HMD Global hasn't made a good phone in 2019. That doesn't bode well for the Nokia brand
HMD Global has been making Android phones under the Nokia brand for over two and a half years now, and in that time it has established itself as a favorite among those seeking a clean Android experience. HMD teamed up with Google early on, committing to Android One on all its phones. Doing so allowed Nokia to get up and running without investing too much time and resources into making its own skin, leaving more time for launching new devices.
The brand has been busy during that time: HMD has launched 25 Nokia-branded Android phones to date, and while a few were re-branded variants for global markets, that is a lot of phones in just over 30 months. HMD has largely focused on the budget segment in emerging markets like India and China, two countries where the Nokia name still has a strong pull. While some Nokia phones made their way to the UK and U.S., the brand's primary focus continues to be on Asian markets.
HMD has launched several great products over the last two years, but it looks like that initial momentum has dried up. There haven't been any noteworthy devices this year aside from iterative updates and a flagship that doesn't quite work. That's in stark contrast to last year, when HMD rolled out the Nokia 7 Plus and followed it up with the Nokia 8.1.
The Nokia 7 Plus was one of the best phones of 2018. It showcased HMD's best traits — classic industrial design, great internal hardware, and clean Android — and was a clear indicator of the brand's resurgence under Android. It's no wonder, then, that the device sold remarkably well in the markets where it was available. The fact that it wasn't officially sold in the U.S. was a travesty.
HMD launched the Nokia 8.1 soon after, switching to a glass design and updated internal hardware. But it has been nearly a year since the launch of the Nokia 8.1, and we're yet to see a decent mid-range option that builds on the Nokia 8.1. HMD instead unveiled the Nokia 7.2 earlier this month at IFA, with the phone running the same Snapdragon 660 chipset as the Nokia 7 Plus.
Sure, HMD's strategy hasn't been about offering the most robust specs — just like Google — but making the most out of that hardware. Still, there's no excuse for launching a phone at the end of 2019 with a chipset that's nearly three years old, when the competition is fielding flagship-level hardware in the same segment. HMD needs to follow up and deliver a device that can take on the likes of Xiaomi and OnePlus. Being a bit-part player just doesn't cut it anymore, and the Finnish manufacturer needs to take a good look at its strategy going forward.
HMD as a company needs to succeed because there aren't enough manufacturers focusing on Android One. Xiaomi rolls out one device a year, but no other brand offers anywhere close to the range of devices running Android One as HMD. With Motorola fading into obsolescence, HMD Global is now the flag-bearer for the Android One program. If you need a budget phone with clean Android, Nokia phones are the default choice.
That's why it's so frustrating to see HMD continue to roll out iterative updates. Its big bet with the Nokia 9 PureView didn't pay off, and it now feels like the brand is content to just rehash older designs with little to no changes. That is a disservice to the Nokia name — a brand that has long been associated with some of the boldest designs we've seen over the decades. Sure, some of those devices failed to hit the mark, but at least Nokia was willing to experiment, and more often than not it found a winning formula.
That's what HMD needs to deliver: it already manages to stand out on the software front; now it needs to rekindle some of that hardware brilliance that made the Nokia name great.
The default choice if you're in the U.S.
HMD hasn't released many phones in the U.S., and if you're looking for an Android One device under $300, the Nokia 7.1 is the default choice right now. The Snapdragon 636 is decent enough, and you get a 1080p HDR10 display. Best of all, the phone works on all GSM carriers in the U.S.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.
