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The Galaxy S8 Lost To An Ancient Finnish Legend

Samsung’s high-level plan looked simple. Start the Galaxy S8 steamroller at Mobile World Congress 2017 and crush the Android opposition under the weight of coverage its flagship would generate. Prepare the marketplace for the launch of the S8 and time it to disrupt whatever refresh Apple had planned for March. The final result would be the Galaxy S8 ruling the first half of the year and gaining a prime position to fight the iPhone 8 in late Q3.

Then the Galaxy Note 7’s incendiary issues lit up the world and the phablets were recalled. An investigation had to take place to understand what went wrong with the batteries to ensure it never happened again. All of that impacted the Galaxy S8 schedule. Presumably a plan to tease the S8 at Barcelona to keep the opposition quiet and get back on schedule was drawn up.

Nobody could have expected a champion to rise from beyond the digital grave.

A person plays holds the new ‘Nokia 3310’ model of Finnish HMD global on the first day of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on on February 27, 2017 (Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

Even with the handicap of a delayed launch and a release pushed into late April, Samsung must have been confident that it could walk away from Mobile World Congress with the subtle hints of the Galaxy S8 at its press event and the invitation to the launch event on March 29th ringing in the ears of the attendees and in the digital column inches written by the media as they all flew home.

Samsung could safely gamble that it would grandstand over the second-tier handsets from the likes of LG, Huawei, Sony, and TCL’s BlackBerry handsets. It probably looked at the expected offerings from HMD Global and decided that the mid-range handsets were not going to trouble the functionality of the Galaxy S8. Even with the Nokia name on the handsets, HMD is a start-up in the smartphone world that couldn’t match the resources of Samsung or the appetite for information about the S8 family

And then the Nokia 3310 came along.

Visitors look at the new Nokia 3310 during the Mobile World Congress 2017 (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

HMD Global may be a start-up but it inherited a strong feature phone business from Microsoft (and therefore from Nokia of old). That gave it market share, customer relationships and ongoing revenue. The Windows powered smartphones that have carried the Nokia name in the smartphone world may not have caught people’s imaginations in the West, but it continued to be the feature phone of choice in the BRIC territories and surrounding areas. The brand remained loved by many.

Two weeks before MWC it became clear that the three Android handsets were going to be joined by another feature phone. HMD announced the Nokia 150 at the end of 2016 to quiet nods and ‘that’s nice’ from the geekerati, so another phone wasn’t going to be special. Except the idea that this would be a homage to the classic 3310 captured the emotion of the public.

HMD global CEO Arto Nummela presents his company’s new phone ‘Nokia 3310’ during a press conference on February 26, 2017 (Photo: Josep Lago/AFP/Getty Images)

Nostalgia can be a big seller (just ask Nintendo about the NES Classic Mini) and the Nokia 3310 name had that in spades – a design everyone loved, long battery life, ridiculous stand-by times, and all of it updated for 2017. The news lit up the mainstream press in a way that only Apple can manage (and even then this felt different, attracting a much wider audience). The traffic spikes and online chatter was a clear indication the 3310 was going to be hot.

With its reveal in Barcelona, the mainstream media had a ready-made story that they know would attract traffic. The Nokia 3310 was already a breakout star, but now the press could go all out with glamour shots, hands-on reviews, and pieces to camera on the return of a classic.

The story of the world’s rejection of Nokia and its redemption at the hands of an ancient hero is the stuff that legends are made of. How could the South Korean company hope to fight that with an iteration of the same flagship it has launched every year for the last decade?

Samsung handed the press another episode in the daily soap opera of smartphones. Nokia rocked up with Ben Kenobi.

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