By virtue of the legal agreements resulting from Microsoft’s acquisition of its devices and services business, Nokia finds itself in an intriguing position. It retains ownership of a valuable consumer brand, but is legally unable to use it in relation to phones – the market where it made its name – until a ‘lock up’ agreement with Microsoft expires in 2016.
However, the company is already talking openly about how it might license this brand to other manufacturers, working in partnership with Nokia’s own rapid prototyping teams.
If it can’t make ‘phones’ – at least for another couple of years – what products might Nokia create to derive best value from a brand closely associated with industrial design quality and mobile technology?
Instinctively, this feels like an opportunity to explore new mobile device form factors while other manufacturers continue milking what’s left of the growth in smartphones. The smartphone market, with its sea of copycat touchscreen slabs, looks like a collective failure of imagination. Disallowed as it is from falling into this trap, Nokia might do something rather different.
There are two I’d love to see it try:
The mobile workhorse. What would a pocketable device focused on creative productivity look like? Smartphones and tablets are good for consuming, but when serious content creation is required, most tasks still require the precision of a laptop. A Psion Series 5 for the modern age anyone?
The connected lifestyle. All the technology exists to make our homes and appliances smarter and more connected. Yet few have done so because most of these gadgets still look and feel better suited to a factory control room than a stylish home. Nokia’s industrial design and human-centred approach to technology could give rise to the first properly integrated, beautifully designed set of connected products for the home.
This unusual situation, a by-product of the legal wrangling over its acquisition, looks set to provide a fascinating case study.
There is, I feel, a potentially positive discipline to a company being forced to innovate outside its core market. Most established companies face, and fail, this challenge during their lifetimes because the legacy of their existing product range hampers their ability to be radically different. Nokia has been relieved of this burden because it is forbidden from playing in its old territory as a condition of selling that business to Microsoft.