Nokia is set to officially unveil the Ozo virtual reality camera today (30 November) in Los Angeles, the first in a planned series of launches, with China next in line come December.
When Microsoft acquired Nokia in 2013, it created the 200-person Nokia Technologies division, tasked with providing advancements in innovation development and patent licensing. However, 90 percent of the tech giant's overall business still comes from its Nokia Networks unit, which sells broadband infrastructure and software services.
Under the terms of the sale of its devices business to Microsoft, the Finnish giant is not allowed to manufacture smartphones until the end of 2016.
And even if Nokia did get back into the consumer-facing handset market, it would be a "bad idea", as Risto Siilasmaa, chairman of Nokia Corporation and F-Secure, revealed during this year's Slush startup conference held in Helsinki.
"The consumer handset business has become structurally unattractive," he said. "With over 500 Android vendors in the world, a crowd of companies offering a product that has a black screen and silver rim... what’s great about the mobile phone business now?"
Lai is leading this startup division's branding, design, marketing and communication "in line with the overall transition of the Nokia business", which he shied away from characterising as a demise or a failure.
"It is a re-emergence of the brand, and a re-interpretion for the VR era," Lai said. "To the general consumer, the Ozo is a boost for Nokia's overall brand perception. If you think about our original 'Connecting People' tagline, which served us well for mobile phones, we are still doing so but now in a different way."
"Think of occasions where an immersive 360-degree view would be ideal, like a trackside experience during live sports broadcasts, or a school lesson educating kids about the other side of the world, or buying a complicated product like new furniture for a house," Lai explained.
It may also well be a new advertising and sales format or content solution, he said, pointing to applicable examples from the New York Times distributing more than one million Google Cardboard viewers for sponsored VR content from GE and Mini, as well as Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts integrating VR experiences into worldwide sales efforts.
"We are used to seeing startups pivoting when they determine that their current direction will not enable them to win," Siilasmaa said. "It is not as common for large global companies to do that."
And with good cause too—if it is difficult and risky for small companies to make changes, it is many times more challenging for large ones, he said. "Nevertheless Nokia has pivoted over the last three years in a more fundamental way than most startups will ever try," he added.