Can apps help Nokia's offerings stand out from the Microsoft pack?
Nokia has taken the wraps off two smartphones running Windows Phone - its first devices to run the Microsoft operating system.
The pair - the Nokia Lumia 800 and the Nokia Lumia 710 - were announced today by Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.
"Lumia is the first real Windows Phone. We are signalling our intent to be today's leaders in smartphone design and craftsmanship," Elop told the Nokia World conference, taking place in London's ExCel Centre this week.
Like Nokia's N9 MeeGo handset, the Nokia Lumia 800 has a 3.7-inch curved glass touchscreen set in a polycarbonate plastic body. The Lumia also packs an eight-megapixel camera and runs the Mango version of Windows Phone. The Lumia 800 comes in a choice of three colours: black, cyan or magenta.
The Lumia 800 will go on sale in the UK in November, and will also be landing in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands at the same time. Nokia will add Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan later this year.
The Lumia 710 is a cheaper Windows Phone smartphone aimed initially at Asia and Russia, and set to cost circa €270, compared to €420 for the Lumia 800. Nokia did not announce a UK launch date for the 710.
According to Elop, Nokia will be bringing a portfolio of devices to the US in 2012.
The two Windows Phone handsets are the first devices Nokia has launched running Microsoft's mobile OS. In February this year, Nokia announced it would be moving from the Symbian platform to Microsoft's OS for high-end smartphones, after former Microsoft staffer Elop took over the CEO role from previous CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo.
Microsoft's Windows Phone launched last year, with HTC, LG and Samsung among those to release devices running the OS. Despite being well received by analysts, the platform has so far failed to gain significant market share. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer noted in an interview last month that sales had been lower than he would have liked.
Windows Phone is based around a series of...
...so-called live tiles that update with data from a user's contacts and social network accounts. Nokia's Steven Overman, VP of marketing, said there is room for an alternative type of interface in the smartphone world that differs from the icon-based offerings found on platforms such as Google's Android and Apple's iOS.
"It's about time somebody offered an alternative to the existing smartphone interface," he said. "There's room for innovation in the category."
In a bid to differentiate its Windows Phones from other mobile makers using Microsoft's platform, Nokia today announced several apps that will have a feature set exclusive to Nokia Windows Phones.
These include Nokia Drive, a turn-by-turn navigation app that utilises Nokia Maps and will come free on the Lumia 800. And Nokia Public Transport: an app that tracks public transport services in more than 450 cities worldwide, including up-to-the-minute updates for buses and trains in 71 cities.
Another Nokia app for Windows Phone handsets is Nokia Live View which turns the phone's camera into an augmented reality tool. Nokia also demoed a pre-release version of an ESPN app that will enable sports fans to get ESPN coverage piped to their Nokia Windows Phone handset.
Nokia also demoed Mix Radio - a Nokia Windows Phone app that lets smartphone users stream a selection of music from their device for free. Music mixes can also be downloaded for offline listening.
Nokia is also partnering with EA and Sesame Street for more apps, Elop added.
Elop said maps and navigation will not only form the centrepiece of how it differentiates its Windows Phone handsets but he described them as "building blocks" for connecting the real and virtual worlds - calling mobile devices a "platform for sensors" that link the mobile user to contextual data from the world around them.
"Over the next few days we will share more information about our location and commerce platform and how we intend to bridge the divide between the virtual and the real world," he added.
Also today, Nokia announced a range of four new Series 40 mobiles targeted at emerging markets: the Asha 200, 201, 300 and 303. The devices have a range of form factors, including touchscreen plus keypad, and full Qwerty plus touchscreen.
"Today is just the beginning of our new adventure at Nokia," concluded Elop. "We've had some difficult moments and some tough decisions to make but in the last few months we've started to deliver some early results."