As Nokia's 3310 returns, has the mobile phone revolution come to an end?
With reports that Nokia will this weekend revive its iconic 3310 model, one of the best-selling phones of all time having shifted over 126 million units since its launch in 2000, you could be forgiven for thinking that the nostalgia that has led to a revival of vinyl records is about to hit the mobile handset market.
The rumours coincide with a slowing of the hitherto rapid progress of phone technology. Apple has only really managed variations of the same theme with successive ’upgraded’ iPhones becoming virtually indistinguishable from the ones that preceded them, so a technological stasis appears to have been reached.
The Nokia 3310 was the antithesis of a smartphone – famed for its indestructible build, ridiculously long battery life and the famous game Snake, its rigidity and simplicity contrasts favourably with the notoriously flimsy iPhones that bend and shatter with alarming ease.
However the days when Nokia dominated the mobile phone market are long gone – a bit like BlackBerry that followed – and its rise and fall has been well documented. It failed to learn the lesson that applies to all brands – without changing and evolving it lost sight of the importance of software.
While Nokia has yet to confirm if the reports are true, questions remain whether there’s a target market big enough to sustain its putative revival. While hipsters on the fringe might yearn for nostalgic brands and products in an ‘ironic’ way, are the rest of us now so wedded to swiping, pinching and selecting icons on our smartphones that a return to the hard button simplicity of the 3310 is pure fantasy?
In truth, if Nokia is pinning its revival on the relaunch of this old school classic from the last decade, it’s certainly not the serious comeback you'd expect from a sleeping giant and past market leader.
Indeed a ‘back to the future’ approach is counterintuitive in an industry where success comes from the creation of the next best, shiny and innovative new thing (hence those gripes about how the iPhone 7 is not that much different from the iPhone 6). Nostalgia might exist, fleetingly sometimes, in other sectors but mobile phones are at the forefront of new technology.
More importantly, life has moved on so much so that smartphones have become integral to our lives. How would the 3310 cope with modern life without the facility to see your friends' holiday pictures on Facebook, manage countless user names and passwords, address book, emails, take HD photos, flick between music and radio, not to mention other countless apps? Even if Nokia retrofitted Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, camera and replaced the 84x84 pixel resolution screen with a high-resolution colour screen, the 3310 is surely not the future.
I just have a sneaking suspicion that it might all be an elaborate stunt and a clever marketing trick by Nokia, which desires to emerge phoenix-like since its 30-month deal with Microsoft and is now back in the hands of the Nokia executives who previously ran it. They will know that 3310 has an almost mythical status, so it makes for the perfect marketing tool to get people interested in the brand again ahead of Nokia’s launch of two new models, a mid-range and a flagship model.
Certainly, the Nokia brand was a trusted one that still retains residual affection, and rekindling memories of past glories isn’t a bad strategy.
At least I hope that it is planning something more spectacular that just relaunching the 3310 – otherwise the former Nokia giant that has rested for so long will finally cease to be no more.
Carlo D’Alanno is executive creative director at Rufus Leonard