Nokia banks on Asha to target mass market

With its new Asha operating system and functional US$99 device, Nokia is trying to capture the mass consumer segment in countries like India and Indonesia: people still using devices with black-and-white displays.

Nokia is hoping its recently launched Asha software platform and debut of its US$99 Asha 501 handset will capture the attention of the mobile mass market in developling markets. The Asha platform is essentially an updated version of its long-running Series 40  operating system, which allows developers to create smartphone-like apps on feature phones.

Forrester India analyst Katyayan Gupta told ZDNet that Nokia was trying to capture the biggest consumer segment in countries like India and Indonesia, where most mobile phone users still own devices with black-and-white displays.

Nokia Asha 501.
He estimated that between 9 and 12 percent of India consumers own smartphones, while the majority owned a basic phone or no phone at all.
"There are a lot of positives about this phone. Nokia has certainly done its homework . It has very specifically focused on a certain segment of the consumers. It's not [a] phone for all. It's targeted with certain people in mind, certain people that make up the mass market," Gupta told ZDNet.
He said the carefully crafted software and hardware features of the debut Asha device give Nokia the best chance of successfully launching a new phone ecosystem.
"This phone is addressing the needs of those that can't afford a full-fledged smartphone," Gupta said.
For example, the Asha Xpress mobile browser, which compresses data by 90 percent to deliver Web pages faster and cheaper, is relevant in developing countries with 3G still at its infancy.
"2G will live in India for [only] the next three to five years. It's a long time since a phone came out with just 2G," he said.
The analyst also praised Nokia's guarantee that apps will be compatible on future versions of the Asha operating system for at least the next 18 months, addressing the fragmentation issue that prevents Android apps from working across all devices optimally.
For the debut 501 device, he pointed to the 48-day battery life, dual SIM capability , and free Facebook access as the key considerations for the mass market Indian mobile buyers.