Symbian may be getting put to one side in markets like the U.S., but it is alive and well in Asia. Only three months since announcing its update to Symbian called Anna, and just one day after making that available for download, Nokia (NYSE: NOK) laid on an event in Hong Kong to announce its next update to the OS, “Belle”, and show off three new, low-cost Symbian devices that it claims will respectively be the smallest, brightest and loudest smartphones in its lineup.
All three devices, which will be shipped with Symbian Belle later this year, are part of Nokia’s strategy to make Symbian devices the low-cost alternative in their smartphone range — with the new line of Windows Phone 7-based handsets taking place as Nokia’s more expensive, flagship range.
Some of the more notable features of Belle will include NFC enablement, as well as homescreens that allow for a far greater degree of customization than ever before, including a way of resizing widgets that link to different apps and other services.
The three devices launched today, all using 1 GHz processors and running Belle, are all notable for their lower prices — all well under $500 without any subsidies or tax — and each was highlighted with a unique feature:
Nokia 700: This will be the “smallest touchscreen smartphone,” according to Colin Giles, EVP of devices for Nokia. It will have a 3.2-inch screen and retail for $390.
Nokia 701: This one, modelled on Nokia’s C7, will be the “brightest” device, usable indoors as well as in the brightest sunlight, and will be sold at $420 without subsidies or tax.
Nokia 600: A rather dubious distinction of being the “loudest smartphone” on the market. Giles notes that this would be especially useful (if particularly annoying) in a noisy restaurant. This one is the cheapest of all, selling for $260. At a price like that, one could see the device even picking up some sales in markets where Nokia is not officially launching it but where it has been listed for sale anyway via phone retailers.
Nokia also showed off a nifty looking headset, the Essence. Bluetooth/NFC enabled, it lets a user touch the device once to the smartphone to work. It will be interesting to see whether devices like this become the more common use of NFC over payments and other transactional services.
Giles, who is based in China, took a moment at the event to once again scotch the belief that some have that Nokia is phasing out Symbian and in any case will be paying less attention to it as it focuses on Windows Phone 7. “We are committed to investing in Symbian,” he said.
Nokia, which has always churned out dozens of models — a huge contrast to companies like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) that have concentrated on making only a handful very well — seems to show no sign at this point of reversing that trend. The three handsets launched today are only the beginning, promised Giles.
If anything, he seemed to pitch Nokia’s multiple device strategy as a way of targeting individual markets in a more localized way. He referred to Nokia as the world’s “biggest local global brand”: the idea here being that Nokia’s presence in individual markets, by way of devices and developer support, makes it more attuned to what different consumers actually want and need.
Nokia has definitely been doing well in its focus on emerging markets over the past several years — it still has a leading position in China for smartphones — but the arrival of Android (and iPhone, if you believe the low-cost device rumors) will test whether its strategy will be able to stand the test of more competition.
Asia Pacific is a region that already has very high mobile use — 75 percent penetration on average, with some places like Hong Kong oversaturated at 160 percent — which means very little wiggle room for all of them.