Nokia's Windows Phone bet: The first smartphones unveiled

The former king of mobile bets on Microsoft-powered Lumia line to regain its glory, while also targeting developing countries with new cellphones

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Elop also announced the Asha series of new devices that "begin to blend with smartphones" -- he did not characterize them as smartphones, due to their focus on being inexpensive for use in developing countries to reach "the next billion." The new Asha line (the word is a female Hindi first name) uses the Nokia Series 40 cellphone operating system and comes in two series:

  • Asha 300: A touchscreen smartphone with a 5-megapixel camera and support for apps and messaging. The pricier 303 model adds a physical keyboard similar to that in the Research in Motion BlackBerry Bold and has a faster processor, a 3G radio, and Wi-Fi connectivity.
  • Asha 200: A dual-SIM device (for travelers) with a small, nontouchscreen and physical keyboard similar to that in the BlackBerry Bold but with no camera, for use as a messaging device. It also has a built-in MP3 player with loudspeaker for use as a stereo that Nokia claims can run for 52 hours. The cheaper 201 model supports just one SIM.

Although Nokia has not been a major force in the U.S. cellphone market for about a decade, after being largely shut out by U.S. carriers, it leads the world in total cellphone sales. However, in the high-margin, fast-growing smartphone market that Apple's 2007 iPhone created, Nokia has continually struggled. Its Symbian operating system -- created in 1998 by a technology consortium that included Nokia, and then bought out fully by Nokia in December 2008 -- was mainly a cellphone operating system with limited email and Internet services, what the industry calls a "feature phone" operating system. Nokia also uses the Series 40 operating system for "feature phone" devices.

Nokia's several attempts over the years to revise Symbian to compete with Apple's iOS and then Google's Android ended badly, with little adoption beyond a dedicated European base that in the last year has been shifting to iOS and Android. Compounding the Symbian setbacks, Nokia created confusion and delayed potential progress by open-sourcing Symbian and taking Symbian back in-house, as well as trumpeting two successive parallel smartphone operating system efforts -- first Maemo and then MeeGo, both through open source partnerships -- only to give up on both.

Windows Phone 7 provides Nokia an operating system for smartphones but not for tablets, a product line Nokia has not as yet tried to develop. If Nokia were to enter the tablet market, it could adopt the forthcoming Windows 8 from Microsoft or possibly Google's Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich." Microsoft has said repeatedly it will not have Windows Phone 7 run on tablets, as it will have Windows 8 for that purpose. Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 share a common user interface known as Metro.

Nokia fell into the red earlier this year, losing about €487 million (about $705 million) in the second quarter. And Nokia's share of the global mobile market has declined this year to a historic low of 30 percent as smartphone sales have replaced cellphone sales in many regions. It trails Apple and Samsung in smartphone sales.

This article, "Nokia's Windows Phone bet: The first smartphones unveiled," was originally published at Follow the latest developments in business technology news and get a digest of the key stories each day in the InfoWorld Daily newsletter. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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