Hype Sheet: Nokia Welcomes Spendthrifts to the "Next Episode"

The Pitch Nokia ramps up its N95 8GB campaign with this lyrical-yet-baffling spot, featuring an array of international archetypes absorbing media in ways that may soon be obsolete: sitting in darkened cinemas, listening to battered boomboxes, watching interference-addled TVs. The narrator's ghostly voice spills forth from the various antiquated devices on display, warning the actors that their worlds are about to be turned upside down—no longer shall they be tethered to the clock radios, opera houses and coin-op games of yore. Thanks to the N95 8GB, the mobile-entertainment future is now—at least for consumers willing to part with US$779. Is Nokia about to give Apple a run for its money in the high-end mobile phone market, something the Finnish giant has been hankering to do for a while? Or has Nokia picked precisely the wrong N95 8GB virtues to tout?

The Spin A viewer unfamiliar with the N95 8GB might be forgiven for walking away from this ad unaware that the device is, indeed, a phone, rather than Nokia's souped-up answer to the Archos 605. Yeah, there's a brief shot of the keypad at the end, but the hype's exclusively about the media capabilities ("Play movies/play games/play music" sayeth the copy). So goes Nokia's strategy to get the N95 8GB to filter down to non-geeks— the early adopters went ga-ga over the third-party apps, but the next tier of consumers (Nokia hopes) will be dazzled by the audio, video and N-Gage games. Oh, and note the lack of speaking parts for the actors. Nokia must be going for that vaunted all-in-one international approach—you can be sure that voice-over artists from Malaysia to Mexico will be enlisted to tailor the spot for their home markets. (In fact, here's an edited version in Italian.)

Counterspin Tough to see how Nokia is going to capture mainstream hearts and minds without offering a serious price reduction on the N95 8GB. Remember, Apple slashed the iPhone's price pretty early on, despite (debatedly) gangbuster sales to early adopters; the company knew it had to ratchet down the cost-of-entry to reach the fat part of the consumer bell curve. Nokia seems oddly confident that quality alone will convince a new class of consumers to buy the N95 8GB, an assumption that doesn't seem justified given the legitimate gripes about the phone's shortcomings (most notably the lack of a QWERTY keyboard). All due respect to the company for its policy of openness toward application developers, but built-in basics are going to be more important to the majority of users.

Mission Accomplished? It's a little hard to tell what Nokia has in mind for the N95 8GB this year, as the company prepares to go full-bore in North America. Based on its past ads trumpeting the N95 8GB's third-party apps—ads which were explicit swipes at Apple—Nokia would seem to have the iPhone in its sights. But then why the accent on multimedia instead of productivity tools? What wowed so many people about the iPhone was the ability to access the (*groan*) "real Internet." The N95 8GB can do likewise, and it even works with Flash. Nokia is going to have to do a much better job of highlighting those features, because few people will want to drop nearly 800 US bucks on a glorified Archos 605 (which retails for well south of US$350). Still, all the handsome hype in the world may not be able to mainstream the N95 8GB—the lack of a QWERTY combined with the lack of a touchscreen is very 2005. (If only this video wasn't a hoax...)

Hype-O-Meter 4 (out of 10). A gorgeous and clever ad in many ways, but a puzzling message for a US$779 phone looking to break beyond the monied geek elite.

Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired, a columnist for Slate, and author of the forthcoming Now the Hell Will Start. His Hype Sheet column appears every Thursday on Gizmodo.

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