If HMD Does Deliver a Nokia Flagship with Stock Android and Fast Updates, They Have My Money
Well, it needs an unlockable bootloader too.
Nokia is finally embracing Android in one of the most exciting twists in mobile technology’s recent history. After a rocky Lumia lineup and a fall from grace, the Nokia name is finally re-entering a wider market to compete head-to-head with other OEMs.
HMD Global seems to be putting many hopes in their Nokia smartphones, and recent comments from HMD’s VP for Middle East and North Africa Per Ekman have many people excited about what’s to come. According to Mr. Ekman, Nokia is here to stay, and HMD will make the most of their 10-year contract. In order to do this, the company plans to offer a slim and efficient Android experience, not unlike what we’ve already seen from them in the recently-released Nokia 3, Nokia 5 and Nokia 6. Specifically, what has us giddy are Mr. Ekman’s views on software and what other OEMs are doing with Android. He states that (emphasis ours):
“Most of the smartphones in the market do not have the Android OS in the way it should be. Vendors are adding a skin on top of the OS. Consumers have the right to have the latest version of the OS and we will be pushing the latest version and the patches as soon as it is available from Google.”
This almost sounds too good to be true: HMD Global recognizes that other OEMs aren’t offering the “proper” Android experience, and while he doesn’t imply that this is a bad thing (because it isn’t, necessarily), he does suggest this is what makes Android updates such a sore point. Most importantly, though, notice the wording he uses when he says customers “have the right” to have the latest version of Android. These are very strong terms and they indicate a fundamental commitment to Android updates on HMD’s part. Furthermore, Mr. Ekman said that the company and Google would “jointly enhance the Nokia brand to put the right kind of inputs into the phone”, though he only listed Google Assistant as an example, which has been rolling out to many Nougat devices anyway.
I would argue that the Android community – at least the vocal online segments – has been requesting what the Nokia brand is supposedly offering for far too long — fast updates on a slim and “pure” Android experience. Mr. Ekman was right in noting that these two strategies are tied to one another, unless a given OEM with a customized version of Android also has more resources to throw at an update, and in turn is able to churn it out faster. But history has shown that, for the most part, OEMs with heavy-handed deviations from Stock Android take a while to put out their updates — sure, LG and Samsung have had the occasional surprisingly-early rollout of an OS upgrade, but even then those were typically localized and global rollouts across their multiple SKUs took a while.
Now, what’s exciting is that HMD Global has a flagship in the works – the oft-rumored ‘Nokia 9’ – that would also take advantage of the company’s user experience philosophy. The truth is that despite the constant outcries from the enthusiast community, there aren’t honest-to-Duarte Stock Android phones with quick updates, flagship specs and a decent price… at least outside of Google’s domain. But even then, the Pixel phones are arguably not what many Nexus die-hards wanted it to be (granted, much of that is due to the price alone). The void left was thus awkwardly filled by devices like the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 3T, which while good, do not really address that fundamental thirst for a true Stock experience (none of this Oxygen stuff) and wicked-fast updates (OnePlus was fast this time around and only with its latest phones, but not Nexus-fast).
Speaking as an Android enthusiast who has to “settle” for devices like the OnePlus 3T, instead of an unrestrained successor to the Nexus 6P that stole my heart, there is nothing I would love more than a speedy, high-quality Stock Android phone at a decent price, backed with promises of timely updates. But alas even in 2017, that still sounds like a pipe-dream, though one that’s technically possible, just maybe not economically viable for an OEM. At the same time, though, Nokia seems to really know how to get technology sites talking: take their Nokia 3300 re-release trick, for example — this move alone amplified the message that “NOKIA IS BACK IN TOWN”, one that would quite frankly get a bit lost in the sea of indifference that comes with every non-flagship release among Western technology media outlets. Coupling the release of otherwise-boring mid-rangers with a nostalgia bomb was smart, and that signal boost was key in getting the Nokia name out there again, If Nokia wants to carry on a strategy that’ll get media outlets do the talking for them, a Stock Android device with fast updates will win the hearts of many, many publications… Ourselves included.
But at the same time, we’ve heard the “fast updates” tale time and time again, and more often than not OEMs will be happy to simply walk back their promises should their product not be as successful as originally expected. Even companies like HTC have burned their customers in the past with broken update promises (even when they were supposedly part of their product philosophy), and while Nokia is a respected and somewhat-reliable brand still, HMD doesn’t instill that level of trust. If they want the Nokia brand to take off, they cannot afford to not deliver on such a crucial promise that seems so deeply-embedded into their product philosophy. If you fool me with your first device, you won’t be getting a second chance.
I can’t help but salivate over the “what could be”: a solidly-built (Nokia-solid, even) premium device with good specifications (at the very least, we can expect a Snapdragon 835), and consistent, reliable software support as an integral part of the device’s product philosophy. If it comes at an affordable price that undercuts competitors like Lenovo or OnePlus, and if the user experience is polished and HMD keeps pulling off smart stunts to lure the coverage of media outlets, they could have a hit in their hands — at least, a good way to break into the saturated Android flagship market. They are specifically targeting a terribly-overlooked niche, too, by wanting to release a Stock Android phone with an emphasis on fast updates. All of this could make for a bombastic return for the Nokia name, a brand that in 2008 had a level of market dominance higher than even Samsung’s today. It’s baby steps for HMD, but I can attest to this: if they deliver a smartphone with solid build quality, flagship specifications with an unlockable bootloader, and if they still promise timely updates, they have my money.
What do you think about the future of the Nokia brand? Will this fast update strategy work, or flop? Let us know below!