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Nokia’s evolving product strategy

Along with other bloggers at MWC, I had an opportunity to meet with several Nokia representatives to discuss their new phone lineup early in the week.  A pair of those meetings were particularly interesting from the perspective of product management discipline, as they show the progression of features from one generation / product family to the next.

Juha Kokonnen explained that Nokia products are divided into five categories for five separate markets:

  • The Explore line is the technical leadership product line.  These are the N-series phones which push the boundaries of what a phone is.
  • The Live and Classic lines are the broad appeal products.  These can be inspirational in nature, supporting one particular feature very well, or style oriented.
  • The Achieve line is focused on the enterprise.  These are the E-series phones and smart phones. 
  • The Entry line is focused on low end phones and emerging markets. 

So what does that have to do with anything?  Well, classic "sunrise / sunset" product management strategy is to launch premium priced full featured products into the market at a high price point, and then segment the feature set over the lifetime of the follow on and more affordable products.  Paul Kunkel’s 1999 book Digital Dreams explains how Sony does this so well in their products, and Nokia has apparently adopted a similar strategy.

Juha Kokonnen is the product director for Explore devices.  He talked with us pretty extensively about the N96 and the N78, both of which I’ve already written about earlier in the week.   The N96 is the lead product in the N series line up.  All others have similar, but lesser capabilities — less memory, a lower quality camera, fewer video codecs, and so on.  The N96 is the ultimate media consumption and creation tool that Nokia sells.  From an industrial design perspective it’s also the lead, with the unique dual slider design it inherited from the N95, and the clever foot which pops out on the back to angle the phone and make it easier to to view.


The contrast between the N78 and the N96 is a perfect illustration of how products segment within a product line.  N78 is the successor to the very popular N73.  It’s a good media consumption phone, with built in music player, but not as good a media creation device as the N96, as it supports a less capable 3.2 megapixel camera.  It’s also smaller, and more pocketable than the N96.  For casual photography it’s perfect.  And, in a nod to its design as a media consumption device, the built-in FM transmitter in the N78 makes it a great way to listen to your music in the car.


Meeting with John Barry a little later, who represents the Broad Appeal 6200 series phones, we could immediately see the progression of features from the N series to this more affordable product line.  He showed us the 6220 "Classic", and the 6210 "Navigator". 

Nokia_6220_classic_04 Nokia_6210_Navigator_02

The 6220 "Classic", while inheriting many of the features of the N95 / N96, has a smaller display, less memory, and is missing the industrial design touches. It’s still a great phone, but now it’s priced and marketed as a mid-market device rather than a high end device.

The 6210 "Navigator", by contrast, is a paradox.  It’s the most advanced navigation phone that Nokia sells, equipped with a compass and GPS, plus a three year subscription to Nokia Maps (value €217 – more than half the price of the phone!).  With its other features, it really should have been packaged as an N-Series device.  The specifications on the 6210 are nearly identical to the N78, plus it includes the map data subscription.  To show the impact of compass navigation, I recorded a short video from my meeting with John Barry.  It shows exactly how the map reorients itself depending on the position of the viewer.

What does that tell us?  I’d surmise that Nokia thinks there is an opportunity to dominate the pedestrian navigation market, and they’re putting their best foot forward with this very capable device. 

The cool thing about this latest crop of devices is that it really shows how far Nokia’s strategy has progressed.  When I first wrote about the N90 in 2005, state of the art was a 2 megapixel camera.  Its music capabilities were good, but the PC software it came with was terrible.  The N90 also had very limited storage.  But as cell phones went, it was state of the art.  Nothing on the market could touch it.  In 2006 the N70 slider debuted, along with navigation.  Later that year first Nokia phone with large scale music storage appeared – the N91 with its 4 gig microdrive.  The N91 was also Nokia’s first phone with wifi.    In November of 2006, the N93 arrived, with an upgraded camera (now 3.2 megapixel).  Optimized for video, this was the first Nokia device that really showed the impact of high quality video in a camera form factor.  The companion N73 also hit the market at about the same time, but optimized for still photography.  And shortly after that the N80i slider debuted, optimized for internet and especially internet telephony.  In April of 2007, the N95 changed phones again by shipping with a whopping 5 megapixel camera and built in GPS.  The N95 was the first camera phone that I actually considered an adequate substitute for a dedicated camera.  Fast forward to the f
all, and the N81 upped the ante on music by shipping with 8G of solid state storage and newly optimized music software. 

From a time line perspective, the features introduced have consistently debuted in one or two devices one year, and then migrated to the entire product line within 12 months.  And what we can see is that the Nokia product line is being optimized around music, the internet, photos and video, and now navigation. 

2005 camera phones with 2 megapixels introduced.
2006 2 megapixels standard across N series product line
  3.2 megapixel cameras, navigation, WiFi and music introduced
2007 3.2 megapixels, music, navigation and WiFi standard across N Series product line
  5 megapixel cameras introduced, with 8M solid state storage
2008 3.2 megapixels, navigation and music migrate to 6200 series broad appeal phones

Compared to other devices in the market today — say the Apple iPhone, BlackBerry or any of the Windows Mobile devices — the starkest contrast is in how Nokia’s products are being designed for both content consumption and creation, while their competitors are primarily focused on content consumption.  You won’t find iPhone users, for example, streaming video using Qik. In addition, by far the most popular camera phone on Flickr is the N95.  That’s because when it comes to media creation the iPhone is the equivalent of a 2005 era Nokia phone

For creative folks, nothing really beats Nokia. That seems to have been their vision from the beginning and it’s just now becoming obvious to the rest of us.  Moreover, as social networking grows to dominate the way that people share content, Nokia’s early focus on creating media may prove to be an overwhelming advantage. The person inside Nokia responsible for both the early vision around this product line, and the subsequent product management execution and focus has done an outstanding job.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Ali February 17, 2008, 9:10 am

    Still Nokia has to be more innovative in terms of Iphone….

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