With zero interest in smartphones, Nokia is betting big on VR and health

Nokia sign
Nokia has had a turbulent few years. It has fallen from the king of smartphones, to a lowly position well behind companies like Samsung and LG that it used to trample.

It’s time for a shift in strategy.

After Microsoft bought the Finnish corporation’s mobile division in 2014, the company formed Nokia Technologies, its “advanced technology and licensing business.” As the division’s President Ramzi Haidamus tells Digital Trends, Nokia Technologies will “rekindle the innovation spirit” with a consumer side, and will fund its projects with its patent and brand licensing business.

Diving into virtual reality

What kinds of products will we see from Nokia Technologies? We’ve already seen one side of its strategy with Ozo, Nokia’s $60,000 virtual reality camera aimed at capturing the hearts and pockets of producers in Hollywood. Haidamus says Ozo has been doing quite well and is meeting expectations. The company is also partnering with several studios, notably Disney, to pump out virtual reality content.

“Digital media and virtual reality are very germane to who we were as a company as a mobile business,” Haidamus said in a phone interview. “Media on the phone was invented by Nokia — and this is yet another step or evolution towards the way people are connected to wonderful experiences. It’s virtual reality that’s going to make that connection more real, where we create more empathy between the storyteller and the consumer.”

“Digital media and virtual reality are very germane to who we were as a company as a mobile business.”

At the preview for Disney’s Alice Through The Looking Glass, Haidamus said the Ozo was used to capture the red carpet event.

“Every executive from Disney was there — it gives you a feel of how companies like Disney are starting to experiment with virtual reality with an eye towards a larger agenda,” he said.

And Nokia is open to partnering with anyone to advance its digital media strategy — whether it’s with Facebook’s Oculus or Google’s upcoming Daydream platform, and “anyone else who is interested in furthering the virtual reality market.” Haidamus says because it’s such a nascent market, the only way to grow it is through partnerships.

But a Nokia-branded VR headset is not out of the question. Haidamus says if the business takes the company all the way down to the consumer, “that’s exactly where we’ll go.”

“The Nokia brand certainly allows it and gives us that permission,” he said. “Right now, Ozo is definitely claiming the top of the pyramid in terms of quality, amazing experience, and we believe we can bring that cost down in different form factors to prosumers and eventually to the consumer.”

Investing in healthier, happier lives

The other half of the strategy leads with Nokia’s recent acquisition of Withings, a French connected-health tech company known for its fitness wearables. When Haidamus joined Nokia Technologies, he said he took a look at the company’s assets and found digital health to be at the “epicenter of a lot of innovation that was happening at the lab.” It was one of the few labs that did not turn over to Microsoft. That was the basis for the new strategy.

“Just like we did for 150 years, this is yet another chapter where we reinvent ourselves and get back into the market with the kind of products consumers have expected from us,” Haidamus said. “It’s with that mindset that we set out two years ago to create a new strategy for the company — a strategy that basically touched on some varying pain points in today’s’ world. One of them is the digital health market idea, that people need guidance to a happier life, a more fulfilling life.”

President Ramzi Haidamus

Nokia wants to do that by releasing a slew of products that will not only monitor your body, as most fitness trackers do, but also your environment in a “gentle, frictionless way.” The fastest way to go to market was the acquisition of Withings — and the digital health strategy has already kicked off with a new product launch from the French company — the Body Cardio, a scale that can give you the breakdown of your body composition, as well as pulse wave velocity.

When we spoke to Haidamus, he said the company was still deliberating whether or not its new digital health products would be branded as Withings or Nokia.

“Withings has very deep expertise and brand recognition in digital health, and Nokia has very broad and worldwide recognition — it’s just a question of which of the two you want to put on the product,” he said. It looks like Withings polled better.

“Nokia has very broad and worldwide recognition.”

That says a lot, seeing as the acquisition is more of a “reverse takeover” in Haidamus’ own words. Co-founder and CEO of Withings Cédric Hutchings will come in with a team, “and they will end up driving and owning an entire digital health business throughout Nokia.”

Several product launches, including the Body Cardio, are on the road map for 2016 — some of which were already in the works before the company purchased Withings.

“Our goal is to really play into the environment and not only on body monitoring — meaning that a healthier life and a happy life is achieved by a healthy body, living in a healthy environment,” Haidamus said. “And by monitoring both is how you reach the future potential of where most people want to be — therefore the monitoring of a home or an office is going to be germane to our strategy.”

Nokia phones, anyone?

But what about reports about Nokia getting back into the mobile game? It’s a bit of a misnomer. HMD Global is a Finnish company that was founded this year, and many of its executives have strong ties to Nokia. Nokia selected HMD as its partner, allowing it to build phones and tablets under the Nokia brand name and via a contract with Foxconn. It’s a strict licensing partnership, but HMD has to follow Nokia’s design, and hardware guidelines.

