Where Nokia Health went wrong

If this is really the end, here's where the big mistakes were made

A company conducting a review is never a good thing is it? It's like when train companies say they are reviewing prices or gyms are reviewing memberships. It's only going to bring you bad news.

Nokia's announcement that the company had initiated a 'review of strategic options for its Digital Health business', certainly sounded like bad news was on its way.

Now, Nokia hasn't opened up about the performance of its Digital Health business, which includes its smartwatches, smart scales, blood pressure monitors and thermometers. These are the devices that Nokia inherited through the acquisition of Withings just two years ago.

Essential reading: Nokia Steel HR review

Instead Nokia stated that it would make further announcements regarding this particular part of the business when appropriate. To help nudge the execs in the right direction, I thought I'd talk about what I think Nokia is getting right and wrong about its push into health tech and what the future might hold.

The first good thing Nokia did was to snap up Withings. The French startup truly wanted to innovate in this space and had a clear vision on how the future of consumer connected healthcare could work. In its CEO Cedric Hutchings, it had someone at the helm who believed that 'heathcare tech' didn't have to be associated with hospitals and doctor's surgeries. Bringing that sort of vision to a company the size and stature of Nokia made a lot of sense if it really believed it could make a big success of health tech.

Nokia Health: The good and the bad

What followed that buyout felt like a longwinded rebranding exercise as Withings' devices one by one were slapped with that Nokia badge. The problem? Not much else was changed about those devices, at least from a hardware perspective. Until about a month ago, that rebranding was still happening when the Withings Aura effectively got a replacement in the Nokia Sleep.

Now I don't have a massive problem with keeping things relatively the same on the hardware front. From a wearable tech point of view, I think it's fair to say that Withings' hybrid smartwatches, even going back to that first Activité in 2015, showcased that wearables could be beautiful and offer useful connected features. I still use my Withings Aura sleep monitor after all these years, and while it's not the prettiest of setups, I still rely on it to help get a good night's sleep.

Along with this slow rebranding exercise, getting the software where it needed to be has been slow going as well. When Withings Health Mate – the winner of our 2016 Health and Fitness Platform of the Year Award – was revamped and turned into Nokia Health Mate, I expected big things. I'm still expecting some of those big things to happen. It was out with the colours, clutter, the wellness leaf and in with a cleaner, more streamlined look and a bigger emphasis on health tracking as opposed to just monitoring your fitness.

We got wellness programs, reminders to keep you on track of your goals and gradually more integration with other third party health and fitness apps to make that move to Health Mate an easier one. We still had the badges and the leaderboards so the essence of what made Health Mate so likeable as a platform during the Withings era wasn't lost entirely.

Nokia Health: The good and the bad

But I couldn't help thinking that will all those changes, it still just lacked something in comparison to what rival platforms like Fitbit and Garmin offered. That something is probably the community you get on those other platforms – which can play such an important part in bringing life and motivation to the challenge of getting fitter and healthier.

Read this: Nokia Health Mate essential guide

It's just all felt a bit lethargic, getting Nokia Health as a platform to where it really needs to be to compete. Yes, it has beautiful and impressive hardware like its Steel HR or its Body Cardio smart scale, but those devices inherited from Withings were pretty much already where they needed to be from a hardware point of view.

It was down to Nokia to take things to the next level, whether that was through more cutting-edge tech or on the software front, that being where I felt it was going to elevate what Withings was bringing to the table. Sadly, it looks like we may never see that happen. We could be waving goodbye to the prospect of having more attractive hybrid smartwatches in the mould of the Steel HR.

My feelings are that Nokia won't abandon its health ambitions altogether, it might just be sensible to realign where those ambitions lie; i.e. do a Jawbone and focus on chasing that medical-grade tech dream.

I hope I'm wrong, though, because it would be sad way to see all of the fine work that made us such big fans of Withings' wearables seemingly amount to nothing.




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  • bobsher·

    I got my Withings Steel HR to replace my Pebble Time Steel and the never-to-arrive Pebble Time 2 I had ordered. Garmin, consider yourself warned: if I'm cursed, you're next.