Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is going hell for leather to get out its first devices built on Windows Phone 7 before consumers — and investors — start to go too cold on the idea. Or is it? Today during the Nokia Connection strategy day, held this year in Singapore, if you didn’t know any better, you might have never guessed that Nokia had gotten into bed with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT), as the Finnish company unveiled its first (and possibly only) device based on the MeeGo OS, the N9; announced plans for 10 new handsets based on its proprietary OS, Symbian; and also threw in a handful of S40 feature phones for good measure.
At the event, Nokia also announced more details about Anna, the newest iteration of its Symbian OS, and more commitment to the Qt apps development framework. The administration and licensing of both have effectively been outsourced to third-parties, respectively Accenture and Digia.
Symbian Anna will be pre-installed on N8s, E7s, C7s and C6-01s shipping from July, and it will be available as an update for existing phone owners from the end of August. Meanwhile, Nokia touted the Qt application development framework, which underpins Symbian apps as well as apps for other platforms and devices, as the key to getting mobile apps to the “next billion” smartphone users.
The commitment for 10 new Symbian devices is to roll them out over the course of the next 12 months.
The MeeGo handset, the N9, is notable for being the first Nokia device to be built without any actual keys. Instead, a user makes a swiping gesture across the screen to return to the home page: something that people have speculated may well be the design route we will start seeing on a number of other smartphones and is already a part of the RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) PlayBook tablet. The simplified polycarbonate design, which will come in a number of colors, is attractive, and the new UI of MeeGo, which features three different “home screens” managing different aspects of a users communications (apps, social media, and switching between different tasks), shows that Nokia has been doing its competitive analysis homework.
Nokia has said that part of the reason that it did not pursue MeeGo for its main OS is that it would have taken too long to get it into shape as a cost-effective, scaled up OS. On the positive side, it will be interesting to see whether a single-device route to market (similar to Apple’s) will work for Nokia, which has taken a decidedly different approach up to now with its dozens of Symbian and S40 feature phone models available today.
We have yet to see any prices for the N9 when it ships later this year, and as yet do not have any details on whether Nokia will make any deals to offer it via operators — and indeed whether it will be a device available worldwide or promoted in specific markets.
Ultimately, the presentation looked like a show aimed at the Asian market where it took place: this is a huge region already for Nokia. If you combine China with the rest of greater Asia, it is its largest — some €3.2 billion of its €7 billion in devices revenue in Q1 this year.
Nokia needs to be mindful not just of incumbent Nokia users in the region, who may already like Symbian and would be alienated by a totally new product, but of the fact that many of those who are not already in Nokia’s camp will be getting targeted by low-cost devices from the likes of Android OEMs. Offering lower-end Symbian devices to these would-be users may be an easier strategy to execute for the company, which said back in February that Windows Phone devices will form the company’s high-end (read: expensive) smartphone strategy in the future.