x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

All about image for Nokia as it unveils Lumia 1020

The Finnish mobile phone giant Nokia has been enduring a bumpy ride over the past couple of years. But, by going back to what it knows, it hopes to make up ground.

Nokia president and CEO Stephen Elop unveils the new Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone, with a 41-megapixel camera. Diane Bondareff / Invision for Nokia / AP Images
Nokia president and CEO Stephen Elop unveils the new Nokia Lumia 1020 smartphone, with a 41-megapixel camera. Diane Bondareff / Invision for Nokia / AP Images

Nokia, the Finnish mobile phone manufacturer that has struggled of late is now largely betting its revival on a technology it understands well: the camera.

During an exclusive annual product unveiling on Thursday, the company's president and chief executive, Stephen Elop, spent almost an entire hour focused on the picture-taking and video-recording capabilities of the Lumia 1020, a new Nokia smartphone that boasts a 41-megapixel sensor.

He showcased a "stable" shot of a yacht he snapped while getting rocked about in a small motorboat in Helsinki this year then later invited a fellow executive to, quite literally, find a needle in a haystack by using advanced zooming technology on the phone.

At one point, Mr Elop even compared pictures he had taken the night before with the Lumia 1020 against its rivals - Apple's iPhone 5 and Samsung's Galaxy S4. Images on the competitors' phones were blurry, of course, while Mr Elop lavished praise on his own product.

"Throughout history, people have loved pictures," Mr Elop said, noting Nokia had been constructing camera phones for about a decade. "This passion for pictures is something that Nokia recognised very, very early on.

"We are not done - not by a long shot," he added. "In fact, we have only just begun this journey."

But the road to this point for Nokia has been a bumpy one, to say the least, particularly in the past few years.

During the first quarter this year, overall sales of Nokia devices dropped 27 per cent, to €5.85 million (Dh28m), compared with the final quarter of last year. Meanwhile, Nokia's volume of mobile phone shipments plunged 30 per cent, to 55.8 million units, during the same period.

Once the world's largest maker of mobile phones, Nokia's market share fell about 5 per cent in the first quarter of this year, mainly due to a steep decline in lower-cost feature-phone sales, according to a report from Gartner, a market research firm. Among higher-end smartphone makers, Nokia is now only the 10th largest, down from the number eight spot in the final quarter of last year.

"Over the last two to three years, [Nokia has] been squeezed from both ends of the market," says Omar Kassim, the founder of the JadoPado, an ecommerce site headquartered in Dubai.

"It's like being stuck between a rock and a hard place, making it very difficult to manoeuver."

Nokia's Lumia 920 line of smartphones has proven to be a rare bright spot, though. Released last year, these mobiles feature Nokia's hardware along with Microsoft's Windows Phone software. Sales of these phones rose 27 per cent in the most recent quarter on the previous quarter, to 5.6 million units, "reflecting increasing momentum", Nokia said during its latest earnings release.

Among all mobiles that run Windows Phone software courtesy of Microsoft, Nokia commands a little more than 80 per cent of the worldwide market. HTC, in second place, has less than 14 per cent, followed by Samsung at 4.5 per cent and LG with less than 1 per cent.

Last month, some news agencies reported Nokia was in talks with Microsoft about a deal that might see the mobile manufacturer's handset business swallowed up by the software maker, in the same way Motorola Mobility was purchased by Google last year for about US$12.5 billion. While this strategy may have helped Microsoft lift Nokia's lagging market position in the long run, the companies reportedly never came to come to an agreement.

Nokia is far from the only one hurting within the handset business. Manufacturers including BlackBerry, HTC, Sony and Huawei are "struggling to carve out a spot", Jeff Kagan, a tech analyst in the United States, said after reported talks between Nokia and Microsoft failed to materialise.

On a percentage basis, year-over-year sales of Nokia's products have traditionally been stronger within the UAE than North America and other western markets, local tech retailers say.

"At the top end, we've seen phones swapped more often and this is where Nokia has somewhat benefited [in the UAE]," says Ashish Panjabi, the chief operating officer of Jacky's Electronics in Dubai.

But competing manufacturers have been moving in.

At Jacky's stores, Nokia's more affordable line of Asha mobiles has competed against certain BlackBerry and Samsung models within the Dh399 to Dh899 price range. Similarly, other retailers say, Chinese and Indian brands with lower-end offerings of their own have made in-roads in the Emirates with feature phones.

These particular devices lack many of the advanced camera technology and connectivity to software applications, or apps, compared to smartphones but they appeal to consumers looking for less expensive models.

The Lumia 1020, which will cost $659.99 for just the handset, or $299.99 with a two-year contract in the US and on sale from July 26, may be out of reach for many residents within the Middle East and North Africa region. But Nokia says its latest model warrants the high cost.

While the company's 41-megapixel technology has been around for a year, it previously only existed in the PureView 808, a smartphone that was, frankly, far too bulky, says Ralph De La Vega, the president and chief executive of AT&T Mobility, a major wireless carrier in the US that will be the first to carry Nokia's latest Lumia model.

That phone has since been slimmed down and now wraps in additional features within the Lumia 1020, including one that allows a picture-taker to snap a photo within a specific border then later zoom out and capture details they may have been accidentally cut out in haste.

A separate feature can take a four-second photograph in the dark while illuminating individuals in low light.

"It is built to compete with stand-alone digital cameras," says Tom Farrell, the vice president for Nokia Middle East.

The company aims to make these kinds of conveniences affordable to everyone - in due time.

"Clearly, the Lumia 1020 is a flagship device, where the most advanced capabilities are pushed to their maximum," said Mr Elop.

"At the same time, engineers identify how elements of that then can be scaled down and brought down to lower price points for people who are more price-sensitive," he added.

For now, though, Nokia's Lumia 1020 will have to compete with fancy smartphones from manufacturers such as Samsung and Apple, which have deep footholds in the mobile sector with devices that are capable of answering a call with a wave of a hand, or employing software that can respond to questions with navigational directions or other information.

Still, some retailers say the 1020 may ultimately help Nokia turn itself around.

"It's never too late," says Mr Kassim.

"The market is a changing animal, and what looks favourable today can be down and out in a very short space of time."