We know that our smartphones are distracting us. And they’re tracking us. And they’re shattering on us. Regardless of how much easier life became when the iPhone hit the market and changed the entire world with Google Maps in your pocket and cocktail trivia on tap, it’s easy to yearn for the simpler days of "dumbphones."
Which is probably why Nokia—now a brand owned by the Finnish manufacturer HMD Global Oy—is re-releasing a dumbphone icon. According to a report by VentureBeat, the company will be launching an updated version of the Nokia 3310 later this month for about $60.
Nokia's candy bar phone first hit in the year 2000. It would go on to be massively successful, selling over 100 million units—and championed for its extreme durability. The 3310 ran its own pre-Android, pre-iOS OS. Apps? Sure! It had a built-in calendar, stopwatch, and four games like Snake II. Keep in mind, they ran at the screen’s 96×65 resolution. For reference, that’s far lower-res than even the modern day postage stamp that is the Twitter avatar, which supports 400x400 images.
In the last few years, many companies have attempted dumbphones of their own. The Swiss startup Punkt released a minimalist, calculator-esque phone for smartphone-cord-cutters, while companies like Doro have attempted to find a niche in the senior market with highly specialized phones often focused on dialing just a few friends and emergency services. A good idea in theory, these phones are often surprisingly expensive and developed by untested companies.
With the re-release of the 3310, Nokia seems to be saying, "if the dumbphone ain’t broke, don’t fix it." It's a particularly interesting play, because in the world of design, we cherish 50-year-old chairs as icons. But in the world of consumer electronics design, we tend to toss anything that’s but a few cycles of hardware old, rarely bestowing iconic status to anything but the most rarified designs (think Dieter Rams for Braun). At almost 20 years old, it's perhaps just aged enough to classify as iconic in the eyes of some consumers. For others, it might simply be a cheap, durable option that happens to be a re-issue.
Will people actually want to use a 3310, when it pops off their internet browser as a nostalgic trip down memory lane, and into their hands like a TI-82 calculator with cell tower connectivity? And will Nokia be able to modernize the phone enough for contemporary users—who demand sharper screens for starters, with legible small print text—while still keeping the phone's simple charm intact?