27 April 2005

164 grams



The Nokia N91 was announced in April 2005 together with the N70 and N90. This trio of phones were the first N series branded products.  In the press release associated with the launch, Nokia described the phones as “next generation multimedia devices” which offered “the world’s most powerful functionality in the mobile space”. The company went on to state these premium devices as being “styled to meet the expectations of the most demanding customers” and that they featured “stainless steel finishes and black pearl and smooth silver colour pallets”. This Nokia PowerPoint slide from the time underlines the focus on delivering “high performance multimedia” products.Nokia Nseries Ppt Slide 1At the launch event Nokia created a section of a Virgin Atlantic plane where you could lie down and listen to music on the prototype N91 devices. The company also had Alicia Keys to perform live in the demo area to promote the phone. Although Nokia had made several music phones previously, the Nokia N91 was its most impressive to date and was one of the most anticipated devices in 2005. It was also the only Nokia mobile phone to feature a hard disk. Soon afterwards, increasingly affordable flash memory made hard drives in mobile phones obsolete. The N91 was not the first mobile phone to feature a hard drive. This accolade falls to the Samsung SGH-i300 which was announced a month before the Nokia N91. This first model had a 4GB drive manufactured by Toshiba (see below) which could store up to 3000 songs delivering what Nokia described as “a true mobile jukebox”.  Nokia N91 Hard Drive 1A later model, the N91-8GB doubled the capacity of the hard drive. This naming architecture was unusual for Nokia, as the management team wanted the N series to keep the same name regardless of new releases. However, feedback from the Chinese government mobile communications officials resulted in the specific name with the 8GB qualifier because of strict laws around false advertising. They were concerned that a Chinese customer might order an N91, with the intention of buying an 8GB model, and find they ended up with the 4GB variant. There was also a limited edition matte black ‘Music Edition’ version (known internally as the N91-2) which was bundled with Sennheiser headphones and also had an 8GB drive. The product management for the N91 was led from Vancouver, Canada and the ‘new product introduction program’ was done at Nokia’s Fort Worth plant in Texas, USA. The phone was designed to be ‘indestructible’ as Nokia was worried about the vulnerability of the hard drive. An example of the lengths the team went to with testing included dropping an N91 from an overpass at 40ft onto concrete to test whether the hard drive would survive. The screen was cracked but the hard drive continued to function. The product development team working on the N91 wanted it to have a better screen but it was unfortunately not ready in time, so it shipped with a 176 x 208, 262k colour TFT LCD. When the N91 was announced in April 2005, Nokia stated that “the Nokia N91 is expected to become commercially available worldwide by the end of 2005”. Unlike the N70 and N90, the N91 used a later version of the Series 60 user interface. This caused substantial delays to the launch as a result of lower level software and hard drive interoperability issues that led to crashes early on in the product release cycle, which were often incorrectly mistaken for physical hard drive issues. The challenges were clear from the beginning of the project. For the launch event, the engineers working on the phone had to hack the prototype units in order to get them to play music. In September 2005, Nokia postponed the launch to 2006 and it was delayed again in February 2006. It was not until 16 March 2006 that the first N91 came off the 'fully ramped' line in Salo, Finland. This phone is owned by former Nokia employee Rob McGarry. (who kindly donated a pristine boxed N91 8GB (N91-2) with Sennheiser PX 200 flight headphones to the Mobile Phone Museum). The N91 was eventually released in April 2006. Over the lifetime of the phone approximately 1.3 million units were sold with revenue of approximately €380m.