HMD Global, the new custodians of the Nokia brand of mobile devices, made its first move into the international market at MWC this week. The company announced the launch of Nokia 3, Nokia 5, and Nokia 6 Android smartphones, in addition to the all new 3310 feature phone. Gadgets 360 caught up with HMD Global CEO Arto Nummela and we started off by asking about the close relationship the company enjoys with Nokia, the entity that now runs the telecom business.
“The relationship of course is very strong and fundamental. We are using the Nokia brand and there's joint interest how to develop this brand going forward,” Nummela explains. “It is kind of easy because the CMO of HMD used to be the CMO of Nokia so he knows the brand as well as the Nokia people and the relationship is mostly related to the brand.”
HMD Global now has over 500 employees and a lot of them are ex-Nokia/ Microsoft employees, so it’s understandable the company is leveraging the relationship to adopt some Nokia technologies - ostensibly on the wireless side of things - “to enhance the customer experience”, Nummela says.
He adds that since Nokia announced the decision to rebrand Withings smart home products as Nokia at the same MWC event where HMD made its announcements, “we wanted to celebrate the moment together”.
“They [Nokia] are old good friends, we are sharing transparently everything that we do all the time,” but other than that, Nummela confirms, Nokia has no role in product development and “it’s clear that HMD is owning all the product decisions.”
One of the things Nummela stressed upon at the launch event in Barcelona earlier this week was the “pure, secure, and always up to date” Android experience that the company wants to offer to its users. We asked Nummela if this extended to not bundling any third-party apps on the phone, which can be an additional revenue option for OEMs.
“Most of the consumers hate the pre-loads, they want to discover themselves those applications,” he says. “We might recommend those going forward, market by market, but we don’t want to preload because the consumer doesn’t like that, especially the ones you cannot remove.”
When pressed further, Numella didn’t rule out that HMD Global, which is backed by private investors and also has profits from the Nokia feature phone business it purchased from Microsoft last year to fund its business, could recommend apps to consumers via a Nokia-branded store that’s pre-bundled on its phones in the future.
We bring up the “always up to date” promise of HMD’s pitch and wonder if the carriers around the world might play spoilsport. Numella grins before he responds, “Carriers are pretty much aligned with our message and here [at MWC] I have visited pretty much every major carrier in the last few days [and] there is no issue in my conversation because there are certain things the carrier wants to provide to the consumers as well - security updates particularly are very important but also feature updates.”
With other Android OEMs having little luck in convincing carriers to play a more passive role when it comes to software updates, we press Nummela further on the subject. He merely adds: “We have absolute clarity that we are focussed on the consumers and operators are respecting our approach.”
While on the subject of carriers, we ask Nummela about the US market, a very carrier-driven market that Nokia never really cracked, even in its heyday. Turns out, Nummela was the one in charge of the US market for Nokia during that very time.
“I used to run the smartphone business in US in the Nokia time and we actually had amazing success with the few carriers that we focussed - AT&T and T-Mobile to name a few," he insists. "We had 10 percent market share within the smartphone portfolio in AT&T and more than double in T-Mobile.”
“So we had a really good conversation and collaboration with [US] operators, and for example now when we launched the Snake game on Facebook Messenger, most of the players are coming from the US, so there’s a lot of Nokia love in the US,” he adds.
With Snake in focus, the conversation shifted to the new Nokia 3310 that everyone’s loved, only to realise it won’t run WhatsApp, an app that is as central to the modern-day Indian mobile experience as Nokia once was. Though we already know the answer given the OS the feature phone runs, we ask Nummela if there’s an outside chance that we will ever see WhatsApp on the new Nokia 3310.
“It is very unlikely that you will see WhatsApp in feature phone and that’s more dependent on WhatsApp than us. They just want to limit that kind of experience [to] smartphones but we are working on how to get that experience in the affordable price points.”
That sounds a lot like Nummela is leaving the door open for WhatsApp on Nokia 3310, before he firmly slams it shut: “We are definitely ruling it out - it’s not going to happen.”
While on the subject of new Nokia 3310, we quiz Nummela on the decision to make the phone 2G-only, which renders the new Nokia 3310 useless in markets like US, one he himself mentioned earlier has shown a lot of interest in the new Snake game.
“It’s not the optimal thing if you can only play Snake on our device - it’s good to have some connection as well,” Nummela says with a chuckle. “We understand that. We are listening all the time to consumer feedback and customer feedback [on] how to improve the portfolio.”
“The fact is today the feature phone market is 2G market, absolutely dominant volumes are there. But we are looking for other solutions as well,” he adds.
The man entrusted with arguably the most hallowed mobile brand signs off with a message for Nokia fans in India: “You will see that whatever we do as products are true Nokia [products]. I used to make Nokia phones, I know what is the essence of it, and we will be absolutely true to the brand. So you will never be disappointed having a Nokia in your hand.”
For an extended version of this interview, check out the video above.