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By 18 July 2017 | Categories: interviews

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Last month, HMD Global held an event to unveil its new batch of Nokia smartphones as the brand entered its latest chapter on the South African mobile scene. One of the key aspects of the unveiling was HMD Global's partnership with Google, and the introduction of a Pure Android operating system as the native option on all the new Nokia smartphones moving forward.  

It marks a significant step for the brand, which in previous incarnations was run on Windows Phone, and with the introduction of its aggressively priced devices, should make for an intriguing few months as Nokia aims to take on a highly competitive mid-range smartphone sector.

To gain a better understanding of HMD Global's plans for South Africa, as well as how the Pure Android OS will help the brand attract more consumers, we sat down with the company's GM for Southern Africa, Shaun Durandt

TechSmart: The first batch of Nokia devices landing in South Africa are targeted at a very specific segment of the mobile market. Can you unpack HMD Global/Nokia's approach in that regard? 

Shaun Durandt: Yes. It can be quite difficult as a new incumbent to begin competing at a flagship level, especially given the quality of devices that are already in the market. HMD Global is targeting the mid-tier price points, and within that we've segmented a device at low, mid and high. That's where the Nokia 3 comes in at R2 199, Nokia 5 at R2 999 and finally Nokia 6 at around R3 499. 

From a value perspective, particularly when consumers get to experience the devices in terms of their build, design and quality, along with the Pure Android operating system, we can then look to flesh out a broader and deeper portfolio of products. Our focus now, however, is to cement a place in the mid-tier space.   

TS: The aggressive price point of the new Nokia devices is one aspect that stood out for us at the launch. Is that something HMD Global will look to continue when flagship phones arrive locally?

SD: Absolutely. That's probably our first priority. The pillars we stick to are hardware design, the Pure Android experience, and value in the product. When consumers interact with our devices, we want them to realise that this is great value for money. That's definitely going to be a common trend for Nokia moving forward, not simply in the segment we're playing in now, but also when we start delving into the high-end of the market as well.  

TS: We're assuming then, that HMD Global wants Nokia to be the brand consumers choose when making the move from feature phone to smartphone? 

SD: Exactly. If you think back to the days of Asha, as an example, the step up from an Asha phone to the Nokia 3 is not too steep. The technology and features have certainly come a long way, but the ability to go from that feature phone device to a far better mobile experience, will not cost consumers as much as it used to. That's why we've been so conscious of the way we price the devices. 

TS: You've touched on the consumer experience. How will the Nokia brand be seen in the local retail space?

SD: Nokia as the brand, will always be front and centre. HMD Global will be the vehicle helping to push the brand. We (HMD Global) may be the home that houses the Nokia brand, but the everyday consumer will only be seeing the Nokia they've known and loved for years in the retail space.  

TS: It's still early days for Nokia's latest chapter, but are there plans at this stage to introduce more retail spaces. Perhaps a Nokia-branded flagship store?

SD: I can't discount any plans to enhance our visibility in the retail sector, but it is probably a bit too early to commit to anything at this stage. 

First and foremost, the basics have to be done well, once again. We're back in the fold on the smart devices side, but our most immediate concern is getting the right channels in place, ensuring that our partners are able to get devices into the hands of consumers. 

TS: What is your take on the Nokia brand, especially given its legacy? The company is entering a far different mobile space than it was say 15 years ago. What kind of player will Nokia be now?

SD: There needs to be a change in mindset. Having said that, the feature phone still remains a significant side of the business. It's accounted for a love of the brand, even after all these years. I think back, and my first, second and third phone was a Nokia device, and the brand is still well known. We recently did a brand recognition study, and we're still sitting at upwards of 95% and that's truly significant and special.  

Consequently, there's two schools of thought. There's the entrenched Nokia fan base that we need to take care of, while also taking their mobile experience a step further. The next big opportunity is the millennial generation, and understanding what makes them tick, as well as what they're looking for in a device. 

Our job now is to ensure we can deliver on what they expect from a smartphone experience, and Pure Android is playing a significant part in that. Millennial customers don't want to be dictated to in terms of the experience. They want to open that box, and have the chance to make their device unique. They want the software and security updates regularly, and they want a clean, clear operating system without any bloatware. 

This is why Pure Android has become a pillar in our smartphone development, and will form a vital part of our message to consumers.    

TS: You've mentioned the regularity of updates, and HMD Global recently confirmed that the Nokia 3, 5 and 6 will be getting Android O. Can local consumers expect a quick turnaround time for OS updates to arrive on their devices?

SD: There's always been a lot of uncertainty around OS updates when it comes to regions like South Africa. The agreement and relationship we have with Google is such that regular and timely updates is the commitment up front. 

We're the purest form of Android you can get on a device. We want those devices to live up to those standards, and that's the guarantee that's been given, which goes for software and security updates. There's no compromise in that regard.  

TS: Would the same commitment extend to the release of the devices themselves?

SD: Yes, the launch windows for regions across the globe will be very similar. What HMD Global did at the beginning of this process, from a global supply perspective, was to ensure we went to everyone at the same time. That's not always easy, particularly when you're building capacity on the backend and the demand on the frontend. 

That might change going forward, and we may adopt a waved approach, but to answer your question, we're trying to narrow those timeframes for releases as much as possible.  

TS: Lastly, how would you define the current state of Nokia? Is it a return, is it a reincarnation?

SD: It's definitely not a return, because the brand has always been there. I would define it as the next chapter. 

We're taking the Nokia brand as we've known it, and starting the next chapter. Part of that includes making better devices, creating richer experiences, and of course breaking into the smartphone space as we should be doing.  

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