Latest Android is consumer desire, and smartphone OEMs can learn from HMD Global’s Nokia strategy

The future of smartphones will be driven by up-to-date software.

nokia 1 front camera

HMD Global announced five new phones at MWC 2018 – Nokia 8110 4G, Nokia 1, Nokia 6 (2018), Nokia 7 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco. While Nokia 8110 4G adapts a strategy similar to last year’s Nokia 3310 by riding on a wave of nostalgia, the four other phones underscores the company’s overall product and marketing strategy.

At MWC 2018, the company announced its partnership with Google for the Android One program. It also showcased a smartphone running Android Oreo (Go edition). Since the launch of its first set of smartphones for global market at MWC 2017 last year, HMD Global has had a simple pitch – “Pure, secure and up-to-date” software.

Year one for HMD Global

In 2017, the Finnish startup launched six smartphones – Nokia 2, Nokia 3, Nokia 5, Nokia 6, Nokia 7 and Nokia 8. These devices made their debut with Android Nougat but today they run updated software. The Nokia 8 is currently on Android 8.1 Oreo, the only other device with the software after Google Pixel and Nexus devices. Nokia 5, Nokia 6 and Nokia 7 are currently running Android 8.0 Oreo while Nokia 3 and Nokia 2 will be joining Android Oreo beta program later this month. Adding icing to the cake, it offers monthly security updates and promised upgrade to the next version of Android.

In theory, HMD Global has four of its six devices already running the latest version of Android, which is a solid record considering the fact that Android Oreo is powering just 1 percent of active devices. A quick comparison of rival camps will make this stat even more valuable. Samsung Galaxy S8 and Note 8, the two most premium Android smartphones are currently running Nougat, despite the fact that they cost a huge premium. Samsung has started seeding Oreo for Galaxy S8 but it has reached only a handful of users. Xiaomi, the leading Chinese smartphone maker in India, has pushed Oreo to its Android One-based Mi A1 but all its other devices are running MIUI9, built on top on Android Nougat.

How other Android OEMs handle software

OnePlus, one of the most popular hardware upstart, has released Android Oreo for its OnePlus 3, OnePlus 3T, OnePlus 5 and OnePlus 5T smartphones but it has confirmed that OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T will not get any future update. The more OEMs we throw into this mix, the uglier it gets and the picture of Android fragmentation becomes even more clear. HMD Global has been launching phones with near stock Android experience for the past year but at MWC 2018, the company took that software goal even further by embracing Android One and Android Oreo (Go edition).

The key to device success lies in software

There could not have been a better time than MWC 2018 to double down on software for a startup like HMD Global. It is clear that we are in an era where hardware is set to become just an enabler for really valuable user experience. In order to ensure that you don’t lose out in the age of AI and machine learning, HMD Global is going in the way of integrating further with Google.

It is easy to see where Google is heading with its Android operating system, it is just laying the groundwork for its Assistant to be at the centre of user experience. It is heading towards a future where the hardware and apps will fade away and Google Assistant will be the only service acting as central console. The very early signs of that future can be seen on Google Pixel 2 where Assistant is omnipresent and can be triggered by squeezing the frame. Such level of integration demands closer working relationship between hardware manufacturer and software developer.

HMD Global is correct to not repeat the mistakes of Windows PC makers who neglected partnership with Microsoft on tighter integration and design of drivers and that became even more apparent when Jamie Rosenberg, VP, Business & Operations, Android and Google Play took the stage at HMD Global’s MWC event yesterday.

Chinese smartphone maker brought Android One back to life last year with its Mi A1 but the search giant needs a company that will not restrict its progress for the sake of its own OS. With HMD Global, it has a partner who has been serving stock Android experience from the start. The new partnership is a handoff where HMD Global will build the device and Google will take care of software for years ahead.

Android Go and Android One for up-to-date software

The idea of such a computing starts with Android Oreo (Go edition), a lightweight operating system that has been designed from the ground up to support devices with low power and memory capacity. It comes with a tweaked configuration that supports optimized apps out of the box and Play Store experience that suggests low memory apps instead of regular ones. “Android Oreo (Go edition) is a significant effort to bring great computing experience to everyone,” said Rosenberg.

The message of close partnership was driven further with the announcement that Nokia 8 Sirocco, a premium phone priced north of $700 will also be on Android One platform. The announcements made me feel that HMD Global is passing the key for its car (software) to Google and asking Mountain View-based company to drive it forward.

The ideal future is not the one where you buy a $1,000 Android flagship and wait years to get the latest version of the operating system. It should actually be the one where you pick a device of choice and get the update within days of it being released by the developers. It may never happen in the case of phones made by Samsung, LG, HTC, Sony or Xiaomi but it is the possible with the phones made by HMD Global.

Software is magic and latest software is nothing but magical. As Florian Seiche, CEO of HMD Global said aptly, “Consumers love their Nokia phones. Three out of every four consumer across the range love us and would actively recommend a Nokia phone”. It is only right for the company to give what those very consumers want – a quality software everyday.

  • Published Date: February 27, 2018 10:27 AM IST