Nokia, BlackBerry, Palm – We must stop trying to revive dead phone brands

The old is the new. It’s a saying that has had a huge impact in many industries. Fashion, for example, always comes full circle. Volkswagen’s revival of the classic camper van is another example of the enduring appeal of some ideas. But the idea does not represent the brand as a whole.

A brand is the sum of its successes and failures.

The brand consists of multiple ideas, some successful, some failed, and some have passed their expiration date. The tech industry, while rushing into the future, has repeatedly tried to revive brands that are dying, dead, or past their glory days. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet found a single example that really works.

The latest example of a failed attempt to revive a brand is the Onward Mobility story with BlackBerry. The company announced its plans to rebuild BlackBerry in 2020. Two years later, there was no longer a phone in sight and Onward Mobility closed. He’s not the first to make this attempt either.

Back in time: dead or alive? This is what happens with BlackBerry

BlackBerry, for the guys here, is notorious for pulling back on Apple when the iPhone was just a dream. The Canadian manufacturer has built its business around the BlackBerry Messenger service. The chatting app, launched in 2005, allowed users to share texts, photos, voice notes, and even make calls. If this sounds a bit like iMessage, you won’t be wrong.

BlackBerry Messenger was the glue that kept users stuck in BlackBerry phones.

Like iMessage and the iPhone, BBM was exclusive to BlackBerry users until 2013. The BlackBerry chat service has helped acquire millions of users and, most importantly, retain them. Of course, this feature was quickly dispelled when the company took so long to migrate to the modern BlackBerry 10 platform. In a world of iPhones and Android devices, the old BlackBerry OS never stood a chance despite the company’s recent efforts to expand BBM to Android and iOS.

When Research In Motion, the parent company of BlackBerry, finally decided to discontinue it, it licensed the brand name to TCL, Optiemus Infracom, and others. Unfortunately, these companies failed to realize that BlackBerry’s real allure was in its then-unique chatting service as well as the form factor designed around communication.

While some attempts have been made to redesign the keyboard, it is too late. Follow-up Android phones were completely devoid of BlackBerry spirit and with the company turning off consumer chat services entirely, these phones were BlackBerry devices in name only. The failure was obvious.

The great Palm Companion has nothing to do with Palm’s legacy as the creator of the modern smartphone interface.

It’s the same story with Palm. Palm’s legacy lies in the wide range of PDAs it has developed. Founded in 1992, the company defined what a smartphone should be and set the ball rolling for modern interfaces when it debuted WebOS in 2009. The Palm Pre came out that year and demonstrated the world’s first multitasking-capable smartphone. Its legacy lives on in the card and swipe interfaces we are used to on iPhones and Android devices nowadays.

Like BlackBerry, Palm has also gone through a few hands. HP picked up the name in 2010 but quickly sold it to TCL after the spectacular failure of the WebOS-based TouchPad tablet. And again, TCL failed to recognize what made Palm special.

Palm Phone Review

The attempt to revive the Palm was a crowd-funded compact smartphone that was a name tampering with the company. The palm-sized phone is designed as a companion for larger phones. In fact, at launch, it can only be used when paired with a second device. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the market size for such a product is slim at best. This plan is to revitalize a business-focused brand where a palm-sized accessory was dead in water prior to its launch. It’s been radio silence since 2019.

our judgmentPalm Phone review: Just buy a smartphone

Time and time again, it has been proven almost impossible to revive a brand based on the merit of its name. The updated BlackBerry and Palm devices had little to do with the original hardware and what made them great. While the new owners are clearly playing a game for nostalgia, the BlackBerry or Palm brands have never been all about hardware.

Instead, the accompanying apps and services were the point of sale. In 2016, BlackBerry Messenger was no longer relevant enough to be a selling point for potential BlackBerry users. Meanwhile, the all-new Palm phone was just a generic built-in phone designed for a market that didn’t exist.

HMD Global Nokia C2 2nd Edition Angle in Hand

Eric Zeman / Android Authority

You may not have set the world flagships on fire, but budget phones with a light sprinkle of Nokia magic are a valid business strategy. It might not be the Nokia everyone wanted, and certainly not the Nokia we promised, but the company still ships reasonably well-built and reliable devices. I can live with that.

Nokia 8110 4G.

However, it is not a strategy that needs the Nokia brand behind it. The only “Nokia thing” in the re-imagining is a series of feature phones that emulate previous designs. HMD completely fails to capitalize on the original brand’s use of interesting materials, innovative designs, leading features, and class-leading cameras.

HMD’s struggles with flagship software and updates have not been in favor of Nokia’s brand heritage.

In fact, feature phones aside, HMD’s Nokia is just a steady wave of generic Android devices. It may have taken a little longer, but I’m confident HMD could have achieved its mediocre success without the Nokia branding. Moving forward, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that HMD’s struggles with major hardware and software updates have done no good to the legacy of the Nokia brand.

We saw: Five years on, HMD Global’s engagement with Nokia is a tale of wasted potential

Making a smartphone is tough, and nostalgia will take you far. Building a company tied to the legacy of a former giant can only succeed when brands realize what made these phones so successful. Slapping the name of a popular brand on an Android smartphone may be up to the droopy fruit, but it’s also the easiest way to kill the brand’s legacy — something we’ve seen over and over again. A brand revival can only succeed when it fills a gap in the market. Often times, brands cease to exist precisely because they no longer serve a purpose, which makes coming back even more difficult.

Maybe it’s time to let the dead brands stay dead instead of destroying their legacy in the name of easy cash grabs.