As the world moves rapidly towards the era of smartphones, a brand synonymous with mobile phones for two decades and one that actually introduced these more advanced devices to the masses will not be part of this future. Nokia, arguably one of the most popular mobile phone brands across the globe, will cease to exist among smartphones in the years to come as Microsoft, the new owner of Nokia's devices business, has decided to pull the curtains on one of the most iconic names of our time, even if only partially.
Microsoft will use the Nokia brand for 10 years for feature phones and has decided to re-brand the Nokia Lumia range of smartphones to Microsoft Lumia and discontinue the Asha and X ranges of smartphones. Redmond-headquartered Microsoft bought Nokia's devices and services business for $7.5 billion in April, along with the right to use the Nokia brand
"It's the end of an era," said brand consultant Harish Bijoor, who recalls that his second mobile phone was the Nokia Communicator, a brick-like yet swanky device that split open to become a mini laptop with a qwerty keypad and business apps. Owning this handphone at Rs 60,000 or Rs 72,000 more than a decade ago was akin to owning jewelry. It also meant you had arrived.
"Nokia is a loss. It's a brand that I have real affection for. It still has the largest brand recall," Bijoor added. Nokia made all the right moves in its heyday to become one of the most trusted brands among discerning Indian consumers who wanted value for money and high quality in any product they bought. It partnered with retailers, carriers and content makers and introduced a variety of models month after month to create a flourishing ecosystem for mobile phones in India, one of its top priority markets globally.
"When all phones were limited to few colours, Nokia launched the full colour screen phone, which was my first mobile phone," said 32-year old graphic designer Krishnaraj Singh, who has since used more than a dozen Nokia phones. Nokia's durability was another killer feature that no mobile phone can match today. "The phones wouldn't break even if I were to throw them," said 30-year old Kavita Kapoor, a public relations professional at a clothing brand in Gurgaon.
"It's a brand that has captured the imagination of every single person," said PepsiCo India Chairman and Chief Executive Officer D Shivakumar, who spearheaded Nokia's growth for almost half of its 18 years in India, during which it set up India's first mobile phone manufacturing factory in Sriperumbudur near Chennai in 2009.
At its peak, the factory produced 25% of all Nokia phones sold, which was 11% of the world's cellphones. From November 1, the factory will stop functioning. The plant was excluded from the Microsoft deal after its assets were frozen in tax-related proceedings.
"Nokia was more than a brand. It was consistent as a brand and as a culture, humble, honest, caring and empathetic," Shivakumar added. Not everybody feels that the former pride of Finland has lost its legacy. The brand will live on, even if it is restricted to feature phones used by 71% of India's 900 million mobile phone owners, which is only diminishing as they upgrade to smartphones.
"The brand equity will remain intact," said a former senior executive at Nokia, who did not want to be identified. "It will only move to Microsoft, which is not an unknown brand in India. I have seen customers walking into Microsoft retail stores that were earlier Nokia Priority Dealers with the same ease and confidence they had in Nokia," he added.
Many consumers believe that in terms of recall, the brand will prevail even for smartphones because it will take a while for the change of brand to register. Customers, especially those who have used or are using Lumia devices, are likely to habitually keep referring to them as Nokia Lumia instead of Microsoft Lumia.
"Buying a Microsoft Lumia is just not the same as buying a Nokia Lumia. For a generation that has grown up with the idea that a smartphone equals N Series or E Series, not being able to buy a Nokia smartphone will leave a void. Ten years later, no one will reminiscence about their iPhone 5, 6 or 10, it will be the Nokia N95 that they will recall," said Vaibhav Sharma, a lawyer and tech blogger who has followed Nokia for several years.
"If Nokia's demise proves one thing, it is that nothing stays forever in the world of technology. So don't be surprised if you see Nokia make a comeback in 2016. Remember, they didn't sell their patents or the HERE mapping division to Microsoft," he added
Under the terms of the deal, Nokia, which now operates telecom equipment, HERE maps and technologies businesses after the acquisition, will continue to own and maintain the Nokia brand. After the transaction closes, Nokia cannot license the Nokia brand for use in connection with mobile device sales for 30 months and cannot use the brand on Nokia's own mobile devices until December 31, 2015.