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A Barbie phone really is coming this summer, but it’s not what you expect

A promotional image for the Barbie x HMD Global phone.
Mattel and HMD Global

A most unexpected brand partnership has given us a surprising phone to get excited about at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2024. HMD Global, the company that makes phones under the Nokia name, has partnered with toymaker Mattel on the Barbie Flip Phone. Yes, that Barbie. But don’t worry that this is going to be little more than a pink version of an old Nokia phone.

“Let me put it like this,” Adam Ferguson, HMD Global’s head of product marketing, said with a smile as I chatted to him over Zoom during the show. “Mattel, and Barbie in particular, is not the kind of brand you offer something off the shelf to.”

Excitingly, the two companies have far higher ambitions than releasing just another product tie-in to forget.

Isn’t it a bit late?

A promotional image for HMD Global and Mattel's brand partnership.
HMD Global

The Barbie Flip Phone has been announced at MWC 2024, but the enormously popular, Oscar-nominated Barbie movie came out in mid-2023, so hasn’t the company missed out on all the Barbie fever and Barbenheimer chaos that seemed like the perfect opportunity to launch such a device? While that’s a fair point, Barbie is not just the movie; — far from it. In a recent interview with The Drum, Mattel’s president and CEO Richard Dickson said, “Barbie manifests itself through product interpretations, but the idea is bigger than any one product.”

Ferguson agreed, and said that thinking the phone was ‘late’ “missed the point of what the Barbie brand is about, the trajectory it’s on, and what it means.”

What will the phone be about, if it’s going to be more than just another collaboration? Ferguson continued: “It has been an absolute joy and pleasure working with the team at Mattel, and seeing the journey that Barbie’s gone on over the last years, and we have been able to talk about things like digital detox and girls in tech.”

A promotional image for HMD Global's 2024 branding.
HMD Global

The Barbie Flip Phone won’t be a full smartphone, but a feature phone, which plays to HMD Global’s strengths as a manufacturer and is where the digital detox link comes in. According to research quoted by the company, it’s a concern among many 16 to 24 year-olds, with many of them making efforts to limit time on social media.

“This particular device will have that classic form factor to it, and that’s part of the draw for this particular audience,” Ferguson said. “They are extraordinarily digitally savvy and live their lives online, but they are also extraordinarily anxious about spending too much time on social media and on their phones. They acknowledge this. We’re trying to help with with the real-world challenges and issues that people face.”

What will make the phone special?

A promotional image for HMD Global and Mattel's brand partnership.
HMD Global

If the Barbie Flip Phone is being made to promote things like digital detox, what’s it going to be like? Ferguson wasn’t about to spoil the surprise entirely, but said:

“There’s going to be new things in the software, and a lovely new look and feel. There’s going to be new stuff in the box and the packaging. We are doing everything bespoke with Mattel in this partnership. Obviously, there are certain elements of historical devices, as there’s a reason they want to work with us. They want to draw on the amazing heritage we’ve got being the the sole makers of Nokia devices.”

The journey to the Barbie Flip Phone has been a highly collaborative affair, as Ferguson explained:

“One of the great things about the partnership is that it has a huge two-way dialogue. We have been through dozens of iterations of the design, because Barbie is more than just the color palette, and the overall brand stands for a lot more than that. As for what is the final version, we aren’t revealing the final design yet, but there has been a huge back-and-forth, and it has been a really collaborative design process.”

Pixelated final design?

A promotional image for HMD Global and Mattel's brand partnership.
HMD Global

But don’t expect too much departure from what Barbie is known for in the phone’s design, as HMD Global states the phone will, “embody the vintage chic of the original girl empowerment brand with a dash of pink and sparkle.”

To build our anticipation for the Barbie Flip Phone, HMD Global released the unusual pixelated teaser image seen above at MWC 2024, and it doesn’t give anything away apart from the expected color of the phone. There’s a reason for such a tease though, as Ferguson explained:

“We could have shown what the phone looked like, and we could have shown the features and the specs. But if you do that, a lot of the focus goes on the phone itself and the insides of the device. But there’s a story to be told here, and we will do that closer to launch.”

The Barbie Flip Phone will be released during the summer, and just in case you weren’t sure how much effort the two brands were putting into making this phone a movie-sized success, Ferguson closed our conversation about the device with these words: “This is is something we are pulling out all the stops for.”

Now, we just need the announcement of an Oppenheimer Flip Phone (presumably with a single, big, red button on it) to set us up for an unlikely, mobile-focused repeat of 2023.

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Andy Boxall
Senior Mobile Writer
Andy is a Senior Writer at Digital Trends, where he concentrates on mobile technology, a subject he has written about for…
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