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Nearing nostalgia

By Li Qiaoyi Source:Global Times Published: 2013-3-15 23:48:01

Consumers pick out cellphones at an electronics outlet in Jilin, Jilin Province. Photo: CFP
Consumers pick out cellphones at an electronics outlet in Jilin, Jilin Province. Photo: CFP
 

 

Sporting a dust- and water-proof keypad, a built-in torch and FM radio, the newly announced Nokia 105 with a 1.4-inch display at a resolution of 128 by 128 pixels would have made quite the splash at the beginning of the 21st century.

But, fast-forward to the present: The current scenario is the up-to-date world of technology where a dazzling array of smartphones are out there in the market competing fiercely based on their designs and specifications. Here, the likes of the Nokia 105 may only serve to provoke a sense of nostalgia among the most loyal customers of the Finnish handset maker.

The emerging voices of users from all across the world, whether from the US, UK or China, many of whom just cannot hide their affection for the simple phone, however, have prompted a second look at the almost entirely one-sided belief in irreversible tech advancements.

"I'll get one, only use my fone for fone things - calls and the occasional text," a Web user from the UK who uses the handle Mehere wrote in a comment on a Daily Mail article published on February 25, which explained that the phone was introduced by Nokia during the Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona.

Mehere's statement was the top-rated among hundreds of comments on the article, which hailed the Nokia 105, going for merely 13 pounds ($20), for its return to the very nature of mobile phones.

"The phone was created to offer the essentials - phone calls and SMS - but also some desirable extras," a Nokia spokesman was quoted as saying in the article, which was almost exactly echoed by Mehere.

The phone, claimed by the Finnish handset maker to be the cheapest in its offerings, has gained attention to an extent that it even outshines two Windows Phone handsets, the Lumia 520 and Lumia 720, as well as a new 301 feature phone incorporating some Lumia functions, which were also unveiled by Nokia at the MWC.

Return of the Luddites?

In addition to the phone's extreme simplicity, another most talked about feature of the super budget phone is its battery lifespan, boasting a single charge lasting for 35 days.

Such a feat just sounds absolutely out of reach for smartphones that enable numerous features on a much bigger display. In this sense, attempts to get in on the nostalgia bandwagon seem like too large an undertaking to bother with.

Feature phones are unlikely to die out but rather coexist with smartphones in the foreseeable future, at least before smart devices could expect any huge leaps in extending their battery lifespan, Bryan Wang, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, told the Global Times.

In China's market where smartphone popularity has continued to rise in recent years, it might be of significance to point to the remaining value of the existence of feature phones, especially when market research agencies are looking for a future without a trace of feature phones.

Shipments of smartphones are expected to hit 460 million by 2017 and are likely to make up nearly all sales of cellphones in China's market, the US research firm International Corporation Co forecast in a recent report.

Staying contrary to the vision, Forrester's Wang pointed out that "In case of disasters and other occasions, the Nokia model with a standby time of 30 days will be an ideal backup device."

The simple black and blue model is slated to arrive across a number of markets including China within the first quarter, according to the company.

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has also recently offered the phone a network permit, paving the way for its upcoming launch in the Chinese market.

In spite of a silence and an absence of information about the phone across many brick-and-mortar stores in the country as well as some big business-to-consumer online retailers, such as 360buy.com, a random search for pre-orders of the phone on taobao.com, China's biggest online marketplace, still reveals dozens of results.

A Taobao retailer from Jiujiang, East China's Jiangxi Province, is one of those offering a first chance at the phone, and its sales register shows that a total of 154 units have been pre-ordered as of mid-Thursday. No comments were left on the pre-order page.

Victory for dinosaurs?

Nokia is among the very few brand-name vendors staying committed to innovating and launching feature phones, with the Chinese market prioritized as one of the target markets for the feature phone roadmap.

While the Finnish veteran handset maker's faith in feature phones is believed to remain a source of revenue for its business as it restructures with staggering hurdles to overcome, its lackluster performance in rivaling the current top brands in the smartphone battlefield, Samsung and Apple, continues to weigh on market confidence in the once almighty brand.

Questions sent to Nokia seeking its comments on its balance between feature phones and smartphones went unanswered by press time.

In spite of a very low price tag, the likes of the Nokia 105 may still contribute to Nokia's profits, taking into account factors such as mass manufacturing, low component cost and limited cost for marketing, Wang believes.

"Nokia is looking at a market of billions of smartphone users to also purchase a low-end Nokia device, which still represents a significant business opportunity for Nokia," Wang told the Global Times.

But anyone who has paid a visit to one of the electronics shopping outlets that dot China's cities may have doubts over the notion that handsets are making a comeback. It seems that vendors have not caught wind of the outcry against the pervasive nature of more complicated smart devices.

"Well, why don't you consider the alternatives of many affordable smartphones," asked a salesperson in an IT outlet near the Central Business District of Beijing in response to a customer who insisted on shopping for a feature phone.

"If you feel the short battery life of smartphones is inconvenient, there are abundant choices of backup battery cases for your consideration," said the salesperson, who said he has seldom handled such demands over the last few years.

A young woman surnamed Lin, who came to the outlet in search of a budget smartphone with her boyfriend, told the Global Times she actually fancied an iPhone, but it remains too expensive for a migrant worker from inland regions of the country.

"I won't consider the simple phone. The young girls who work with me at the restaurant would make fun of me if I opt for it," Lin said, giving an embarrassed smile.

The Nokia 105, soon to be available on the market Photo: Courtesy of Nokia
The Nokia 105, soon to be available on the market Photo: Courtesy of Nokia

 

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