Several years ago, I owned the worst phone in the world, the Samsung Epix. Seriously, it was an evil, possessed phone. After sending one Epix after another back to AT&T because of all the issues, they finally relented and let me exchange it for a different phone. I ended up with a Nokia E71x, and while the AT&T “adjustments” to the software were less than welcome, I adored the hardware. Nokia may have had their ups and downs, but they know how to make an amazing phone. Nokia has now thrown their support behind Windows Phone, and I had an opportunity to chat with Nikki Barton, Vice President of User Experience at Nokia, to learn more about how Nokia is not only making great phones, but how they are tailoring that experience to the needs of women everywhere.
So what is Nokia doing to study how women shop for phones? They have a great deal of market research at their fingertips, and what they have found is that for women, getting stuff done is more important than the operating system. Women who are 18-21 also use the mobile web more than men in the same demographic, so clearly, it isn’t that women are not using technology. It’s more that we approach it differently. We are do-ers more than tinkerers, and that’s the philosophy that Nokia wanted to bring to the Lumia, the idea that the phone helps you get things done quickly and easily. They studied how people interacted with their phones, features people liked and disliked, and tried to anticipate the things people didn’t even know they might want. So how did they implement that?
A big part of that is design. The Lumia is a big phone, but unlike similar sized phones, it doesn’t feel as big. When Sarah, my wife, was shopping for a new phone, she rejected every 4 inch screen she saw as too big; when she saw the Lumia she grabbed for it right away. The edges are rounded, and the phone just feels nice to hold. It’s probably my second favorite phone design, behind the original iPhone, and that’s high praise, because I loved the feel of the OG iPhone. Even things like the camera lens placement feels right. On a phone as big as this one, my fingers tend to wrap the edges more to get a secure grip. The camera lens is located in the middle of the phone, so I don’t accidentally cover it while trying to take a picture. All the buttons are flush with the case, and they feel solid when you press them. And I seriously can’t emphasize enough how comfortable it is to hold the Lumia. Most bigger phones feel awkward, but the rounded edges make it feel really natural. Nikki called it a “human design” and I think that’s a great way to describe it.
According to Nikki, the color and feel are no accident. Nokia wanted to make sure there were bright, “pure” colors, and they aren’t paint, but part of the polycarbonate. This insures your colorful phone won’t fade or scratch away as you use it. Apparently, 51% of women in Europe were interested in phones that offered colors beyond the same boring black, a success Nokia has seen expand to the USA as well. The Cyan Lumia has been a huge hit for them, especially with 25-30 year olds. They also specifically incorporated a high-end camera (something Nokia is known for), and there’s a camera button shortcut making it even easier to quickly snap photos. Plus, the polycarbonate is all one piece, giving it a smooth unibody. The lack of seams is just one more way the phone feels and looks absolutely amazing.
Nikki had nothing but praise for the philosophy behind Windows Phone as well. She felt it lends itself nicely to the idea of being able to keep your head out of your phone all the time, and that the Metro UI, People Hub, and other Windows Phone touches make a nice complement to the hardware of the Lumia. I remember raising both my eyebrows when Nokia announced they would be working with Microsoft, but after talking with Nikki I had a much better idea of why both companies appear to have hit it off so well.
The theme of simplicity and ease of use continues into the accessories as well. Nokia sells a speaker with NFC that allows you to just tap your phone to the speaker to use it, and tap it again to move the music back to the Lumia. The Bluetooth headset also uses NFC, and connects to the phone when you pop out the earpiece, then disconnects when you pop it back in. It’s little things like this that Nokia is focusing on as a way to really embody their idea of a smooth, easy to use smartphone experience that enhances your life.
Talking with Nikki was fascinating because she clearly has a deep passion for Nokia and design. In the course of the conversation we discussed how people shop for phones, her daughter’s generation and how tech savvy they are at the age of 9, and the big and little ways market research has shaped the design of the Lumia. What really struck me was that Nokia wanted to make a solid phone that happened to appeal to women, as opposed to a phone specifically for women. Everything Nikki mentioned are things that are universal; everyone wants phones that make their lives run smoothly, keep them looped in with social events, and look and feel good to use. I know I was pretty critical of HTC’s Rhyme, because it felt like they took a bunch of “girly” elements, threw them onto a mid tier phone, and said “Look! For the ladies!” Nokia, on the other hand, is being far more thoughtful. They care about how women use their phones and what features matter, and they include those in the design of the Lumia.
I can’t say I am totally sold on Windows Phone, but I can say this: I am sold on Nokia. I can’t wait to see what their follow-up to the Lumia is, and hopefully it will arrive without the “dead on arrival” feel of the Lumia 710 and 900, thanks to Microsoft’s shenanigans with Windows Phone 8. I can’t say enough good things about the hardware. I loved playing with the Lumia and recognizing the ways the Nokia philosophy is infused into the design. The camera shutter button is placed well, the rounded edges feel nice, and the phone just POPS when you see it. I am very happy with my iPhone for now, but I can’t wait to see what Nokia has up their sleeves next!
Note: if you are looking for a more comprehensive look at the Nokia Lumia 900, check out Dan’s first impressions.