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The Nokia 3310 is a big button mobile phone which is the start of a trend22 Mar 2017

Nokia 3310 in red

What’s big at the annual mobile phone industry shindig of Mobile World Congress is a good portent of future trends. Mobile payments, wearables and this year 5G: all complete turkeys. If it’s promoted at big at MCW it’s destined for obscurity.

What does well (and I predicted the rise of the selfie stick – sorry)  is those things which generate their own hype. And The Thing at MWC 2017 was the re-born Nokia 3310. HMD is the newest keeper of the Nokia name, and one of the great things about the way it introduced the 3310 was by being disarmingly honest and being up front saying that the 3310 was just a publicity stunt to get people looking at its mid-market Android phones.

Of course here at Fuss Free Phones we love this. We are all about big button mobiles which are easy to use phones. What’s great is that younger people are attracted to a phone with a set of features one more usually thinks of as being an ideal phone for older people.

And it worked. Nokia hit the headlines as people reminisced about a phone where the screen didn’t crack when you dropped it, which had buttons which felt good when you pressed them and Snake. Among all the 5G hype people wanted a 2G phone.

I’d argue that Nokia didn’t quite get it right going 2G because with 3G you can use a technology called adaptive multi-rate wideband which gives better voice quality. Some networks call it HD voice.

But I’d also argue that Nokia got it spot on with going retro. In all the commentary about Nokia bringing back a much loved classic I didn’t see anyone reference the huge success of the new MINI or Fiat 500. Retro is cool, and the 3310 wasn’t the only Lazarus phone.

Gemini a rebirth of the Psion 5mxMuch less publicity went to the Gemini, a re-birth of the Psion 5mx  . This hit its one month crowdfunding target in two days and has gone on to massive success.

There is a hunger for old designs. The irony in retro not being a new idea is not lost on me, when I worked at Motorola we had a plan. The four icons. Tattoo, Retro, Pebble and Razer. The idea was to make phones which were great to look at and to hold. Something to make you feel good.

Razer was a small project, to make a hero phone that would be very expensive and sold in small quantities. It went on to sell 100m phones and save the company. Once RAZR, as it became, was gone the company failed.

Pebble – which was renamed PBLE to match RAZR – and codenamed Virgin – had a brief flash of success but was so overshadowed by RAZR it fell by the wayside.

Tattoo never happened, aimed mainly at kids it had  a big roller in the clamshell hinge. Retro was in 2003 what the new Nokia 3310 is today; A new look at an old favourite, specifically the Motorola StarTac. It was made in small quantities, just for the South Korean market and was moderately successful.

Today all phones are boring black rectangles. The rise of the retro phone is to be welcomed. You’ve got to think that Nokia will follow up with the 6310 and communicator, that Lenovo (now keepers of the Motorola brand) will revisit RAZR, StarTac and MicroTac, that Sony will produces something almost unlike a T68 and Apple won’t do anything because Apple doesn’t have an heritage.

Simon Rockman