Nokia is holding NokiaWorld 2011 at the Excel exhibition centre in London's docklands this week, and the joint is jumping. Not only did Nokia show two new Windows Phone smartphones, the Lumia 710 and 800, it also unveiled six new "feature phones" at prices going down to about £25. It also showed Rovio's inexplicably popular Angry Birds game running on Symbian Series 40 phones, along with various other goodies: feature phones with touch screens, phones that take two SIM cards, seven phones with NFC, and a futuristic concept phone that you control by flexing the screen.
When you sell hundreds of millions of phones per year -- chief executive Stephen Elop put production at 12 phones per second, which is around a million a day -- to a global market, then you need a range of machines. It's OK to raise the bar, as Apple is doing, but Nokia, like Microsoft, is trying to raise the floor.
The Lumia 800, based on the Windows Phone 7.5 Mango software, was obviously the star of the show, as reported here yesterday. I have to say I didn't much like the look of it from the photos, but having tried one, it is absolutely gorgeous. You could spend a lot of time fondling it, and it makes the iPhone 4 feel clunky in comparison. The Lumia 710, by contrast, feels plasticky, but it's mainly designed to be more affordable. I hope to compare the two devices in another post.
The Windows Phone platform does not have as much software as iOS or Android: it's early days. However, the AppFlow apps said there were 36,134 apps when I checked, and if we judge by appearances, the average quality is relatively high. Since Windows Phone already integrates with Windows Live Mesh, SkyDrive (25GB free), Microsoft Office and SharePoint, the Xbox 360 (Nokia showed its phone being used to control an Xbox linked to a TV set to watch movies) and other Microsoft properties, the infrastructure already compares well with alternatives.
It will also get better when Windows 8 arrives with its similar Metro "glanceable" user interface, because you will use your Windows Live ID to log on. This will provide auto-synchronisation across many devices.
The Nokia software suite includes its maps with turn-by-turn navigation, and Mix Radio. Nokia's Paul Norford gave me a demo. Mix Radio lets you stream audio (preferably via Wi-Fi) and you can store up to 12 hours of music for offline listening. Your offline selection is good for four weeks, after which you can purchase tracks (79p) from the Nokia Music Store, which offers 15 million tracks.
It's too soon to say how well Mix Radio will do, and Nokia phones usually have an FM radio built in, so you don't have to get into the absolute stupidity of consuming valuable online bandwidth streaming Radio 4 (or whatever) to a smartphone app. However, Mix Radio requires no sign up, no user name, no logging on and no password, so the barrier to adoption is impressively low.
Nokia is offering its own headphones, or Headset by Monster, along with other goodies, such as colourful Bluetooth earpieces. More co-produced accessories are on the way.
The Series 40 line is undoubtedly going to come under pressure from cheap Android phones, but there must be billions of Nokia users, and in my experience, they know what they like and they like what they know. The challenge for Nokia is to upgrade them to feature phones like the new Asha 303, rather than see them switch.
The Asha 303 has a great qwerty keyboard plus a 2.6-inch colour touch screen, email, Facebook Chat, Nokia Maps, cloud-based web browsing, and a pre-installed copy of Angry Birds Lite. It will handle what most people actually want from a phone, and therefore looks competitive at around 115 euros with no contract. It's obviously not going to appeal to the geeky fanboys who buy phones as toys. However, it could sell well to people who don't have that sort of money, but actually have lives.
Nokia World 2011 Photo credit: © Jack Schofield