Nokia and Zeiss Get Together Again

What do you look for in a smartphone now that they all look just the same? Many may say the camera is key, and now the new version of Nokia hopes to stand out by putting Carl Zeiss lenses in its phones.

HMD Global, which has licensed the Nokia brand from the Finnish telecoms giant, has signed an exclusive deal with Zeiss, the high-end lens and optical systems maker.

It’s the latest of a number of partnerships signed by HMD as it attempts to revive the brand that once dominated the mobile phone industry.

Zeiss lenses, coupled with its expertise in imaging, will feature in all Nokia smartphones in the future – though they are not in the N3, N5 and N6, Nokia’s first new Android phones, which go on sale next month.

Florian Seiche, HMD’s president, told me the company’s whole business model was based on strategic partnerships and the key thing about Zeiss was the two companies had shared values of quality and craftsmanship.

Mobile industry guru Ben Wood, of CCS Insight, thinks this is a smart move.

“The camera is now so central a feature of any smartphone – for many it’s their primary camera,” he told me. “It sends the message that HMD is really serious about quality.”

It might seem strange that Zeiss should choose to partner with what is for now a tiny niche player in the mobile industry.

But it’s a measure of how assiduous HMD has been in building on old relationships with the Finnish brand – Nokia was in a partnership with Zeiss until it sold its ailing smartphone division to Microsoft.

In the final years of that alliance, they produced some outstanding innovations, including the 41 megapixel Nokia 808 Pureview, which raised the bar for other manufacturers even if it failed to revive the mobile company’s fortunes.

But Mr Wood cautions that the world has moved on, with other companies copying Zeiss innovations such as optical image stabilisation.

“Current cameras have many of the features they pioneered with Nokia, and they’ve gone further,” he said.

“Look at the 960 frames per second super slow-mo on the Sony Xperia XZ Premium or the dual lens technology on the iPhone 7- that’s what they have to compete with.”

One phone that certainly does not boast that kind of feature is the Nokia 3310, the retro device HMD Global relaunched as a way of getting the brand talked about again.

It certainly succeeded, and reports suggest that sales have been very healthy – but now HMD Global wants to change the subject.

Forget cheap and cheerful throwaway phones, Nokia is where you will now turn for a premium smartphone experience with advanced imaging technology you can’t get anywhere else. That is the message from HMD Global – let’s see if anyone listens.

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