Will nostalgia for Nokia pay off in 3310 sales?

The news of the return of the Nokia 3310 is evoking fond remembrances but industry experts are divided on whether the nostalgia will translate into sales


Nokia 3310 still runs the Series 30 software, has a 2.4-inch polarized curved display, a 2-megapixel camera and a microSD slot. It only offers limited Internet capabilities—it works on 2.5G networks, and not 3G or 4G. Photo: Reuters
Nokia 3310 still runs the Series 30 software, has a 2.4-inch polarized curved display, a 2-megapixel camera and a microSD slot. It only offers limited Internet capabilities—it works on 2.5G networks, and not 3G or 4G. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: With the return of the sturdy Nokia 3310, retro is back in the mobile phone device segment. HMD Global, the Finnish phone maker, which holds the licence for making Nokia phones, on Sunday rebooted the popular phone best remembered for the Snake game with new elements while keeping the feature phone model intact. It still runs the Series 30 software, has a 2.4-inch polarized curved display, a 2-megapixel camera and a microSD slot. It only offers limited Internet capabilities—it works on 2.5G networks, and not 3G or 4G. The real selling point remains the battery life. HMD Global claims that the standby time on the Nokia 3310 is 31 days, and talk time of 22 hours.

Industry experts remain divided on the 17 year old Nokia original’s impact on the Indian feature phone market currently dominated by companies like Micromax Informatics Ltd, Lava International Ltd and Intex Technologies India Ltd, among others.

While some of the experts Mint spoke to said nostalgia as a concept does not sell in the technology industry, others maintained that the memory of the product would be enough to make the product sell, albeit to a niche audience. However, the new revamped Nokia 3310 is unlikely to be a market winner.

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Telecom expert Sanjay Kapoor, the former chief executive of Airtel, India’s largest telecom firm, said, “I might just want to buy one for the memory associated with the product. When I used this model earlier, there were two things about Nokia—it was in vogue and trendy. And they built robust products,” recalled Kapoor.

He believes nostalgia will be a strong selling point for the product. “I expect the elite to buy this product for the memories associated with it. I think Nokia is playing on the design and old affinity piece. Old world designs attract a certain niche in the market. It’s almost like launching a vintage car in the market,” he said, adding, the revamped model in unlikely to find takers among youth which swears by smartphones.

“A kid who aspires for a smartphone is not going to buy this phone. And that’s precisely its biggest challenge, how to hit the bull’s eye, the youth. Today the purchase decisions of a 40 and 60 year old are also governed by the youth. They are both evangelists and potential customers. So this product is unlikely to be a market share winner in that sense,” he said.

Feature phones at present comprise 55-60% of the mobile device market. Even metros like Delhi and Mumbai have 40-50% feature phone users, said Kapoor.

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According to Counterpoint Research,the installed base of feature phones is close to 400 million and in every quarter in the past few years, there has been a significant jump in feature phone users upgrading to smartphones. In late 2015, there was a steep decline in the rate of growth of users shifting from feature phones to smartphones.

At the launch in Barcelona, Juha Sarvikas, HMD’s chief product officer described the phone as a “detox weekend phone”. So if not the youth, the new Nokia 3310 might find consumers in an audience that is perhaps in need of digital detoxification. Digital detox refers to a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers. It is regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.

Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan , also a user of an antiquated phone model, said, “Every time I lose this phone, I get it back. In an age of selfies, everyone remembers this phone in some way. It’s almost conspicuous semitism, this phone forces simplicity on people and people are proud of that,” added Visvanathan. “The new generation might want to buy it out of curiosity,” he added.

Simplicity or not, there are harsh critics in the telecom sector who believe nostalgia doesn’t sell phones. “Nostalgia does not sell anything in the technology industry. Innovation is the only way forward. Either that or cut the price. Several brands are dead. This market is brutal,” said an expert from the sector on condition of anonymity. “Let’s say the average buyer is 20 years old, he/she is very unlikely to have any memory of this brand. Nostalgia is not a relevant concept in the mobile phone segment.”

Vishal Mathur and Saumya Tewari contributed to this report.

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