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Happy 150th birthday Nokia. Here's why we owe so much to the 3210

While it has a long and varied history, one device is still fondly remembered above everything else.
May 12th 2015, 8:30 PM 26,146 38

NOKIA IS CELEBRATING its 150th anniversary today and a lot has changed since the company was originally founded in 1865.

Starting out life as a pulp mill before expanding into the rubber, cables and electronics industries, the company is now focused on telecoms infrastructure as well as an online mapping service that seems to be highly sought after.

Source: Nokia/YouTube

Yet for most people, it’s best known for its mobile phones and while Nokia is no longer involved in this industry – it sold off its handset division to Microsoft in April 2014 - there’s still a soft spot for one of its most iconic phones, the Nokia 3210.

The Nokia 3210 has had a significant influence on how phones became part of everyday life and they paved the way for smartphones to become a part of our lives. It came at the right time when mobile phones were beginning to gain traction among people, but there were other reasons for its success and how it shaped the industry.

Its focus on style

While it may seem silly now, it’s easy to forget how different the Nokia 3210 was to the competition when it first came out. Back in 1999, mobile phones were usually blocky devices with pokey antennas at the top and flip cover at the bottom.

The Nokia 3210 opted for a compact design with rubber buttons and a plastic casing. The result was a device that was nice to hold and fit neatly in your pocket and hand.

Removing the antenna meant a small drop in reception quality, but it was ultimately nicer to use and is a measure taken by all smartphones now.

Also, you were able to customise your phone by changing the covers, something aimed towards younger people who the phone was marketed towards.

Primary Phone: Nokia 3210 Source: Jo/Flickr

Popularising downloadable content

While now we pay for apps and services, back then the focus was on wallpapers, pictures and ringtones.

You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing an ad which advertised the latest ringtones of the latest songs on TV or in a magazine and it was possible to create and send your own ringtones to another phone if you wished.

The phone as a gaming platform

Sure the only game worth mentioning was Snake, but that was to mobile gaming what Tetris was to the original Game Boy.

Simple mechanics, easy to learn but hard to master mechanics, and a style which allowed you to play for short bursts if you wanted.

It was the perfect game to have on the go and since the battery life was much better – remember the hardware powering the phone was incredibly primitive – you didn’t have to worry about your phone dying.

In a way, it influenced the current smartphone games of today, where the majority opt for simple mechanics to bring people in and keep them playing.

Entertainment 2000 Source: Arvid Rudling/Flickr

Expression through picture messages

Today, we have high quality cameras on our phones, but picture messaging began when you were able to send your friend a Happy Birthday picture or another picture you saved on your phone.

Sure it was primitive and the small, monochrome display meant deciphering some images felt like a modern day Rorschach Test, but it added to the fun.

This importance would later expand to photos and images as better phones and instant messaging apps began to emerge.

Got a second hand phone to commemorate the legend that is Nokia hardware Source: Alper Çuğun/Flickr

Such devices were no longer for the well off

One of the major reasons for the Nokia 3210′s success was its pricing. Normally priced around £100 – £150 (remember it was released before the Euro came in), the device was affordable for both teenagers and young people, the demographics who wouldn’t usually be able to afford mobile phones.

Adoption among younger people was much greater since you could immediately get in touch with friends or family through calls or texts, and the habits developed from this generation (texting, customisation, etc.) would later influence design for future devices and apps.

Read: Now anyone can use Skype’s real-time video chat translator >

Read: A peeing droid has caused Google to suspend its map editing service >

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Quinton O'Reilly

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