The same doesn't happen on Android One. HMD phones are as crappy software-wise as an iPixel or any other random Android One phone. They offer nothing special and nothing more to the consumer. The "Nokia" 7.2 is a ridiculously high priced phone considering the outdated hardware in it. But having released it with a more modern SoC would have made no difference whatsoever. Because the core problem would still be there: people would be paying over 300€ for a phone that doesn't do more than the 99€ "Nokia" 2.2. And that's pretty much the fault of Android One. Which is why I'm not surprised Motorola is dumping the program. Stock Android isn't good enough and isn't differentiating in a positive way to consumers. HMD sales have suffered because of that and Foxconn has withdrawn support from the company by refusing to continue to make money losers. HMD's survival is still in question as they continue to lose money and are now trying to, again, go around investors to get funds to keep going. But I can tell you right now that they will fail unless they fire that inept of a CPO they have and do a 180º turn. They need to vastly reduce their catalogue of phones and start developing an Android ROM that delivers on Nokia's legacy of innovation.
They don't need to go out and redesign the entire OS (although, honestly, considering how horrible Google's design is, that wouldn't be a bad thing) nor create a ton of duplicate apps. Look at OnePlus for example as a good example of an improved version of Android that doesn't overload the OS with junk. Until such a 180º turn happens and Sarvikas is kicked out, HMD will continue their path towards the abyss, repeating the exact same mistakes Nokia's D&S division did: releasing too many phones and relying on someone else entirely to do the software for them.
HMD HAS a strategy. And it's a very clear one. They deliver affordable "pure, secure and up to date" devices.
The problem is, most consumers don't like pure Android, don't believe in the "secure" part with ANY brand, and couldn't care less for the updates. "how says Motorola is dumping Android One? Source please and even if they are they're irrelevant thanks to Lenovo." All the new phones they brought to IFA were no longer Android One devices and, according to Michael Fisher, they're pulling out of the program. One assumes he asked Lenovo.
Motorola had quite a bit of brand awareness in the US market. The fact that they have failed time and again there, just goes to show that keeping stock Android around wasn't a good play. People like to get stuff for their money. They want to see the value added both in the hardware AND the software of the phone. That's why OEMs keep adding gimmicks. They know most people won't use them and we know it. But people want to be able to say they have them.
Sure, people loooove stock Android. The sole reason why EVERY. SINGLE. STOCK. ANDROID. phone EVER RELEASED has FAILED is because of some "conspiracy". Mate, if you want to call delusional to people, you might want to buy a mirror first.
In 2017 Xiaomi released their first Android One phone the Mi A1, and you know what? That phone sold like hotcakes, even beating the sales margin of the previous Redmi Note 4. Despite lacking hardware and lackluster camera, that phone was all over India by Q1 2018. Xiaomi later then released a poll on Twitter asking users to choose between MIUI vs Stock Android. 43% of users polled for MIUI and the rest of 57% for Stock Android, even Stock Android wasn't there in India for long, as much MIUI, but people started to love it despite the UI being straight to basic and features less. Xiaomi later removed the poll, but a popular Indian YouTube channel posted a poll of their own, and that time nearly 80% of the users voted for Android One UI over any other except for OxygenOS. Just think, even in a country like India, which falls into Third World, started to accept a mindset Google intends their Android users to adopt.
With Mi A1 greatly affecting the sales of Xiaomi MIUI skinned phones, they had to find a way to kill their Android One series, and for that, they started their next Android One iterations to be less appealing to their customers by making them lose interests in the series, which will then eventually kill the A1 series. Where customers are still craving for Stock Android experience, companies are killing it for their own sake. Android One was always meant for the Third World, it was never intended to succeed in US and EU.
Therefore, saying that Android One is one of the reasons for HMD to lose sales, is completely false. It's HMD's own absurd decisions, worse marketing strategies, and bad business model choices, and also being a small, inexperienced and incompetent company, which has resulted in it's downfall.
HMD is just not making good phones, that's all.
How ridiculous is that?
Mate, numbers speak for themselves. Android One sales are a flop all around. HMD hasn't been able to turn a profit but neither did Xiaomi. All those "voters" are so relevant to Xiaomi that MIUI is still around and Xiaomi does, what? ONE Android One phone? Wake up. No one likes stock Android. Otherwise the iPixels wouldn't be a flop, Android One phones wouldn't be a flop, and instead of Samsung and Huawei, the top manufacturers would be HMD and Google.
