Early this month, some of the most innovative mobile phone makers in the world descended on Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona to show off their latest gadgets.
Sony launched the Xperia XZ Premium smartphone with a stunning 4K HDR display, LG unveiled the G6 with split-screen apps and virtually no bezel, and Huawei revealed the P10 with an incredible Leica selfie camera.
But the device that made all the headlines was the rebooted Nokia 3310 – a throwback to the days when phones were “dumb” and the closest thing to an app was the game Snake.
It was a stunning public relations coup by HMD Global, the company created to sell Nokia-branded phones and tablets after Microsoft decided it couldn’t be bothered any more.
Given any other name, no one would have batted an eyelid at the £40 plastic device with a low-definition colour display, alphanumeric keyboard and 2G connectivity.
Legendary Nokia 3310 is coming back
Even the promise of a month’s battery life and the mobile game Snake wouldn’t have caused much of a stir – these are things that the Nokia 105 has offered since 2013 for a quarter of the price.
The sole reason for the hype around the new 3310 is nostalgia. Nokia sold 126 million of these handsets the first time around, making it one of the best-selling mobile phones of all time. You probably had one. Your mum probably had one.
It reminds us all of a simpler time, when we weren’t constantly being bugged by emails and app alerts, and you could go to a gig without everyone trying to film the whole performance on their phone.
Yes it was great that you didn’t have to charge it up every night, and you could drop it on the floor without the screen smashing into a thousand tiny pieces, but would you really give up everything your smartphone has to offer – like fast web access, maps and music?
It will be fascinating to see how many of the new Nokia 3310s HMD actually sells.
It may appeal to festival-goers and travellers who don’t want to risk losing or breaking their primary device – but only those who are willing to forego taking photos, (believe me, the 2-Megapixel snapper on the 3310 is nothing to write home about).
Proud luddites who spurn new technology may like it, but then they’ve probably still got the original Nokia 3310 or something similar – so why would they “upgrade”?
The £40 price tag means that even drug dealers operating under the radar are unlikely to buy it as a “burner” phone – as there are plenty of basic phones available for £20 or less.
So, despite pulling off an astonishing PR stunt, HMD may actually have shot itself in the foot. While the new 3310 basked in the spotlight at MWC, its new Nokia smartphones – the devices it actually wants you to buy – garnered virtually no interest at all.
These utterly bog-standard Android handsets are what, in the long run, HMD hopes to make money from – maybe not in the UK and US, but in India and China, where the price is right.
What the hype around the 3310 really shows is that people have lost interest in smartphones – slabs of glass and metal with cameras and displays and batteries that are all much of a muchness.
Everyone uses them, but they don’t really interest us any more. They’ve become commodities, much like laptops and PCs before them.
It doesn’t help that Samsung and Apple, the two phone makers that still manage to drum up a bit of excitement, didn’t launch new smartphones at MWC, choosing to wait and stage their own events at a later date.