The next wave of Nokia-branded smartphones will carry another well-known name, but from the photography market: Zeiss. HMD Global, the Finnish startup that’s taken over the Nokia phone brand, said on Thursday that it struck an exclusive partnership with the German lens maker to design hardware and software for upcoming phones.
The deal revives a similar arrangement from a decade ago between Zeiss and Nokia devices, when the phones were still made by Nokia itself.
Zeiss will be helping design lens and hardware connections inside the phones as well as the software to develop images, the companies said. The company won’t actually be manufacturing the smartphone parts, however.
“We will exclusively work together in the smartphone category,” Florian Seiche, president of HMD, told reporters in a phone press conference. “It is more than just hardware, it goes right across the software, the hardware, the lens, the entire experience.”
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The move also comes after Huawei, HMD’s fierce rival at the low end of the smartphone market, made a deal with famed German camera maker Leica to improve the photography features of its devices. Huawei dominates sales of cheaper phones and last year grabbed the third ranking in overall sales behind Samsung and Apple. HMD is trying to crack the low-end market with a series of new Nokia-branded models this year.
The Zeiss partnership won’t impact the 2017 line up of phones HMD has already announced. “We’re busy at work and looking forward to then seeing that experience on future Nokia-branded smartphones,” Andreas Back, head of brand management at Zeiss, said. HMD declined to disclose when such phones might be announced.
At the Mobile World Conference in February, HMD unveiled three smartphones, dubbed the Nokia 3, 5, and 6. The top-end 6 has a metal body, a 5.5-inch screen and 32 GB of storage like more expensive phones, but will sell for only $229. The phone is available for pre-order in the United States as part of Amazon’s new line up of Prime exclusives, with Prime subscribers paying only $180.
HMD won the right to use the Nokia brand on phones last year, but doesn’t actually make any of the new handsets. That task falls to Foxconn, the Chinese outsourced manufacturer that also makes Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone. In addition to the brand license deal with Nokia, Foxconn and HMD paid $350 million to Microsoft (MSFT) for assets to manufacture Nokia (NOK) phones.