For Juho Sarvikas, HMD Global’s Chief Product Officer, the challenge is how to live up to the standard that Nokia phones have maintained for years. To be specific, he wants to create products that have the excellent build quality, clean and easy to use interface, and with a mass customer base.
Sarvikas was in New Delhi recently to launch the company’s latest mid-end phones, the Nokia 6.1 Plus and Nokia 5.1 Plus, in India. Sarvikas says he was clear for whom the company is making the Nokia 6.1 Plus.
So who is the Nokia 6.1 Plus made for? Sarvikas says the Nokia 6.1 Plus is an attempt to make online buyers happy, something the Finnish company had been looking to do for a long time. “We wanted to offer a highly relevant product for people who are looking to purchase a phone online,” Sarvikas tells indianexpress.com. Instead of solely focusing on the design language, HMD Global wanted to come out with a phone that offers an all-screen design and most of the premium features to something that’s both compact and affordable.
“We know [this] consumer segment is very much spec driven. With [these] devices we wanted to over-index on specifications while upholding the standards we have like the quality, the design and overall creating a balanced, meaningful user experience for consumers,” he said.
Sarvikas explains that a lot of time was spent in value engineering and developing a new enclosure/casing technology for the Nokia 6.1 Plus, also known as Nokia X6 in China. The company has used glass on both front and back of the device to make the Nokia 6.1 Plus a beautiful piece of technology.
“For the Nokia 6.1 Plus, we have used an aluminum frame instead of a plastic ring,” he says. “If you look at the device, there is a seamless fusion between the glass and an aluminum.”
The Nokia 6.1 Plus benefits from all those learnings and the experience the company have had till date in creating a compelling product. But Sarvikas stresses that it was the need of the hour to develop a product that is modern and contemporary. “We went to town in creating a modern take in our design language for [this] full-screen form factor, and with our material expertise,” Sarvikas says.
Nokia 6.1 Plus also comes with a notch on the top of the display. Every smartphone has it and so does the Nokia 6.1 Plus. Curiously, HMD Global didn’t stress much on the phone’s notched display during its presentation despite the buzz it was creating.
Did consumers ask for it? Or it is simply hard to offer a 100 per cent edge-to-edge display without having a notch. Sarvikas believes a “notch” is one of the ways to create a full-screen smartphone. In fact, he claims the display with a cut-out is the fastest growing component. According to Sarvikas, the notched display was the perfect fit in the price segment the Nokia 6.1 Plus has been launched, and for the company it was tough to ignore the market realities.
“In my mind it’s not all about the notch, it is only a means to an end,” Sarvikas adds. “The notch is an evolutionary step to this form factor to achieve a full screen display.” The notch is here to stay, whether you like it it or not. “Now is a good time to introduce the notched design,” feels Sarvikas. Support for the “notch” has even been added to Android 9 Pie, which will be officially rolled out to major smartphones before the year ends.
HMD Global plans to launch more smartphones with a notched display in the coming months, although he did not say which phone consumers should look forward to in the immediate future.
For years, Nokia was known for being a champion at creating mobile phones for the masses. Its phones were known for their quality, aesthetics, and uncompromising performance. Sarvikas says he is doing everything to make sure the design of its phones to be “great”. After all, Nokia was synonymous with innovative design.
HMD Global has a small yet seasoned set of industrial designers, who are scattered across Europe and Asia. Sarvikas calls “London” the design hub for HMD Global where a team of 20 is working on designing the next-generation of phones. In Shenzhen, China, Sarvikas and his team (including a bunch of designers) work closely with vendors to finalise new materials that go into making a phone, brainstorming on what’s new to come in the display technology, improve existing products, and discuss production processes.
Sarvikas says he’s proud of his design team. An average phone takes roughly six to eight months to make, he says, it broadly includes the time spent on its design to eventually launching the product in the market. Though a lot of effort goes into planning and execution of the product. If the phone is more complex to make, then it takes much longer to finish the product.
HMD Global is rapidly expanding its portfolio of smartphones to offer devices at different price points. One of the smartphones that’s close to Sarvikas is the Nokia 7 Plus, which recently won the best consumer smartphone of the year from Expert Imaging and Sound Association (EISA). When we ask Sarvikas about why the Nokia 7 Plus is so popular in that price segment, he says, “The design is a very cool standout so it is nice to show; the hand feel is excellent; the innovation and performance when it comes to imaging; the battery life… and everything from the feel to the dimensions. I [think] we have done a good balancing act on the trade also.” Nokia 7 Plus has received well in India, although the company did not share the exact sale figures.
By far the biggest challenge for any smartphone manufacturer is to get the user experience right on its phones. All Nokia-branded phones including Nokia 7 Plus, Nokia 6.1 Plus and Nokia 8 Sirocco are Android One-certified, which means they come with a Pixel 2 XL-like clean interface of Android with no bloatware, as well as timely software updates for two years. Its partnership with Google is helping HMD Global to win a lot of new Nokia fans.
Asked whether the company will ever like to push its own UI skins and apps on the phone, he said, “I always think from a user experience. I would not be able to tell you what I could do better on the core functions between contacts, messaging, dialer and launcher”. Sarvikas made it clear that the company does not see any purpose in custom UI interface as it adds no value to consumer experience.
Smartphone manufacturers are facing an uphill challenge to attract new customers due to lack of innovation in the design language. Most smartphones have retained the same form factor for years now, to which, Sarvikas answered by saying that his team of designers are willing to take risks. He cites an example of the Nokia 8 Sirocco, which according to Sarvikas was not easy to design. From the design point of view, the company has used a stainless steel frame which is just 2 mm wide at its thinnest and 3D glass on both front and back of the device. To him, Nokia 8 Sirocco was a risky device.
And, while Sarvikas says he would like to see phones with moving mechanism and new form factors, he sees a lot of technical challenges that hinder both implementation and adoption. Sarvikas wouldn’t comment on HMD Global’s plans for the future beyond the new Nokia 6.1 Plus, although he did briefly mention that the company might be working on new phones with Carl Zeiss optics. For now, though, HMD Global says the brand Nokia has always been known for doing bold fun stuff and the company will continue to do so.