For years, the rallying cry was why Nokia wasn't making Android smartphones. In 2010 when it launched the N8 - its hardware chops were apparent and its intellectual property in camera technology was something no-one could compete with. However, it was lacking software. Symbian wasn't in the same class as iOS or even then a nascent Android. A couple of months later when Stephen Elop joined to take the reigns of the company he signed a deal with then-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for the exclusive use of Windows Phone on Nokia smartphones — a deal which essentially ensured that Nokia couldn't make Android smartphones. It also paved the way for Nokia to kill its own software platform MeeGo which was being developed to compete with Android.

Now, everyone knows the story. Windows Phone was something that was unique, but no-one really loved it; it is stuck in the same sinkhole even now, and even Microsoft doesn't talk it up.

Despite Nokia's hardware prowess, its phones didn't sell well because they were based on Windows. Nokia eventually sold its smartphone business to Microsoft, which it needed to buy it as no-one else was making Windows Phones. That also didn't pan out well, and once Ballmer was out of Microsoft, its current CEO Satya Nadella rapidly got rid of the Nokia hardware dead weight out of his company which was pulling down the bottom line.

As it stands, HMD Global has been formed and it has an exclusive license to release Nokia Android smartphones. My sources tell me that the first Nokia Android smartphones will be in India by March or April. As excited one is about these phones, one has to realise this is not the Nokia of the old. Heck, it isn’t even Nokia. Nokia has just lent a name to a company to make Android phones.

Yes, a number of old Nokia executives are running the show and even a lot of people from Microsoft’s smartphone unit which basically was the old Nokia have gone to HMD global — including a number of familiar faces from India, but they don’t have the engineering might that Nokia had once and they don’t even have Nokia’s incredible bone crunching scale.

Back in the day, Nokia had the best maps - Here Maps were the best before that business was sold off a year ago to the consortium of VW, Audi, BMW, Daimler. Nokia had the best team developing camera tech and it had a deal with Carl Zeiss for its lenses on its phones. Its industrial design team was also amongst the best in the world with likes of Marko Ahtisaari helming it.

HMD’s Nokia doesn’t have most of these key differentiators and advantages.

In the maps space, Google rules the roost. The power of Google Maps can be harnessed by every Android OEM and even iPhone users can enjoy it. Sony makes the best smartphone sensors which are used by almost every brand in the world. Nokia's camera talent has been culled by the likes of Apple, Microsoft, and Google. Between these three companies, one can safely say you get three of the best smartphone cameras — the iPhone 7, the Lumia 950 (which was launched a year ago) and the new Google Pixel.

Samsung makes the best screens with their Super AMOLED technology. Between Qualcomm and Samsung you get the best processors — but then again these are available for everyone including smaller brands like OnePlus and Xiaomi.

The fact that HMD Global is a smaller company will also mean that they will not get cracking deals on these components nor would they be able to attain a supply chain advantage unless they do come up with something insanely disruptive.

Essentially, there is very little room for innovation in hardware as the entire industry like the PC industry has been commoditised.

The real innovation is in software — but again HMD’s Nokia doesn’t own the software. It is sourcing it from Google and Android OEMs over the years have shown us that Google’s take on Android offers the best experience even if it lacks the odd feature here or there. So HMD will be up against it.

The conversation is moving in direction of artificial intelligence and chat-bots something the big four or five companies are betting big on. The old Nokia perished because it sucked at software, and there is no indication why they would be great in this new world order of AI based assistants and chat bots.

Of course, brands like Xiaomi and OnePlus have shown that the phone is a conduit to other things like an e-commerce platform, accessories, IoT products and merchandise, but if HMD's sole intention is to make the Nokia Android phone of our dreams, I believe the ship has sailed, unless of course, it gets some serious help from Google itself in a form of a Nexus-like partnership.

That's highly unlikely considering 2016 is the first year in the last five to not have a Nexus smartphone as now Google wants to take on Apple and Samsung head-on with its Pixel line of phones. And these are serious contenders. Google also says that the Nexus programme is more or less dead.

HMD bringing back Nokia has been romanticised a lot. It may also have a lot many old Nokia hands helming it, but them creating a magical Nokia Android experience will be a herculean task, not impossible but improbable.


slice Team!

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