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Revamped Nokia hoping US remembers The Matrix two decades on


[LONDON] In 1999, Keanu Reeves's character Neo in "The Matrix" made Nokia's 8110 the phone every gadget fan craved. Two decades and one smartphone revolution later, the Finnish handset brand is banking on North America still being interested in its products.

Finnish company HMD Global Oy, which makes Nokia-branded phones, said Friday it would bring a new device - the Nokia 2 V - to Verizon Communications Inc.'s network. It's the first time the carrier has ranged a Nokia phone since the line was discontinued by Microsoft in 2017.

HMD Chief Executive Officer Florian Seiche said the North American success of its retro-made-modern 3310 played a large part in his decision to try and widen the US Nokia portfolio.

"The 3310 did very well at Best Buy especially,"Mr  Seiche said in an interview Friday. "On the back of this we introduced some of our other smartphones, like the Nokia 6.1, also in Best Buy and Amazon. It certainly helped us get a lot of attention."

Mr Seiche said the US market had always been on HMD's road map, but after "extremely encouraging" conversations with Verizon and AT&T Inc. subsidiary Cricket Wireless in the spring of 2018, it pushed ahead with creating a pair of new devices - one for each network.

Rebuilding public appetite for once-treasured smartphone brands in the US has historically been a challenge. Mr Seiche will have to tackle this alongside competing with Apple Inc., Samsung Electronics Co., and many smaller brands, in an already heavily saturated market.

Palm Inc., once a household name, saw its market share plummet after Apple released the first iPhone in 2007, and ultimately sold itself to Hewlett-Packard Co. The brand's new owner failed to turn the business around, leading HP to write down the US$1.2 billion acquisition and sell off the component parts of the company. Yet another effort to revive the Palm brand was made last year by the startup Palm Ventures Group Inc.

Nokia is no stranger to this journey, either. Microsoft bought the company's handset division in 2014 for US$9.5 billion, in an effort to bolster its Windows Phone platform. But it failed, and in 2016 the then-relatively new CEO Satya Nadella made the decision to write off his predecessor's purchase and sell what remained of it to FIH Mobile Ltd. and HMD for US$350 million.

"Could this be third time lucky for Nokia in its bid to enter the North American smartphone market?" said David McQueen, Research Director at tech advisory firm, ABI Research. "It is no secret that Nokia has failed dismally in previous attempts to crack the North American market."

But HMD's Mr Seiche is confident his strategy will see Nokia succeed in ways the brand's previous parents failed to maintain.

"We are really focusing on the mid- to entry-level and there is still a sizeable opportunity in the US in the prepaid market," he said. "The level of quality and feature innovation we're able to bring to entry-level price points will really shine through very strongly in the US"

The Android-powered Nokia 2 V, which will be available later this month on Verizon, sits in the mid-level category. It has a 5.5-inch touchscreen, a 12-megapixel camera, and supports Google Pay. HMD said in a press release the phone would also deliver two-day battery life. Another model, the Nokia 3.1 Plus, has a larger screen and will be available for at a suggested price of US$160 on Cricket from Friday. Prices for the Nokia 2 V were not announced.

Mr Seiche said he had "every intention to deepen these carrier partnerships" and expand the North American portfolio with higher-end handsets in future. He might be interested to know there's a new Matrix film currently in the works.


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