Inside Nokia's 3310 and 8110 Feature Phone Nostalgia Trip

Inside Nokia's 3310 and 8110 Feature Phone Nostalgia Trip
From Wired - April 15, 2018

Lets all agree that this has not been a year of feel-good stories in tech. Whether its Facebook privacy or YouTube algorithms, the headlines out of Silicon Valley have been a dismal parade of lapses and letdowns. So lets take a moment to appreciate the one thread development everyone can get behind: Nokias perfect throwback party.

You may not know the Nokia 3310 or 8110 by name, but youd recognize them in a heartbeat. Theyre two of the phones that made Nokia the dominant cell phone seller of the oughts, the candy bar and banana form factors that defined the pre-iPhone era.

Over the last year, as youve likely seen, a company called HMD Global has resurrected both, upgrading and updating them just-so for a world that still needs feature phones aplenty. What could have been a lazy cash-grab rebootlooking at you, Michael Bays Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtleshas instead turned out two thoughtfully designed and executed devices. And they couldnt have come at a better time.

Retro Magic

A quick clarification: HMD is a company that makes the phonesboth smart and featuresold under the Nokia brand, so this is not technically the same company that dominated the cell phone landscape through the turn of the millennium. But HMD resides in the same building as Nokias headquarters, and was founded by former Nokia employeesincluding chief product officer Juho Sarvikas, who shepherded the return of the 3310 and 8110, and started at Nokia over a decade ago. Everything about it is Nokia DNA.

That shows in its feature phone revivals. Take last years 3310, released nearly two decades after its namesake. It looks just enough like the original for instant recognition, but has just enough new design touches and feature improvementssmoothed over edges, a 2-megapixel camera, a web browserto be viable today. Oh, and its battery still lasts a month.

That balance took more work than you might think.

We actually took a long time to deconstruct the original 3310, says Sarvikas. As it turned out, recreation required a certain degree of invention. One of the most difficult things with the 3310 was to make the corner of the display so close to the edge of the physical enclosure. That was one area where we had to develop a completely new solution that did not exist in this space.

And the reason it didnt exist is fairly simple: Feature phones are cheap, which means theyre made with cheap parts. They all look basically the same, because the companies that make them typically buy in bulk from the same suppliers.

Having attractive feature phones, standing out on design, when the other vendors who are doing feature phones are really plain vanilla, is a smart strategy, says Avi Greengart, tech analyst with GlobalData.

Thats partly why the 3310 stood out so much; it was as much a familiar face as it was a rethinking of a whole category of devices grown stale.

A refined exterior also required some serious interior engineering; the original 3310 hadnt had to accommodate internals for 2G or 3G signals; the 2017 model launched with the former, and got a network upgrade last fall. Its not about simply throwing together a nice-looking shape for the design. Theres a lot of very advanced engineering and asset development that you need to do. Its amazing how much a couple of millimeters matter, says Sarvikas.

This years 8110thats the banana phone, which youll remember best from The Matrixpresented an even more daunting challenge both inside and out. Start with the shape, which outside of an ill-fated dalliance with curvature from LG in 2013 simply doesnt exist any more. The phone doesnt just curve; part of it pops down with the push of a button.

How do you configure the length versus the thickness versus the actual physical curvature of the banana, says Sarvikas. As youre building the inner blocks and designing the electromechanics around that, it becomes a really intriguing exercise. You could not modify one dimension without throwing the whole thing around and reconfiguring from the beginning.

Double Feature

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