Nokia's Windows Phone bet: The first smartphones unveiled

Nokia has revealed the smartphones that it hopes will lead to the company's resurrection as the world's leading mobile vendor. Last February, under the leadership of a new CEO who hailed from Microsoft, Nokia gave up its losing strategy of creating its own mobile operating system to compete with Apple's iOS and Google's Android and said it would instead adopt Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's late entry into the mobile market. The decision was controversial, as the Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system garnered poor reviews when it debuted in fall 2010 and has not gained more than a few percentage points of market share since.

Today, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop -- the Canadian who became the Finnish company's first foreign CEO -- revealed the first products under that strategy at a company conference in London. In the spring, Nokia said it would take advantage of Microsoft's revamped Windows Phone, the version 7.5 code-named "Mango," and bring its own innovation to the smartphone-only platform. "Mango" became available this month as an upgrade to existing Windows Phone 7 smartphones, and new devices from HTC and others designed specifically for "Mango" are expected to ship as early as next week.

[ InfoWorld pits Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" against Google's Android 2.3 "Gingerbread" -- see who wins. | Retrace Nokia's fall from mobile grace. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Nokia plans to ship two Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" devices:

Lumia 800: With a sleek, thin design reminiscent of the N9 device -- Nokia's first and last MeeGo-based smartphone -- Nokia's Lumia 800 is what Elop called "the world's first real Windows Phone." But Nokia's focus was on its physical design and hardware specs, such as the flash-equipped 5-megapixel camera, unibody polycarbonate construction, 3.7-inch AMOLED display, 1.4GHz ARM processor and graphics acceleration, and 16GB of internal storage. The Lumia 800 runs the stock Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" operating system and associated apps from Microsoft, plus Nokia's own Nokia Drive voice-guided navigation app, the Nokia Music app that has a streaming-radio feature with several hundred free song mixes as well as a music store, and the Nokia-only ESPN Sport Hub app that integrates news, scores, team and player stats, and schedules. The estimated price is 420 (about $588) before carrier subsidies.

Lumia 710: A thicker, heavier, cheaper smartphone with a 3.7-inch LCD display and the same processing capability as the Lumia 800 and the same apps. The estimated price is 270 (about $378) before carrier subsidies.

The Lumia smartphones will be available in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the U.K. in early November; in Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore, and Taiwan in December; and in the U.S., China, and other countries in early 2012. LTE and CDMA versions will be available in some markets, and GSM versions in most markets.

Nokia also introduced the Nokia Pulse app, which lets users send private geo-tagged updates and photos, and Nokia Live View, which turns the smartphone's camera viewfinder so the device can be pointed to a building or street and have the names of the places superimposed on them. Both are in beta, with no estimated ship date.

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, nontouch screen 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 loud speaker 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 Interet 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 also created confusion and delayed potential progress by open-sourcing Symbian and then 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 do 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 story, "Nokia's Windows Phone bet: The first smartphones unveiled" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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