Nokia may be the world’s biggest cell-phone maker, but it generally keeps its operations seriously under wraps. That’s why the company’s recent decision to open up its Beijing test center to select visitors is a deft public relations move at a time when one of its biggest competitors, Apple, is being scrutinized for its operations in China.
Its one of ten similar centers Nokia operates globally, and its been around for ten years–reflecting the fact that 180 million people in China use Nokia devices, and sales in the region contributed to 13% of the company’s global sales.
Journalists were given a quick tour of the facility this month, during which they got to see the site, and experience the 200-odd quality tests each potential phone design has to go through. These include classic drop tests, weather-resist, button resilience and scratch-proof tests, and also more esoteric ones: Bending the phones the same way they would be if carried in a rear trouser pocket when the user sits down, and juggling them against denim repeatedly, the way they would be in a jeans pocket.
The tour even got to see the design bureau, where some 25 industrial designers come up with new phone styles and looks, using creative inspiration from a display case of nearly every Nokia phone made ever. But Nokia didn’t reveal any design secrets, or even tease upcoming tech gently, at all. Which makes one wonder–what the heck was this unusual move by Nokia all about?
The answer, it would seem, is amusingly basic. Nokia China’s VP David Tang made a point that while made-in-China products still carry the bad PR of being low quality, it’s not true for Nokia. The company uses the same production standards globally. And there’s another angle too: Given the tour’s emphasis on how nice the campus is, and how great the working environment, maybe Nokia’s trying to distinguish itself from the stinky aroma now surrounding Apple’s Chinese partner Foxconn after the workplace bullying-suicide incident. The timing, with Apple poised to release its Chinese iPhone version, just can’t be coincidence.