Nokia Bets on New $700 Cell Phone

Frank Nuovo, chief designer for Nokia phones, discusses the company's new 8800 cell phone. Nokia is betting on the phone to reenergize its sales and compete against Motorola's hit phone, the Razr. Nuovo has been designing phones for Nokia since 1989.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Nokia is betting on a new cell phone that will retail for about $700. The Finnish company is the world's largest cell phone maker, but it is has slipped in recent years and lost market share to companies like Motorola. Now we've called Frank Nuovo, who led the team that designed Nokia's new upscale phone. For those hundreds of dollars, you get a gliding stainless steel cover, among other features. Nuovo has been designing phones since 1989.

Mr. FRANK NUOVO (Nokia Chief Designer): My career has been to bring high design to a technological object and make it friendly, make it comfortable, make it, I would daresay, even sexy.

INSKEEP: Sexy?

Mr. NUOVO: Sexy. Yeah. Mobile phones--I've worked hard through the years to bring, you know, little black plastic devices into the world of fashion.

INSKEEP: So is anybody going to pay 7 or $800 for this phone?

Mr. NUOVO: All functional devices, cars, watches, pens--What do you want?--homes, mention anything, has moved into the luxury market, meaning that there's an embracing of craft, precision, high-quality materials. Take the Kelly bag, for instance, a beautiful purse from Hermes, and here you have dedication to craft, but a very raw material. And those bags cost an extremely substantial amount of money for a handbag. This is why we have studied the premium market, which is the very high end of the mass market, the high end of fashion, you could say, fashion accessories, but it's not yet luxury. So it's attainable but to a smaller crowd.

INSKEEP: Who's that crowd, demographically? Who are you trying to get with the 8800 phone here?

Mr. NUOVO: I'm not prepared to quote specific income levels, but people stretch at all income levels to get what they want. It's pretty amazing the aspirational value of a product like this--what it says both inwardly--what it makes you feel--but then obviously there's the outward, `Hey, this is my success badge.' These are factors in things that we buy, our clothing, our cars, our homes and there's nothing different about a mobile phone. All the same rules apply.

INSKEEP: The Wall Street Journal in an otherwise complimentary article says that Nokia has slipped badly in recent years, missing some key style trends. What have you missed in your estimation?

Mr. NUOVO: Well, I wouldn't say style trends. There's one--what I would call a form factor. There was a huge influx of fold phones from a number of competitors, and Nokia had a couple of them out on the marketplace, but it wasn't the dominant part of our portfolio. Those clamshells caught on very quickly. We've moved, in lightning form, in fact, to have our portfolio filled out with those clamshell phones, and now we have numerous models all over the world.

INSKEEP: Is there a moment when you take a boxful of everybody else's phones and dump them out on the table and try to figure out what they're doing right or wrong?

Mr. NUOVO: You don't gain that much from looking at your competitors. You really gain forward momentum from focusing on your end customer, knowing where they're going, where do they want to go? Otherwise, all you're doing is you're following moments, very brief moments, little leap-frog moments from competitor to competitor. What you have to do is keep your eye further forward and understand where the customer wants to go, and that's the real magic.

INSKEEP: Frank Nuovo is Nokia's chief of design.

Thanks very much.

Mr. NUOVO: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me here.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE (Host): And I'm Renee Montagne.

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