“It will keep the brand alive in the mobile space, but … we’re not going to be involved directly within the business nor providing technology into the phone,” Haidamus said. “So it will be a design that will be true to the spirit of Nokia, but not necessarily with Nokia technology inside.”

It’s predominantly a way for Nokia to keep the cash flowing in. That and its patent licensing business, which Haidamus says is a way to monetize more than 50 billion euros of research and development investments over two decades.

For those that want to see the return of Nokia-made phones, Haidamus shatters all hope: “We exited the business two years ago, and have no interest going back in.”

But if a phone is branded Nokia and follows the same design and hardware guidelines set by the company, will consumers be able to tell the difference if there’s no Nokia technology inside? We’ll have to wait and see what HMD Global comes up with to find out.

Either way, leaving smartphones behind is clear and conscious decision, an integral part of the strategy as it revolves around “reinventing Nokia,” as Haidamus repeatedly said.

“We have been reinventing ourselves for 150 years using this amazing brand,” he said. “We’re starting to focus on people’s happiness and health in a way that wasn’t possible before because the technology wasn’t possible before. You can expect some really surprising products in the next year or two directly from this company as we turn a new chapter.”

Emerging Tech

Bill Nye the Science Guy talks “solar sailing” and the new space race

If successful, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 will be a milestone in spaceflight, the first craft to raise its orbit around the planet using just the power of sunlight.
Product Review

The Nokia 4.2’s performance never lets you forget it’s only $189

The Nokia 4.2 has good battery life, uncluttered Android One software that delivers fast updates, and a design and build that doesn’t match its $189 price tag. But performance throws the phone under the bus.
Computing

The best printers money can buy, from Canon and Brother to Epson and HP

No matter how much of life moves into the digital space, there's always a place for physical documents, and thus printers. We've rounded up some of the best printers around, so you can find one that suits your needs.
Smart Home

Make a better morning cup with the best coffee makers of 2019

Whether you're looking for a simple coffee maker to get you through the morning or a high-end brewer that will impress your taste buds and your friends, you'll find some of the best coffee makers around on this list.
Mobile

Hackers conduct prolonged cyberattack against phone network, says security firm

A security company says a prolonged cyberattack against global phone networks, where hackers have apparently collected data related to phone conversations and even the physical location of the device, has taken place.
Mobile

Having problems with your OnePlus 7 Pro? Check out these workarounds and fixes

Every phone has issues that require some tweaking to sort out. Here are the most common OnePlus 7 Pro problems that people are talking about with advice on how you can work around them or fix them and get on with your day.
Mobile

Here are 5 things I’d like to see in the Samsung Galaxy Note 10

It's important that smartphones continue to improve and evolve or they risk stagnation and may alienate potential buyers. Here are five changes and new features I'd like to see in Samsung's forthcoming Galaxy Note 10 smartphone.
Music

How much is Spotify Premium, and how can you get it at a discount?

Having access to millions of songs comes at a price -- albeit, a pretty small one. Before you figure out how much Spotify Premium is going to cost, you will want to see if you qualify for a discounted (or even free) subscription.
Photography

Create apocalyptic A.I. world with this camera app that removes people from pics

What would the shots in your camera roll look like without any people? Bye Bye Camera is a new iOS app that uses artificial intelligence to remove all people from the photo., but it's not designed for practical applications.
How-To

Optimize your new Apple AirPods with these tips and tricks

Here are some tips, tricks, and lesser-known features from Apple's first pair of fully wireless earbuds, allowing you to get the most out of the company's world of cordless sound.
Android

Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G is coming to T-Mobile on June 28

Samsung's Galaxy S10 5G is the flagship of the S10 line, and it's expensive at $1,300. But, it's the only one of Samsung's latest phones that can connect to a 5G network. It's available from Sprint and Verizon, and now T-Mobile.
Mobile

The best gardening apps help you watch your garden grow

It takes work, commitment, and smarts to cultivate a beautiful garden or grow your own food, so you need all the help you can get. The best gardening apps can identify plants and pests and assist with garden care and planting schedules.
Mobile

iOS 13 is here. Here's how to get it on your iPhone or iPod Touch

The iOS 13 public beta has been released, giving you a chance to try out iOS 13's new features. But how do you download Apple's latest software? Here's our guide on how to download the iOS 13 public beta.
Mobile

Here's how to download iPadOS on your favorite Apple tablet

Interested in getting the latest and greatest software on your iPad? If you want iPadOS, you'll need to be okay with using the public beta, which is likely to have bugs. Here's how to install iPadOS on your iPad.