10 phones that defined a decade: Brief look at Mobiles and Nokia domination in the noughties

| December 29, 2009 | Reply

[Forgive the length of this post. This was originally an extremely short post to show that out of Techradar’s “10 phones that defined a decade, 5 were Nokia handsets]

On Friday, it will have been a whole decade since we entered the new millennium. 10 years since 2000? How did that happen so quickly?

What’s really surprising is how fast and far technology in our mobile phones have come. In this decade we went from:

  • monochrome to colour
  • cameras and music players built in
  • keypad to touch
  • WAP to mobile broadband
  • Phone for calls and text to pocket computers that could make phone calls.

In their inception, each new feature was touted by pessimists as gimmicky – something that would not catch on. Who would want a colour screen? Who would take pictures with a phone? Why would you want a blue tooth? Who on earth would want a phone with no buttons? Who on earth wants email/web browsing on a phone?

Yet now, we take these pretty much for granted as a basic necessity for phones. In 2005, analysts saw that high tech advanced mobile phones were complicated, expensive and hadn’t caught the industry as hoped.

Other transitions we saw:

  • Infra Red to Bluetooth
  • Phones that could display photos!
  • Phones that could play videos!
  • Phones with WiFi connectivity!
  • Phones with GPS mapping!
  • random PC proprietary connectivity to pretty much universal microUSB.
  • 5kb phone memory to having 32GB phone memory
  • large variety of gigantic memory cards to pretty much just microSD
  • Screens being a 10% of the phone’s face to pretty much the whole footprint of the phone.
  • pixelated QVGA cameras to cameras with megapixels, boasting up to 12mp (some with xenon/optical zoom/wide angle/carl zeiss optics)
  • jittery blocky tinny sounding 3GP videos to bliss 720p HD videos.
  • Plain monochrome snake game to fully immersive 3D games

I could go on. The evolution of mobile phones in this decade has been quite remarkable. Could we expect similar revolutionary changes in the next 10 years?

As well as new technologies, we saw players come (E.G. Apple, Sony Ericsson) and go (e.g. Siemens) or slip (Motorola). There’s been reshuffling in the ranks but since 1998, Nokia have maintained the lead as number one phone manufacturer. In this decade, Nokia were the biggest camera manufacturer and biggest mp3 player manufacturer.

Nokia in the Noughties

For pretty much 75% of this decade, Nokia unquestionably dominated the phone market. Surprisingly, one of their main strengths was their simple, logical and easily comprehensible UI. Where Samsung and Motorola left you in a maze, you could swiftly navigate your Nokia. At the high end, their main challenger was the newly formed Sony Ericsson and their Symbian based UIQ. Another surprising strength was Nokia’s bountiful apps – hardware aside, 3rd party software became reasons to buy Nokia and their Series S60 smartphones. 

With their budget handsets, striking fashion phones and young fresh smartphones, though accused of being too slow to react, Nokia saw off Motorola’s V3 flip/clamshell attack. Nokia, Symbian, and S60 was unequivocally dominant in the mobile scene.

As cameraphones piqued intrigue, the only real competitors here for best picture quality were Nokia and Sony Ericsson. The battle had been fierce, full fledged smartphones with great imaging capabilities vs your average “dumbphone”. With their first megapixel 7610 in 2004, Nokia showed a future in high quality camera phones.

Birth of Nseries

In 2005, Nokia launched the premium cream of technological crop – Nseries Multimedia computers. Versatile Symbian OS paired with excellent hardware making them the best in their field of multimedia creation and consumption.

Returning to imaging, with the N90 we saw Nokia’s partnership with Carl Zeiss to deliver high quality optics to mobile phones. The N73 gave a hint of phones realistically replacing point and shoots. With the N82, Nokia produced a Xenon equipped camera phone that could happily take the place of a point and shoot camera. Since 2006, Nokia has won the TIPA best mobile imaging awards; first with the N80, continuing to do so with the N95 in 2007, N82 in 2008 and N86 in 2009.

