaded facebook and twitter and also comes with Nokia browser. We have used a technology that compresses data by 90 percent so that consumers don’t incur a lot of charges when browsing.
The second phone we introduced was the Nokia Asha 230. The Asha range has been successful in Africa including Kenya. It brings the familiar Asha user interface at a competitive price point of 45 Euros (without tax) making it the most affordable Asha device. The Asha 230 touch screen brings the smart phone essentials to consumers. We also announced that we will bring a software update across the whole Asha range in April. The update includes access to OneDrive which allows users to store their photos on the Microsoft cloud service.
The two devices are very competitive in terms of price but also user-friendly, aesthetically beautiful without compromising on performance and also providing key apps.
With the launch of Nokia X, what is the way forward for Nokia in terms of app development?
We have had great traction with the Lumia which has seen the highest growth rate in the smart phone category. But we have also seen significant growth in developer ecosystem for Windows phone where we are adding more apps for the OS. So we won’t derail the Lumia growth and applications. The Android app market is already vibrant but if we get developers to work with, we will work across all the platforms, complementing our offering.
What does Nokia foresee in the market for smart phones in growth markets in 2014/2015?
We see more people getting connected and growth of local applications and services which will be the key driver of smart phones. The whole of Africa is one of our focus markets so we have been trying to understand how best to bring similar experiences across all users. Social media will still be a huge factor but we also see cloud services making a bigger impact in the coming months.