If you’re over 20, you remember a time when Nokia ruled the mobile roost. The Finnish pioneers - now all but swallowed whole by Microsoft - released a huge range of handsets. Their reign began in the early 80s and culminated in an unceremonious exit from the cell phone market following the Microsoft acquisition.
What you might not remember is just how crazy some of those designs got during Nokia’s 90s heyday. They were out on their own, with very few serious competitors. This climate fostered a sense of boundary-pushing at the company, resulting in moments of pure genius – and moments of pure folly.
To commemorate the passing of a true mobile giant, we took a look back at some of Nokia’s most outre successes, and a few of their noble failures. It all helped today’s predictably effective tech market get where it is now. Those were strange days indeed. We’ll not see their like again…
If you owned a phone 15 years ago, it was probably one of these. Hardy, reliable and compact (it was one of the first phones to cast aside the visible exterior aerial), it’s no wonder the 3210 shifted 160 million units.
The Cityman was Nokia’s first mobile phone. Back then, in the mid-80s, Nokia was still establishing itself as a major player. This brick of a handset - then regarded as an exclusive, highly desirable product - announced their intention to stick around, and by the end of the decade, Nokia had secured nearly 15% of the global mobile market.
The 5110 was as ubiquitous as it was hard-wearing, with an unparalleled battery life and - most importantly for terminal time wasters - the fondly-remembered Snake game. Also notable for being one of the first customizable handsets, the front panel on the 5110 could be switched out for a different color.
The Nseries was another boundary-pushing innovation, representing Nokia’s first true convergence of phone and computer. The N90 was clunky as hell, and frankly it looks a bit silly in retrospect - but it really was a precursor of the multi-function smartphone we see today.
With its 5 megapixel camera, GPS and Flash-compatible browser, the N95 is a lesson in versatility. Hard to imagine now, but this was, for a short time, the world’s most powerful smartphone.
Nokia couldn’t have done more to cement their place in history, and in light of how far they’d brought the mobile phone, you can’t help but feel sorry for them at how short-lived their smartphone king status would be. Nobody could have predicted how earth-shattering the launch of the first iPhone was. It completely changed the game. But without Nokia’s constant bar-raising, would Apple and Google have gone quite so far with their operating systems? Nobody can say. But we can raise a glass of Akvavit to those Finnish pioneers and their twenty-year reign as cell phone leaders. Here’s to you Nokia!