Another major strength we saw in Nokia was high quality video with decent audio. Whilst everyone else was producing blocky tinny videos, Nokia’s N90 was shoulders above the rest, and even more so when Nokia came up with the “DVD-like” cam corder looking, 3X optical zoom with STEREO sound N93.

Nokia got busy churning out phone after phone. (To date, since the 3310, there have been 267 GSM Nokia phones.) In Q4 2006, 50% of phone shipments were from Nokia, with 67% of the smartphone market being Symbian based. Nokia and Nseries brand image was sky high, and epitomized by the marvel that was the N95. 5MP camera with flash, GPS, Dual slider with music keys, microSD slot and 3.5mm jack with TV out . Convergence was in.

Nokia showed everyone that if you wanted the best mobile gadget, you had to come to Nokia. Samsung were fluttering about with slider fashion phones (and when they did push high tech, it was damn ugly), Sony Ericsson couldn’t keep up, god knows what everyone else was doing.

Then stepped in Apple with a then laughable buttonless phone. They changed the perception and acceptance by the masses to high end devices. Smartphones didn’t have to be slow and complicated. It could be fast, responsive and as simple as pick up and play. The market reacted quickly, but Nokia were inexplicably slow to produce a touch screen experience that could rival iPhone or simply keep up with the trend.

S60 was deemed outdated, non finger touch friendly and in need desperate need of an overhaul. Hardware wise, apart from the touch screens, the flagship Nseries were pretty much still the same. Only in June this year did we see Nokia improving on the 5MP camera we first saw back with the N95 with the N86.

Although Nokia are still number one in terms of sales, their grip on the market isn’t as mighty. In the UK, for the past two months, Samsung now have the top market share. Worldwide, Apple’s iPhone was supposed to be more profitable than Nokia in Q3 but it seems reports misconstrued numbers and that they were Apple total profits vs Nokia (and that doesn’t include Nokia’s major losses via Nokia-Siemens)

In the last few gasps of this decade, there was a glimmer of hope for Nokia again as the Nokia’s Maemo tablet range of experimental devices blossomed. We got a taste of the power of Maemo 5 and the potential of the mobile computer in your pocket. The future could possibly be very bright for Nokia with the more mature and mass market aimed Maemo 6, as well as the release of revamped, clutter free, slick Symbian^4.

Will Nokia still be number one in 10 years time? Will they still continue to set trends rather than follow them? Who knows. To have held the top spot ( for much of it so comfortably for this long) and have set so many bars already is quite a remarkable feat.

Make the action not the reaction

From the view of a fan, in 2010 and onwards Nokia’s devices and services need to feel like they belong in that era, instead of feeling like they need to catch up. Nokia needs to make drastic changes so that they continue to set trends and not just follow them. If anyone knows about adaptability, evolution and change, it’s the once Paper-Mill, come Rubber Works, come cable works come Number one mobile phone manufacturer in the world, Nokia.

This was just a brief look at Nokia in this decade. There are too many key points to include (e.g. introduction/death of N-gage, Eseries, Xseries, Nokia as a sotware/internet services company with Ovi, Nokia dipping toes into laptop market)

Oh, and the 10 phones that defined this decade?

  1. Nokia 7110
  2. Nokia 3310
  3. Vertu
  4. S.E. W800i
  5. Nokia 7650 (2002)
  6. Motorola RAZR (2004)
  7. Nokia N95 (2007)
  8. HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1
  9. RIM BlackBerry
  10. Apple iPhone

Via Tech Radar



Category: Nokia, Nseries

About the Author ()

Hey, thanks for reading my post. My name is Jay and I'm a medical student at the University of Manchester. When I can, I blog here at and tweet now and again @jaymontano. We also have a twitter and facebook accounts @mynokiablog and Check out the tips, guides and rules for commenting >>click<< Contact us at tips(@) or email me directly on jay[at]