A timeline of the rise, dominance and fall of Nokia phones.

We saw moments in the 20th century when Nokia launched a string of successful mobile phones that, for a while, would lead it to dominate the mobile market.

If you were part of the ‘evolution’ of the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Nigeria, which included the entry of mobile phone brands into the country in 2001, then you’ll know how Nokia was the one brand people talked about the most and used.

Everyone who wanted to communicate with others outside of their immediate environment had to rely on Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), which supplied wired telephony, owned and controlled solely by the government.

The country had waited too long to buy tickets to the train of wireless telephony. Before the GSM era, there were stories of users of wireless telephony in Ghana and Togo. So, GSM ended the monopoly of NITEL, killed it years later (because of the government’s irresponsible leadership style), and started a revolution of virtual communication in the country.

Although more people were interested in mobile phones (in turn, wireless communication), affordability was an obstacle in the early years. And even Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards were a luxury. The prices were between ₦20,000 and ₦50,000 at the time.

In the early years of mobile telephony in Nigeria, the leading brands were Panasonic, Motorola and Samsung but Nokia was reported to have clearly led the market. If you ask around, one out of two adults that owned phones in Nigeria at the early turn of the ’20s used a Nokia phone.

So, what is it about the Nokia brand that gave it wide acceptance?

The Nokia story

“Everyone had a Nokia phone, and back then it would have been impossible to imagine a world without Nokia in it.”

In 1996, the first Nokia smartphones were launched. They were the 9000 communicator series that featured a data modem, internet access, email, and more. It also came with the new built-in QWERTY keyboard system and a large 640 x 200 resolution screen.

The company launched Nokia 2110 in 1994 with an address book, multiple ringtones, and the classic game Snake. It was the first phone to feature the classic Nokia ringtone, which was inspired by Francisco Tarrega’s “Gran Vals.”

Product categories were a key part of Nokia’s marketing strategy by 1998. The main categories were:

  • Expression (basic phones with customisable fascias and ringtones)
  • Classic (business phones)
  • Fashion (top range consumer phones emphasising coolness and style)
  • Premium (top range business phones emphasising status)

In 1999, Nokia 3210 was launched. With this, Nokia got the combination of price, size, and features right for the mass market.

It was the predecessor to the 3310. It featured usable SMS messaging, the popular Snake game, and was the first affordable mobile phone to come to market with a fully internal antenna.

The Nokia 3310 was announced on September 1, 2000, and released in the fourth quarter of the year, replacing the popular Nokia 3210.

The Nokia 3310, one of the world’s best-selling phones of all time and most popular in Nigeria at the time, sold more than 126 million units before it was discontinued in 2005.

The phone has a reputation for great durability, and many Internet memes have been made, calling it “indestructible” or “the Nokia Brick” and praising its durability compared to.

This sleek, compact phone had all the features of the 3210, but in a smaller and lighter frame (133g vs 153g), many customisation options thanks to swappable front and rear panels, along with many other improvements to the internals and software.

At launch, the Nokia 3310 was sold for $160. And, in Nigeria, it hovered between ₦15,000 and ₦30,000, depending on the seller. The prices went up with demand. And, at some point, telecom companies sold the phone alongside their sim cards as bundle packages.

Nokia 3310 was widely called pure water because of its popularity, but the sales numbers are unavailable because Nigeria has a data problem.

Nokia added more categories in the early 2000s: Entry and Active.

Entry was all about cheap phones for first-time users or people who wanted ‘just a phone’. The Entry category proper started with 1100, which was a national figure in Nigeria. Remember the picture below?

It was reportedly launched in Nigeria in 2005 and was known as the world’s strongest and most popular digital phone. In about five years, the Nokia 1100 sold some 250 million units worldwide, becoming not only the world’s best-selling phone but the best-selling consumer electronics device.

Active phones were tough phones for sporty users or builders.

After the reign of 1100, the 5030 Xpress Radio came into Nigeria, and people began to ditch their traditional radio sets. It was launched in 2009 and was sold with a starting price of ₦9,000, depending on the seller.

This was the first Nokia phone with an internal FM Radio antenna, so you did not need to carry around that extra piece of luggage – the headset.  
Shortly after, the Nokia Symbian phones were launched in the Nigerian market. And, they quickly gained popularity among early adopters and the tech-inclined young people.
There was the Nokia 6682 (launched in June 2005). This GSM Series 60 smartphone had a 1.3-megapixel camera with a sliding lens cover and flash, Bluetooth, class 10 EDGE high-speed data, music player, MMC card slot, and Push-To-Talk.
It also had an 8 MB internal memory

Nokia 6682

The Nokia N82 was launched in February 2008. It is a high-end smartphone that was announced on November 14, 2007, as part of the company’s Nseries line. The N82 runs Symbian OS v9.2 (S60 3rd Edition, FP1).

Nokia N82

At the time, the N82 was considered one of the most sophisticated camera phones on the market. It is also considered a successor to the Nokia N95, preceding the Nokia N96.

You will also remember the Nokia E71 (launched in September 2008) – This smartphone was introduced in May 2008 from the Eseries range with a QWERTY keyboard targeting business users worldwide. 

Nokia E71
Nokia E71

It runs on Symbian OS v9.2, with a Series 60 3rd Edition, second generation Feature Pack 1.

Nokia produced millions of phones running the Symbian OS, and together, with the OS dominated the cell phone market throughout the early 2000s; in fact, Symbian remained the top-selling smartphone OS worldwide until late 2010.

Top-selling smartphone OS worldwide
Top-selling smartphone OS worldwide up until 2018

That domination continued until Nokia wanted out. BGR quotes a Nokia spokesperson complaining that a typical Symbian handset required 22 months of development time, compared to less than a year with Windows Phone.

Symbian was central to Nokia’s success. But as the iOS and Android advent came, Nokia had to ditch Symbian and MeeGo and go with Windows Phone.

With the growing business opportunities available on the Asha and Windows Phone platforms, we have been reviewing our developer content programs to see how we can maximise our support to you, our developers. As a result of this review, we have decided to focus our support and investment in new content toward Asha and Windows Phone.

Nokia wrote in October 2014.

The smartphone maker announced in January 2013 that PureView 808 was the last Symbian smartphone to be manufactured by the company. It was evident that the company would eventually stop shipping Symbian smartphones and concentrate completely on its Windows Phone line-up.

After being bought by Microsoft, Nokia as we know it phased out, especially in the Nigerian market.

According to data from Statista, Symbian OS started 2012 with almost 32 per cent market share but ended the same year with barely over 10 per cent.

Then, in October 2015, Microsoft launched the first Lumia devices running on Windows 10 Mobile: the Lumia 950, Lumia 950 XL, and Lumia 550. In February 2016, the Lumia 650, which also runs Windows 10 Mobile, was launched.

That did not last long, as the Windows 10 Mobile OS, also previously known as Windows Phone OS, was discontinued by Microsoft in December 2019.

The last stop for Nokia?

Nokia’s long phone history ended after the company was purchased by Microsoft. However, the brand had been slowly dying for years.

The story is not that Microsoft bought the company and drove it down the valley, but the decisions made it so that Nokia continued sinking.

By the start of the 2010s, the smartphone market experienced a revolution. Apple was grabbing lots of attention while Google and its Android platform continued to build out third-party support. 

Nokia, not running on either OS, gradually became the third force. And, once the scales tipped in Apple and Google’s favour, Nokia entered the shadows.