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Nokia Back In The Smartphone Game, Lack Of VR Plans Problematic

Nokia is about to make a (presumably) triumphant return to the mobile market, with new smartphones and tablets and a new organization.

Tinfoil Hats

The timing of Nokia’s announcement was curious--mere hours before the I/O 2016 keynote where Google announced its Daydream mobile VR ecosystem--and we couldn’t help but put two and two together. Oh, and there’s the (admittedly thin) connection between the name of the newly-formed holding company for Nokia: HMD. Could it be a coincidence? Was mobile VR going to be a part of the Finnish company’s big play in mobile?

Sometimes, though, the news is that there’s no news. In an email, a representative from the Brunswick Group, which represents HMD (and by proxy, Nokia), was unequivocal: “I can confirm that HMD’s agreement with Nokia explicitly does not include other devices such as VR headsets (and Nokia has no plans to license it to HMD in the future). HMD is focused on phones and tablets.” He also stated that there is no connection between the timing of the Nokia announcement and Google’s VR news.

Missing The Train?

Sometimes, though, the news that there’s no news is news. Since Google’s Daydream VR announcement, we’ve been getting a steady stream of emails from companies large and small, letting us know that they’re jumping on the Daydream train, and how.

This is not at all surprising. What Google is doing with Daydream is essentially taking the Gear VR model of that’s-actually-pretty-good-VR-and-wow-it’s-mobile and blowing it wide open by removing the tight integration restrictions that Samsung and Oculus maintained. Now, with the Daydream reference designs, we should see a deluge of smartphone makers rolling out Daydream-compatible handsets and companion VR HMDs and controllers.

And Nokia is not going to be one of them.

We’ve written about how smartphone makers need to innovate to stand out from the throngs of far too similar devices, and one of those ways is to go into VR. That’s been the big Android buy-in, and now Google has pushed that even further. With its Lumia line, Nokia’s biggest differentiator was producing great hardware that ran Windows Mobile. Then Microsoft took the line over. Let’s assume that Nokia can still make killer hardware, but its devices are going to run Android now, not Windows 10 for mobile.

Therefore, Nokia dropped one of its two main selling points (insert “Windows 10 for mobile is the opposite of a selling point” dig here) and failed to add a major new one--one that most of its competitors will now leverage, most likely.

Why? There could be a couple of reasons. It’s possible that Nokia, intensely focused on relaunching and making new devices, just didn’t get the memo about Google’s VR plans. It also may think that VR simply isn’t worth pushing into--admittedly, we know little about Nokia’s marketing plans for its new devices. Maybe it wants to tackle the enterprise space instead of the consumer one, for example, in which case VR would be a fool’s errand.

What we do know of Nokia’s plans is that is has “conditionally” bought back its naming rights on feature phones (the agreement should close H2 2016), and it will be also be making Android-based smartphones and tablets. And it won’t be dabbling in VR.

Seth Colaner is the News Director for Tom's Hardware. Follow him on Twitter @SethColaner. Follow us on Facebook, Google+, RSS, Twitter and YouTube.

  • Gam3r01
    Im not sure if I would call their lack of VR plans problematic.
    Reply
  • Jeff Fx
    I'm not sure if I would call their lack of VR plans problematic.

    That depends on how popular phone-based VR becomes. If a lot of people get into the habit of hanging out with their friends in phone-based VR, the lack of a VR solution will hurt sales.

    I'm confident that VR is now good enough that it won't just be a fad this time, but I have no idea if it will be mainstream enough that it's a got-to-have checkbox for phones.
    Reply
  • Sowel Hung
    What the market lacks is not a phone that does VR. It is a VR headset that can be a phone. By that I mean a phone that is a VR device first and foremost, and phone capabilities as 2nd priority.
    Reply
  • falchard
    I think smart phone based VR right now is retarded. I wouldn't invest in it either. A smart phone simply can't output adequate frame rates. I think they should bring out both an Android and Windows based phone. It really doesn't make sense to ignore Windows Mobile right now when its such a powerful productivity tool compared to other OSes.
    Reply
  • Gam3r01
    I would rather see a company who has had issues in the market, in this case nokia, come out with a solid phone rather than a decent phone with decent VR.
    Reply
  • fixxxer113
    It's not a return of Nokia. HMD and FIH (subsidiary of Foxconn) simply bought the brand name. It's nothing more than another Chinese manufacturer that makes phones... no relation to the actual Nokia brand or company...
    Reply
  • Bloob
    It's not a return of Nokia. HMD and FIH (subsidiary of Foxconn) simply bought the brand name. It's nothing more than another Chinese manufacturer that makes phones... no relation to the actual Nokia brand or company...

    Except the tech and designs (and brand) are licensed from the actual Nokia, and HMD is Finnish and has many former "Nokians" working there, and has Nokia on the board of directors.
    Reply
  • g-unit1111
    17990725 said:
    Im not sure if I would call their lack of VR plans problematic.

    I was going to say the same thing. Lol. :lol:
    Reply
  • hannibal
    Well, actually Nokia is not making back, the Name is and only in low end phones at this moment, so when VR is not a low end product, we don't miss anything.
    The Nokia sold the Nokia name to another company for mobile business...
    Reply
  • scolaner
    17990725 said:
    Im not sure if I would call their lack of VR plans problematic.

    I was going to say the same thing. Lol. :lol:

    My point (which I already made at length in the article and will reiterate here, in brief) is that it's no longer enough to just make a good Android phone. You have to bring value in different ways, or else you're just noise. Right now, on Android, the main way to do that is by tapping into VR. And Google just made it *really* easy for OEMs to bring VR to the handsets they sell.

    So now, it's not just smartphones themselves that are a commodity, but VR-enabled smartphones, too! And Nokia, by missing out on that wave, is probably going to struggle to get people to buy their new phones.
    Reply