THE launch of Nokia’s flagship Lumia 920 phone in South Africa on Friday was big news, but equally important is the move it is making across all market segments.
In a few short years, the brand disintegrated from global market leader to troubled poor relation of the mobile world.
Nokia, along with another faded brand, Motorola, almost invented the mobile phone market as we know it today. Along with fellow poor relations BlackBerry, it also helped to define the smartphone market. But all these brands were left in the dust of the touch screen revolution sparked by the iPhone and now led by Samsung.
In South Africa and across Africa, Nokia maintained its leadership through its wide range of basic phones appealing to the lower end of the market.
In mid-2012, according to World Wide Worx’s Mobility 2012 research project, Nokia still had 50% of the cellphone market in South Africa, but buying intentions showed that it would drop well below that mark in the next 18 months.
The question on the lips of all market watchers has been, how will Nokia reverse this trend?
Can it maintain its leadership in Africa and, by extension, secure its survival globally? And can it compete at the top end of the market, where it has almost lost its presence?
On Sunday, Nokia made its biggest move yet in addressing these questions. It unveiled the Lumia 920, its flagship phone, and the most advanced phone yet to run the Windows Phone 8 operating system developed by Microsoft.
It has previously released four Lumia phones, running previous versions of Windows 8, in South Africa. Although it says takeup has been “encouraging”, Lumia is hardly a household name here. That may be about to change.
The Lumia 920 is not only Nokia’s most advanced phone yet, but probably the most advanced phone in the world, with numerous technological advances that differentiate it from the rest of the market.
However, the challenge for Nokia is not to tell people about the features that set it apart, but to get the device into users’ hands so that they can experience these features.
It can connect via LTE, the new high-speed connectivity technology that will be rolled out across South Africa next year.
It packs a cutting edge processor – 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon S4 chip – along with 1GB memory, and 32GB of storage space, along with a microSD slot for expansion. Through its tie-in with Microsoft, it provides a further 7GB of online storage through SkyDrive.
The 920, along with other phones in the Lumia range, provides the user with free access to the music streaming service Mix Radio. It works the moment the user is connected, either via mobile data – incurring the cost of the data stream – or WiFi.
The standout feature is the camera, which uses something called Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS). This lets the camera take in in five times more light than most other smartphone cameras, “making it possible to capture clear, bright pictures and video indoors and at night”, says Nokia.
More important, it compensates for hand movement, reducing blur.
The feature that will appeal at the most basic level to phone users, however, is wireless charging. Simply lay the phone down on a charging pad that comes as an accessory to the phone, and it begins charging.
The screen itself, a curved 4.5'' display, features PureMotion HD+: a technology that makes it so sensitive, says Nokia, the phone can be used while wearing gloves.
The phone will sell at R8 000, R1 000 less than the equivalent devices from Apple, Samsung and HTC. Which means, of course, that while it will win mindshare, it will not win over the mass market.
But there’s a brand for that. It’s called Asha, a Hindi word meaning “hope”.
It represents not only Nokia’s attempt to refresh its positioning in the mass market, but also its strategy to provide a smartphone-like experience to a market that uses only basic phones.
The Asha touchscreen phones use the decade-old S40 operating system, but offer a full smartphone experience.
The new 306 model, which sells at below $100 across Africa, retails at R999 in South Africa, instantly taking on the youth smartphone market that is currently owned by BlackBerry.
And it has a secret weapon.
“The Asha portfolio has a significant value add,” says Gerard Brandjes, Nokia vice-president for South and East Africa.
“We’ve worked in partnership with EA to offer 40 of their games titles, valued at R1 000, for free as part of the bundle. The only cost is the data cost of the download. It gives the consumer a real life experience of what Asha touch devices can do, and brings the smartphone experience to life.”
And that, in turn, may just bring Nokia back to life in the minds of the market.
*Arthur Goldstuck is managing director of World Wide Worx
and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter or Pinterest