[Video: Why Doesn't Nokia Name Its Phones]

What’s in a Name?

Not too terribly much according to the folks in Nokia’s R & D Department.

Or, perhaps the technological mavens at our favorite Finnish phone manufacturer feel that their handsets transcend the pedestrian markings of a common name, and prefer instead to assign a string of ones and zeros to their beloved mobile multimedia devices.

*Update 7-13-09* Nokia is launching the “Surge” Smartphone!!

Nokia Prototype AEON

But for many, a high-end cell or smart phone is an object of desire.  It would be virtually impossible to deny that on the whole, we see devices like these as extensions of ourselves — we customize our ring tones with our favorite songs, substitute our original face plates with ones that offer a bit more pizazz, and install applications that reflect our contrasting lifestyles and personalities, and to top it off, we buy lavish accessories that further increase the appeal and functionality of our devices.

Yes, the stuff of dreams.  But who dreams of numbers?

Nokia Phones

I suppose Nokia does, but not in the way I’m detailing.  Nokia decisively dominates the worldwide handset market, with a mind-blowing market share of over 40% (you read that correctly).  And so far in 2009, the company has sold over 93 million units. So why should they care about name branding?

[Yes, I believe we CAN stack these to the moon]

Worldwide Handset Market Share for 2009

Brand Units Sold
(in millions)
Market share
1st quarter, 2009
Market share
4th quarter, 2008
QoQ Change (%) Market share
1st quarter, 2008
YoY Change (%)
Nokia 93 40.43 % 41.93 % -1.5 % 41.1 % -0.67 %
Samsung 45.8 19.91 % 14.54 % 5.37 % 16.48 % 3.43 %
LG 22.6 9.83 % 7.44 % 2.39 % 8.68 % 1.15 %
Motorola 14.7 6.39 % 6.51 % -0.12 % 9.75 % -3.36 %
Sony Ericsson 14.5 6.3 % 7.6 % -1.3 % 7.94 % -1.64 %
Blackberry 7.8 3.39 % 0 % 3.39 % 0 % 3.39 %
Apple 3.8 1.65 % 0 % 1.65 % 0 % 1.65 %
Others 27.8 12.09 % 15.32 % -3.23 % 17.1 % -5.01 %

[via mobileisgood]

But  perhaps not-so mysteriously, Nokia lacks significant market share in the US (currently less than 10%). The company has reinvented itself many times over, but it has never quite found a way to transform itself into a phone maker relevant to Americans.

The sad fact is, phone companies here in the U.S. just won’t sell its smart phones, which are designed for consumers, not carriers.

Put simply, when Nokia designs then markets a phone that allows consumers to make full-screen video calls, listen to their favorite albums, record DVD-quality video, Bluetooth songs to their Verizon Cripples Phones Crutchfriends — and do many of these things at the same time — they prefer to leave these features enabled, rather than crippling or removing them in favor of providing carriers with shady money-making schemes and unscrupulous ways of siphoning even more $$$ from subscribers.

Think back to Verizon and the company’s notoriously wicked scheme to disable Bluetooth on its phones in an effort to encourage users to send media over the carrier’s pay-by-play network. Want to send that song to your phone?

Just MM$ it!

And let’s not forget their effort to block your “music” phone’s ability to transfer files into its Audio folder, in a brazen attempt to force users to buy ring tones rather than creating their own tones from CDs or from scratch.

Consequently, a lawsuit filed in California claims that the wireless carrier disabled some of the advertised Bluetooth features in Motorola’s v710 phone in order to charge additional service fees.

Verizon is Evil

That Which We Call a Rose

Worldwide dominance aside, official word of Nokia reportedly making the switch from numbers to names surfaced as early as 2006 in response to the enormous success of the RAZR, a stylish (yet translucently basic) handset brought to market by its rival and dearest cousin Motorola, who currently holds the hearts and minds of the US handset market.

We’ve even heard Nokia exec Keith Pardy “officially” state:

“What you will see coming from us in the future is not just a numbering system, you are going to start to see names that carry a meaning and are important to consumers.”  [via About Nokia]

But this prophetic announcement came three long years ago. And since then, we’ve indeed seen some mind-blowing convergence devices emerge from the cell phone giant (many “unavailable” in the US), but the ‘meaning-carrying’ names have been truncated and even vaporous - as we’ve only been left with the “N” and “E” by way of any true name.

Nokia N97

Nokia’s “Naming” Convention

So here’s the breakdown:  Nokia currently uses four digits to designate its models, reserving the coveted “N” and “E” prefix for some of its most powerful and capable products. For a detailed list of actual models fitting into the following categories, check out the Wikipedia compilation here.

Nokia Phone Types

  1. 1000 “Ultrabasic”
  2. 2000 “Basic”
  3. 3000 “Expression”
  4. 4000
  5. 5000 “Active”
  6. 6000 “Classic Business”
  7. 7000 “Experimental”
  8. 8000 “Premium”
  9. 9000 “Communicator”
  10. E-Series
  11. N-Series

A Final Plea to Nokia

NumbersI still remember my first car — a 1965 Corvair.  The air-cooled, dual-carburetor engine was painstakingly modified, and the car’s outer shell was breathtakingly beautiful and fierce at the same time. Coupled with a finely tuned dual exhaust system, the bark easily matched the bite.

It was a car that received a lot of attention not only because of its uniqueness and attention to detail, but because it offered something unlike what our eyes and ears were accustomed to observing.  And it had a unique moniker that coincidentally was custom branded at the base of each door by way of a long, stylized emblem:  C-O-R-V-A-I-R.   It was truly a car to be hold, and honestly, a tough one to forget.

Point being, we as Americans, need to find inherent (or imposed) meaning in the things we own.  For better or for worse we are a people who extend our emotional and psychological ties to our possessions. We need to form connections with our devices.

Ultimately, we are our cars; we are our iPods, we are our phones.

None of us would like to be labeled “Human #6,343,409,221″, but would prefer instead to be called Jonathan or Kate.  Words have meaning, and names have power.  Numbers remain flat, one-dimensional, emotionless, and easily forgotten - while people’s fates are simplified by their names.

Come on Nokia - show us that you get us.

Nokia Names

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Comment by Dan Leonida
2009-07-13 14:39:44

What is a cellphone, please? ;o) …and aren’t them banned from many places?!

c u -dan

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