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Nokia’s New Phone and the Apple Cult

April 4, 2012

Reviews of Nokia’s new Lumia 900 smart phone have been mixed so far. Many have praised it for its sleek design, user-friendly interface, and camera, but have criticized it for its single-core processor, short battery life, and lack of apps (70,000 – a sharp contrast from the half-a-million apps for the iPhone).

The Lumia 900.

What strikes me about the Lumia 900 is its design. It’s the most beautiful, simple, and minimally designed smart phone on the market. It compares very favorably with its two biggest competitors, the iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy II. There are no wasted lines, clunky buttons, or obtrusive parts. The phone is thin and elegant. It takes Apple’s language (“think simple”) and transforms it into something that is indeed simple and functional.

I wonder what kind of success the Lumia can have in the smart phone marketplace, a marketplace dominated by just two companies. The Lumia 900 retails for only $99. This price point will determine whether or not Nokia and Microsoft become big players in the smart phone market. If the phone sells (as it should at that price – more on this below), it will act as a major game-changer in an industry that has grown stagnant, complacent, and boring.

All of this brings me back to the Apple Cult. Few people will queue up on a cold, foggy day to buy the Lumia 900 when sales begin on Sunday. Here’s a beautiful new phone with some wonderful features for only $99, but there is no Nokia cult. There isn’t even a Samsung/Google cult. This is because the Apple Cult is about more than just a great product. The Apple Cult taps into a deep human desire for status and recognition. Apple, which once asked us to “think different,” now asks us to fit in and buy their products. Owning an Apple product implies something about the owner; he’s hip, intelligent, creative, with it. Apple now recognizes that they don’t have to make game-changing products. All they have to do is maintain standards and placate their loyal customers, or at the very least maintain the appearance of “business as usual.” As Steve Jobs once put it: “Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” In other words, the design of an Apple product isn’t just about its actual, physical design, but also about Apple as a service and a brand.

If Nokia and Microsoft really want to compete like they say they do, then they have to reinvent their image. They have to reach out to consumers in a whole new way. If they think that the beauty or price of their product will save them, they’re wrong. You can’t put a price on image and brand loyalty. This is why Apple could charge as much as they wanted to for their products and they would still sell (they wisely do not do this). Nokia/Microsoft will also fail if they try to fight Apple on Apple’s terms. Their only hope is total reinvention. Who is the Lumia 900 owner? How does their product define that person? Marketing in the 21st century is not about substance but about image. Companies tap into our deep narcissism to sell us their products. Nokia and Microsoft must learn this or their product will fail.

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