Last Friday the world looked up and nodded as the Woolworth’s of the mobile phone industry released 3D print designs for the body of a current mobile phone, the Lumina 820. Interesting, certainly. But hardly earth-shattering.
Not, at least, until Monday. When we all caught up with the implications.
Nokia says it wants to move away from global to local production. The phone casing is the easiest component to start this journey. However, the rest of the mobile can follow.
And once the economics work out (speculate away as to when that’ll be) whole phones will be built more cheaply in each individual market. And they’ll be a chance to customise for each location.
We know this is the way the world is going. The advent of 3D printing almost makes it a foregone conclusion. So with Nokia apparently out of the blocks first – and with Apple or Samsung rather unlikely to follow any time soon – will this be the idea that saves our favourite ’90s phone-maker?
Well, it’s certainly innovative. And Nokia needs to be that – in spades – to escape its death-spiral.
And this is a big but:
Is this the right kind of innovation from Finland?
Firstly, we don’t know when the economics of local printing will work. And it remains possible that, to a certain extent, they never will. Today, a printed hamburger would set you back $300,000.
Secondly, Nokia’s core issues are not related to its supply chain. What it lacks (or at least did until recently) is a decent smartphone people want to buy.
So it’s quite possible Nokia won’t be around when the local supply chain revolution kicks in.
But why then does the squirmy, excited feeling remain in the pit of our stomachs? Why is this a significant announcement?
Most importantly it shows that 3D printing is being taken seriously by those with enough capital to make a proper impact on the shape of the world. Nokia may be the first to announce such plans. But others – if not the other grown-ups of its own industry – will follow. Perhaps rather shortly?
More emotionally, this is Nokia showing that it can still think different. And have the courage to back a conviction. To mix a couple of clichéd metaphors – its back’s against the wall and that’s put fire in it’s belly.
And that’s a big deal. Many of us still have fond memories of phones that worked. That crashed so little you didn’t think of them as computers. All the while being utterly intuitive to use.
So what else does it have up its sleeve? Is there an advance in the pipeline that’ll steal market share? This felt impossible. Now? We’re not so sure.
And what does this say about the process of innovation? We all know the answer. But it’s still a surprise every time it’s illustrated so vividly:
Invention is born of necessity.
When things are working, you comfortably float on, not fixing it. Because ‘it’ ain’t broke.
Consider Apple. Can’t you just hear them in the boardroom? Those loyal to Jobs are, currently quite politely, reminding the assembled company that they haven’t invented a major new paradigm for three years. And that their lifeblood is inventing major new paradigms. So they’d better get that TV out into the marketplace. Quickly. And in ship-shape fashion.
But the others are feigning attention. Looking at the sales figures and wondering why anyone would be stupid enough to take a risk. Rome burns. They fiddle.
And all of us are guilty of that sometimes. To change our behaviour we need to change our context.
And Nokia’s context was changed. Substantially. Almost overnight. The only question – still mostly unanswered given the rope it has to hang itself – is how it reacts. Like Kodak or Yahoo!? Or like Apple before the iPod? For Apple, let us remind ourselves, was three-quarts dead. With one foot and a half in the grave.
Because if innovation is again taking the lead at Nokia, rumours of the Fin’s death might very well have been exaggerated.
They know better than us that the real local manufacturing revolution is probably a decade away. But they’re thinking long-term. And that has to give you confidence. The terminally ill don’t plan much.
Which, if you want one, is a Reason to Believe again.
But whatever you decide, one thing’s for sure. This soap opera of innovation and technology is highly entertaining. And it’ll keep on rolling.