Asha vs Android: Nokia blurs the smartphone lines in its battle for mobile's low end

Asha vs Android: Nokia blurs the smartphone lines in its battle for mobile's low end

Summary: Nokia's Asha 501 and updated 'Asha platform' aims to take on the low-end as the Lumia line does battle at the high end: is it enough to fight Android and iOS?


Nokia today unveiled a new device and operating system that it hopes can help it compete with Android phones at the low end of the mobile market.

The Asha 501 runs on what Nokia is calling its 'Asha platform': essentially an updated version of its long-running Series 40 operating system augmented by software it acquired when it bought Smarterphone last year.

The 2G touchscreen handset features a single homepage to access both apps and calling function, as well as the option to swipe to Nokia's 'Fastlane' page which lists recently used apps, contacts and social network updates.

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Like other Series 40 handsets, the 501 features Nokia's Xpress browser, which compresses web pages by 90 percent to cut data usage: handy in markets where all-you-can-eat data, and even 3G, can be a rarity. And, like previous Ashas, applications written for the Nokia Asha 501 will not have to be re-written for future models, Nokia said.

Nokia is also promising a beta of an in-app payment tool for the Asha platform in the coming weeks, allowing developers to sell content from within their apps.

The 501 – which will retail for $99 before taxes and subsidies — is aimed at taking on Android in emerging markets, and Nokia is predicting it will sell 100 million devices running on the new Asha platform "over the coming years".

While Nokia cheerfully describes the Asha as a smartphone, not everyone is convinced.

"It does re-open that question of what is a smartphone and what isn't and it's a difficult question to answer," said Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum.

There have been all kinds of definitions of the smartphone over the years, almost none of which work in practice, said Cripps: "It's quite difficult to define a smartphone based on any distinctive criteria, ones that really do separate smartphones from other phones — something like the Asha throws this into relief once again," he said.

But Cripps added: "We've adopted the stance that [for] the Asha platform we won't consider devices running it to be smartphones on the basis that it's really taking an operating system that was designed around feature phones."

Still, for most users the distinction between smart and feature phones will be irrelevant so long as they can get hold of the apps they want — and Nokia said applications are already available or in development for the Asha platform including Facebook, Foursquare, and LinkedIn, while adding somewhat vaguely: "WhatsApp and other key partners continue to explore new Asha."

Reiterating smartphone like qualities of the 501 and the Asha platform is aimed at helping Nokia fight off Android at the low end of the mobile market – there are plenty of cheap and cheerful $100 Android devices but Nokia will be hoping that by talking up Ashas' apps and using similar design for the 510 as its high-end Lumia phones, the Asha range will be able to win over an aspirational, younger audience who might normally buy Android.

Cripps said: "Nokia is making the best of a bad deal. They've got an operating system in Windows Phone that started off at the high-end and is working its way down bit by bit, and at the other end, they've got Series 40 which was designed for much lower-cost less feature-rich devices and that's creeping up.

"There's a sense I still have that there's a gap — that ultimately Windows Phone can't reach down into the $100 category and equally it's hard to conceive of how these Asha devices can much exceed what they're currently doing, so there is, I think, still a gap in the Nokia portfolio."

The Asha is one half of Nokia's strategy – the other is the high-end Lumia phones which run Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. The company has spent the last two years moving away from Symbian as its core operating system but sales of Lumias have not grown as fast as it has hoped, leading to frustration from shareholders.

But for Cripps, leaping off the burning platform of Symbian into the arms of Microsoft was still the best choice for the Finnish handset maker. "For Nokia they wanted to maintain a level of distinctiveness and that wasn't going to be possible if they adopted Android. Nokia are the custodians of Windows Phone — it almost, de facto, becomes their platform as far as the handset market is concerned. If they want to be in charge of their own destiny then it's probably better to go with Windows Phone than Android."

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Nokia

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  • Probably more than enough.

    iOS is on the decline and Andorid has peaked. Asha 501 will destroy cheap/sluggish and malware ridden androids at the low-end. New high-end Lumia's will gain more market share in coming months.
    • Dreaming as usual

      Nokia is grasping at straws to survive
    • Good lord!

      Do you just post this with a fill in the form script?

      Really, how exactly is the Asha 501 going to destroy anything?
    • lol


      "iOS is on the decline and Andorid has peaked. Asha 501 will destroy cheap/sluggish and malware ridden androids at the low-end. New high-end Lumia's will gain more market share in coming months."

