Nokia-resurrect Newkia gets warm reception

Following his interview with ZDNet, Newkia's investor Thomas Zilliacus says he received several e-mail from Nokia employees asking to join the new company and has been offered free office space to set up in Finland.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

If you've read my piece about Thomas Zilliacus' plans to start a new company called Newkia, and rejoiced that Nokia designs may finally run on the Android OS, then you'll be happy to hear the startup has been garnering much interest. 

A former 15-year Nokia veteran, Zilliacus was adamant the Finnish handset maker would have seen a much better fate if it had taken the Android route, rather than one tied exclusively to Windows. In fact, he was so certain Android was the missing link that he created Newkia the day Microsoft announced plans to buy over Nokia's devices and services unit for US$7.2 billion. 

Core to his plans for Newkia--"New" plus "Nokia", yes, it can't get any more blatant than that--was to bring over as many Nokia employees and expertise as possible, ranging from smartphone design to logistics to manufacturing. 

The Monday after my story went up, Zilliacus dropped by my office for a visit and had several more nuggets to share. Thanking me for the coverage, he said he had received some 50 e-mail messages from Nokia employees on the morning after the interview was posted, with their CVs attached, asking to join the new company. 

Grinning widely, he also revealed the mayor of a Finnish city called to offer him free office space in support of his plans to retain an R&D facility in the country. He explained that this would better serve Nokia employees who prefer to remain in Finland and do not wish to move to the company's headquarters in Singapore, where he himself has lived for 27 years.

He said members in Newkia's core management team, including its CEO, have been identified. He won't be heading the team, serving mainly as a consultant and investor, as he will be busy prepping his other investment and social media aggregator, YuuZoo, for its IPO next month. 

Asked if Windows Phone was anywhere on Newkia's roadmap, he didn't completely rule it out. He admitted he had yet to try out the Microsoft platform, but said the company's primary focus would be Android.

On my request, during his office visit, Zilliacus brought along a Nokia prototype that never made it to market, but which he had boldly said would have matched up to the Apple iPhone. Built as early as 2003, four years before the first iteration of iPhone was launched, the handset had a full touchscreen and ran on a system similar to Nokia's old Symbian OS. The screen rotated based on the position of the phone--a function which Zilliacus reminded wasn't common among handsets at that time.

The Nokia prototype built in 2003 which Zilliacus said was comparable to Apple iPhone but was never launched. (Photos credit: Aloysius Low/CNETAsia)

While it was about the same length as the iPhone, the prototype was thicker and heavier--but remember that this was built a decade ago in 2003. And despite sitting somewhere in Zilliacus's drawer all these years, it could still boot up after I inserted my SIM card and was functional...I was still able to make a call using the phone. 

Smartphone design needs to start getting bold, again

I'm keen to see what Newkia, armed with former Nokia employees and know-how, can come up with. If the lukewarm response to Apple's new iPhones is anything to go by, smartphone options in the market today are way too uniformed and increasingly boring. 

Walk into a phone shop today and you'll see a lineup of options that sport the same rectangular shape, full touchscreen, single button...it's a major yawn fest. 

I've owned about 10 different handsets since I bought my first mobile phone in 1995, including Ericsson's iconic flip phone T286, Nokia's "butterfly keypad" 8250 and 6210 Navigator, Motorola's Razr v3, and Sony Ericsson's Experia Mini Pro. They all looked different, and I remember spending weeks trying out the various models available at that time before deciding on the final one. 

That's no longer the case today. In fact, I held on to my previous handset for over two years because the available options bored me. It eventually conked out and I had to replace it.

During its heydays, Nokia offered an eclectic range of designs including several that were truly bizarre, but they were each different, unique, and bold. That's something you don't see much anymore because smartphone makers today choose to chase shipment numbers, and fear straying too far from the commercially proven. 

So I'm stoked to see what "the new Nokia" has to offer and hope it stays true to Nokia's old roots. Newkia's goal is launch its first handsets within a year and it should hurry, before Microsoft comes to its senses and decides its handsets should be OS-agnostic.

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