The rise and fall of the Nokia brand from 'banana' to 'razor'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 3:40am

Lau Chi-kong, a mobile-phone seller in Mong Kok's gadget stronghold Sin Tat Plaza, entered the trade 17 years ago.

It was 1996, the year when Nokia rolled out the model nicknamed "the banana" because of its curved shape. It featured in the sci-fi movie The Matrix.

Users answered calls by sliding open the cover.

More importantly, it worked on the PCS network, whose monthly fee of about HK$100 was much cheaper than that for the GSM network other phones used.

The introduction of "the banana" marked Nokia's rise in the city. Back in the '80s, it was Motorola that dominated the market with the "water flasks". Ericsson then entered the fray and Nokia was about third, jumping into the game in the '90s.

The new millennium was a golden era for Nokia. "At that time, 10 out of 10 phones that I sold were Nokias," he said.

During the next decade, there were numerous Nokia models, which left an impression among consumers including the 6610, 8210, 8310 and 8250. The price of the diamond limited edition of 8810 went as high as HK$40,000.

"Nokia 8810 was nicknamed the 'razor king'. 8310 was known for its changeable back covers," he said. "It was only after the rise of iPhone that Nokia started losing its edge. Times have changed. Nokia failed to keep up and isolated itself."

Francis Fong Po-kiu, president of the Information Technology Federation, said Nokia was loved for its durability, good reception and friendly user interface. "Nokia was known for its stringent drop tests where technicians dropped the phones from real heights. Nowadays the phones are more fragile," he said.

Phone users had been loyal to Nokia, and the brand still had a market share of more than 20 per cent three years ago.

The announcement in 2011 that it would drop mobile operating system Symbian and switch to Windows phone OS dealt the final blow to the company.

"Who would buy a Nokia phone knowing the company would soon stop supporting the operating system? A wait of one year [before Nokia introduced a Windows OS phone] was too long for consumers," he said.

Now Nokia's market share has dropped to a few per cent, and only people looking for the cheapest phones - about HK$200 - would buy a Nokia, he said.