      Change the record.......... first it was WP7 will own android, then wait for Tango, Then Mango come do the fandango, Then it was WP8, now its wait till the Blue Update..............

      I've waited 2 years and still only 2-3% marketshare, and 400,000 Lumias sold in America last qtr is just plain embarrassing, Chinas sales plunged 63% yoy forcing Nokia to close their flagship Shanghai store.

      Elop is just too slow to react to the pace of the mobile market, releasing this dinosaur technology will only make them lose more market share.

      Face it Android has Kicked WP and Nokia to the Kerb.........I am just waiting one more quarter then Elop will be kicked out by the shareholders, and a Lumia Lime Pie will be released..........yummm I can taste it already.
  • "in charge of their own destiny" .....

    while completely dependent on MS?

    That is an oxymoron if I ever heard one.
  • I thought they were going to rely on ecosystem, others have made for them

    seems it didn't work so well ;)
  • This is a tough deal for Nokia

    Even if apparently they are doing not so bad with the asha line.
    But comparing an half smart os with android is a bit unfair, even if the hardware can play an important role in the lower end. Even low end android have many of the things that make the platform successful.
    • half smart os

      Half smart OS will definitly work in developing countries. Majority of smart phone users only uses basic apps (facebook, youtube, email, browser, skype, whatsapp etc...). Asha501 is more than enough for those basic apps.
      • I'm sure it's good enough

        But why don't get much better for the same price - with much more choice.
      • Half dumb idea, half baked ecosystem

        And why would buyers settle for a half baked ecosystem when they can get a cheap Android phone for about the same price?

        Nokia has probably shot itself in both feet
      • Uh ?

        There is no Whatsapp App on Asha

        Lol youtube on a 2G connection I suppose ??

        Again Skype on a 2G connection hope you don't expect video chat !! oh wait you can't anyways as it doesn't have a ffc

        I can't see 6 apps really cutting it, you seem to make the mistake that poor people are stupid ???

        For the SAME $99 I can get an Archos Carbon 35

        3.5" IPS Fully Black Display
        1Ghz CPU
        512Mb RAM
        4Gb storage up to 32Gb via SD Card
        Ice Cream Sandwich
        Front Facing Camera
        Dual Sim
        700,000 Apps on the Google Play Store

        Lets be honest here, the Asha is just a toy....

        PS why doesn't the asha run wp8 ? you are always telling us how optimised and efficient it is ???? well ?
  • Lumia versus Asha

    It appears Nokia decided against using Lumia OS (aka Windows Phone 8 OS) in their lower end sub-$100 phones. They have opted to use Asha OS which is actually S40 platform (based on Java Mobile Edition with CLDC). I am not sure if this implies that Nokia wants to replace Symbian phones in emerging market economies with Asha phones instead of Lumia phones. This also implies lack of possible growth rate for Lumia since it is now limited to Americas, Europe and East Asia.
  • Say Bye Bye to Google!

    How do you kill Android?

    By flooding the market with cheap and good quality Android like Devices.

    And that is the Asha 501!!
    • Tough competition for samsung s4 ahead

      Cheap devices are not the key.
  • Content (other than price) is the driver

    It would be difficult for Asha platform to gain support as it would lack content and apps. Furthermore, there already exists cheap Android devices out there.
    Selvakumar Manickam
    • Re: it would lack content and apps

      As did Android to begin with--and some might say it still does. Yet that hasn't stopped it from becoming popular.
  • See? Nokia Does Have A Plan B

    With all the hoo-hah over Windows Phone, it's some comfort to see that SOME people at Nokia have been working on a backup plan, to bring out profitable products that people actually want to buy.

    Whether they can offset all the funds being squandered on the Lumia range is another matter. The best case is, this is buying time until Elop comes to his senses; worst case is, this is just delaying the inevitable journey down the plughole.
  • What Year Is This Article

    What year is this article? Oww it's 2013 guys. I thought it's from ninetees. How come people in 2013 still whining about web app. So why if Asha runs web based app instead of from the OS. This is not again about javascript VS 'full-blown' language like C++. It's about if it works or not. That's why it's called apps.

    Probably ZDNET need fresh writers from new generation. Smartphone is not like ultrabook where Intel controls it's specification. Why don't you just accept it, Asha is a smartphone now.