I have always been a Nokia fan. They make reliable phones – sturdy, truly personal (yes, even though iPhones give you the illusion of being personalisable, they really are simply forcing you to think and choose within the limited possibilities). But consumers don’t necessarily see the value of a product – or the new generation of consumers don’t. We are in a fast-food society of excess, and precisely because everything comes so quickly and easily, we don’t think whether we need them or not, whether possessing those thousands million things will add to our quality of life. Acquire them first, and we’ll sort through them later.
But we all know we’ll never get to sort through them. Never. All those excessive and useless apps sitting on our phones screaming for our attention through insistent updates are like electronic clutter. And that’s why since the downfall of Nokia Symbian I have switched to Blackberry – fewer nonsense apps, more focused functionality, less intrusive of my life. I know what I want from my phone: emails, messaging, a good calendar, an alarm clock and making phone calls. Occasionally I would wish for a better map to aid my travels and being an amateur photographer, a better camera. But all in all, I stay on top of my phone, refusing to have it suck out all my time and ability to do things.
Here’s why I would welcome Nokia’s latest Lumia 1020 with its extraordinary camera and its downloadable maps. I’ve owned a top-end Nokia phone before, and its embedded Zeiss camera is something I still miss very much. But then as Charles points out in this Guardian article, people don’t care if their smartphone makes good pictures. That’s very true. A large proportion of smartphone users can’t even focus properly when they shoot, let alone making beautiful pictures with top quality and balanced composition. Every day on Facebook I am confronted with photos of food that are supposed to whet my appetite but all I could make out is a lump of shapes and noisy dots. Oh yes, the poor imitation of travel pictures, shots of clouds from a plane window, the ‘lomo-ed’, ‘sepia-ed’, ‘softened’… Just who cares about a good camera?
Despite all that, I still think there is value in a top-notch camera in a smartphone. True – if I wanted good travel pictures I would bring a proper camera. But we all have moments of serendipity in our lives; we’ve all encountered the most stunning sunset in a most unexpected place; we’ve all experienced, from time to time, a wonderful sense of unheimlich in seeing a landscape, a thing or a person; and we’ve always had moments when we wished we had a camera at hand – or one that didn’t fail us. We have all had our Kodak moments.
But here’s the rub: in order for us to discover those moments we have to get a life out of our ever demanding smartphones that increasingly suck us into their confining 4×3 inches frame. On buses, on trains, on the road, in parks and coffee shops, you don’t see people looking around any more. Heads down, they are absorbed into whatever is happening on the tiny screen, oblivious of the changing colours of the skies, the shades of the grass, or the golden skin of a boy as lit up by the sun. They wouldn’t have had a use of the camera even if they had it. In a word, the phone needs less fancy (and useless) apps.
Maybe that’s the real reason behind Kodak’s fall – the disappearance of Kodak moments, on top of a poor marketing strategy. But for Nokia there is also this inherent conflict of interest in the product design itself. Will Nokia Lumia follow its footsteps? It depends on whether the Scandinavian giant can teach the world one or two things about getting a life through their marketing arm. They will also get the right mix of the functionality they offer in the phones.