Nokia Pitches Low To Win Its Next Billion Users

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Nokia has launched a low-cost, high-featured line of Asha phones to reach emerging markets with high expectations. Darryl Taft investigates

Nokia is looking to the massive feature phone demands of developing economies to recapture its former dominance of the mobile phone market.

In addition to announcing two smartphones based on Microsoft’s Windows Phone operating system this week, Nokia also launched four mobile feature phones that offer a “rich” social experience and location-aware technology in a set of low-cost Series 40-based models.

The next billion users

At the Nokia World 2011 show in London, Nokia unveiled the Asha 300, 303, 200 and 201 phones, claiming these devices blur the line between smartphones and feature phones. The handsets offer keyboard and touch-screen input options, combined with fast and easy access to the Internet, integrated social networking, messaging and Nokia Store apps.

In his keynote at Nokia World, Stephen Elop (pictured), president and CEO of Nokia, said one of his company’s goals was to tap into “the next billion” – that is the next billion people to connect to the Internet, via mobile devices, in the developing world.

As such, Elop said Nokia will continue its mission to produce high-quality, stylish devices that provide access to social networks, the Internet and information. He said the next billion users want access to features such as  local services and content, third-party apps, and easy-to-use dual SIMs.

Derived from Hindi, Asha – meaning “hope” – reflects Nokia’s focus on positive user experiences and connecting millions of people to new opportunities to help them achieve their aspirations, Elop said.

“We think the next billion is a really young crowd … Our focus, particularly in emerging markets, is to bridge the digital divide through mobile devices,” he said.

Blanca Juti, vice president of product marketing for mobile phones at Nokia, also underlined this at Nokia World, saying: “We can bridge the digital divide and bring data to people who never had it before.”

IDC analyst Al Hilwa saw an ironic conflict in Nokia’s announcement of a set of phones based on its established Series 40 operating system – which supports Java – at the same event it unveiled its first Windows phones.

“That’s sort of like the old ‘Java versus .NET’ battle all over again,” he joked. “The apps on the Asha phones will be Java-based, while developers will be using Visual Studio and .NET related technology to build apps for Nokia’s Windows Phone-based devices.”

Bringing hope for new markets

The Asha mobile phone family includes the Nokia Asha 303, which is designed with metallic finishes and combines a large, 2.6-inch capacitive touch-screen with a physical keypad. The Asha 303 is built with Internet and social network access in mind.

The device harnesses a 1GHz processor, 3G and wireless LAN to deliver a fast Internet experience, Nokia said. Social networks, email and instant messaging (IM) are at the centre of the design, being easily accessed from the home screen. The Asha 303 is powered by the cloud-based Nokia Browser which, by compressing Web data by up to 90 percent, provides higher speeds and more-affordable access to the Internet.

Entertainment and applications are also at the core of the phone. Angry Birds Lite, the popular mobile game, comes pre-installed, together with support for globally relevant applications such as Facebook Chat, Whatsapp messaging and the latest release of Nokia Maps for Series 40, in selected markets. The estimated retail price for the Asha 303 will be approximately €115 (£100), excluding tax. It is expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Nokia Asha 300 is a touch device that also offers the convenience of a keypad. And it, too, has a 1GHz processor and 3G, as well as Angry Birds Lite preloaded. Users have fast access to messaging, email and instant messaging from the home screen and can swipe-access to apps, music or games from the Nokia Store.

The Asha 300 comes with a five megapixel camera, a music player, FM radio and Bluetooth connectivity, and it can handle memory cards up to 32GB. The estimated retail price for the Nokia Asha 300 will be about €85 (£75), excluding tax. It is expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Nokia Asha 200 is Nokia’s latest dual-SIM phone with Easy Swap functionality, allowing users to switch to a second SIM without switching the device off. It is a keyboard-centric phone designed to meet the needs of young, urban consumers who want to constantly stay in touch with each other.

The Asha 200 features integrated social networking, email and IM; adding RenRen, Orkut and Flickr support. The phone can carry thousands of songs with support for 32GB memory cards with a battery that provides 52 hours of playback time, Nokia claimed. The estimated retail price for the Asha 200 will be about €60 (£53) excluding tax. It is expected to start shipping in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Nokia Asha 201 is a single-SIM version of the Asha 200 which also targets young users who are price conscious, want to stay socially connected, and like listening to music. The phone offers special support for music, including a high-performance loudspeaker, enhanced stereo FM radio, and ringtone tuning. The Asha 201 also supports push email as well as the popular Whatsapp messaging app. The estimated retail price for the feature phone will be around €60 ($84). It is expected to start shipping in the first quarter of 2012.

Location-based Windows apps

Also at Nokia World, with an eye to continuously improving its location-based offerings, the company showcased the Windows Phone versions of Nokia Maps and Nokia Drive. The aim is to make Nokia Maps relevant for commuters and to help them find interesting places wherever they live, Nokia officials said.

In addition to its free walk-and-drive satellite navigation app for more than 100 countries worldwide, Nokia introduced the Public Transport app which maps public transport routes on a mobile device. In addition to covering more than 430 cities worldwide, the app gives up-to-the–minute updates for bus and train routes in 45 cities.

Nokia also introduced Nokia Pulse, which allows location-tagged updates and photos to be sent privately, adding location info to communications and conversations.

Also image-related, Nokia Live View turns the phone’s camera viewfinder into a reality augmentation tool. A phone can be pointed to a building or street and their names are automatically superimposed over them, offering one-click access to detailed information about businesses, restaurants or attractions.

All of these applications are available at Nokia’s Beta Labs.

Nokia also announced that Nokia Maps is now powering Yahoo Maps, starting with the United States and Canada region. In addition, the company has entered an agreement with the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority to develop a near field communications (NFC) smartphone ticketing feature which will begin trials on New York regional commuter trains before the end of 2011.

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