There's not a single OEM on the top 5 worldwide that uses stock Android. The fastest growing Android brands all use the most heavily modified version of Android in existence (Samsung, Huawei and Xiaomi). I'm pretty sure that's enough evidence. "I've heard people complain about Android being cluttered and features on phones like Samsung causing issues and being annoying." I, on the other hand, have only ever heard this from tech bloggers. Never from average consumers. "What I think is far more accurate is most consumers have no idea what a manufacturer skin is or how it affects updates." Most people couldn't care less about updates. That's the reality of it. To them, updates are an annoyance. And the monthly placebo updates are even worse. They already hated that on Windows, now they have to put up with that on their phones as well? No, thank you. "People aren't turning away from Android One phones because they desire manufacturer software features. It's been a few years, but I used to sell phones for Verizon and I'm telling you, only nerds like us even consider things like that." See...there's your problem. You're doing the US=World thing. The American market works apart from the rest of the World. Starting with the way people buy phones. In Europe for example, we go to normal tech retailer to buy our phones. We see them on display, we play around with them, we choose whatever we like best, we pay for it up front, we walk out of the store. Carriers have zero interference in the process unless you specifically want to. The moment you switch to such a kind of market: where offerings aren't limited to what the carrier picked, customers start picking the phones based on what they like and don't like about what they see when they try them. "To be honest, I'm curious what huge software advantage you think these Samsung, Xiaomi and Huawei phones actually have. I'm typing this on a Huawei and I haven't been impressed with the software at all. I've largely replaced pretty much everything from the keyboard to the launcher, messaging app, even the camera app, because I found them annoying." They offer more to people. Be it on the customisation side or on the features side like one handed mode, various navigation methods, extra buttons, device cleaning tools, etc.
I specifically said from the 3 I only like Samsung's approach to software. So I will only tell you why I think OneUI is far better than stock Android. I would agree with you on Huawei for example. I hate their software mostly because it tries to emulate the worst of Apple (that dumb iTunes.wanna-be program they force you to use to manage the phone is ridiculous). I also replaced pretty much everything on the P30 apart from the camera app 'cause that's the only great one on the phone. Now when it comes to OneUI you have a lot of advantages over stock. Starting with the concept behind it. The entire UI is designed to bring the elements down to the bottom of the screen. In an age of oversized cricket bats, stock Android is a nightmare to use with one hand.
Then you have one handed mode itself. I think I don't need to tell you why that's an advantage of OneUI (and EMUI to be fair).
Then there's the customisation features. Each person is a person and we don't all share the same tastes. You might enjoy Google's designs and colour schemes for example. I loathe them. Stock Android doesn't let me do much about it. OneUI lets me change almost entirely everything. Including making the phone look like a stock Android phone.
And there's also the quality of use features like, for example, the ability to calibrate the colour of your display to what suits you best instead of being stuck to a couple of pre-set display modes.
You have Samsung's Always-On display which is far better than stock Android's.
You have the quick settings which actually work properly instead of forcing you to go dive into the system settings to activate stuff.
And so on and so forth. You are right. Motorola will test dropping Android One. And once they realise that consumers won't buy their phones any less because of it, they'll drop it completely.
HMD phones fail to deliver both that innovative software experience (there's nothing innovative about an Android experience years behind the competition), and the quality hardware. That's why HMD sales in Europe were great in 2017 on launch and then quickly fell. Like you, most people went to get a Nokia phone because they knew what the company stood for...and were met with a mediocre device unable to live up to the legacy of the brand it carries.
Also...they're selling as many Android phones as Nokia was selling Lumias...that's hardly good numbers. HMD isn't inexperienced when it comes to software. HMD simply doesn't do anything on that department. They rely heavily on Google to deliver the software through the Android One program and then their ODM partners are left in charge of putting the software they get from Google unto the phones. So every time Google f**ks up, HMD phones also get f**ked up.