Nokia ‘On the Offensive’ With New Phones

The new Nokia N97 mini
The new Nokia N97 mini
Source: Nokia. Click to enlarge.

Nokia, the world’s largest phone maker, today revealed a new product lineup aimed at ensuring it stays at the forefront of the increasingly complex and competitive mobile market.

The company unveiled a new music phone series that integrates with Facebook as well as a scaled-down version of its flagship handset, called the N97 mini. Nokia (NYSE: NOK) also provided pricing and other details on the Booklet 3G, the company’s entry into the fast-growing netbook market.

The new products, showcased at the company’s Nokia World conference currently being held in Germany, are part of its latest strategy for gaining back lost market share. In large part, that effort will involve branching out into new realms of wireless devices and leveraging features it sees as being must-haves in mobile, such as social networking and music.

“We are not on the defensive — we are on the offensive,” Nokia Executive Vice President Anssi Vanjoki said during a keynote speech today at Nokia World.

The new N97 mini smartphone sports a feature Nokia calls Lifecasting with Ovi, which enables users to update their Facebook pages directly from the handset’s touchscreen.

The phone includes a 5-megapixel camera, a 3.2-inch screen, video and music playback, GPS, 8GB of memory, a full keyboard, and it uses WCDMA, GPRS/EDGE, HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) for data connections, but no 3G support. The operating system is Symbian S60, Nokia said.

The cost of the N97 mini will be about $645 when it goes on sale in October, but that’s without a contract. It’s not yet clear whether Nokia has partnerships in place with carriers to subsidize the cost of the unit and when it will be sold in the U.S.

However, Kai Oistamo, executive vice president of devices at Nokia, said the firm’s strategy moving forward is to “absolutely” work with U.S. carriers to offer subsidized devices as a common practice.

“We are looking at AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. We are working together with carriers to really create a seamless experience for the consumers… carriers provide an important element to how that’s delivered,” he said during a conference call with the press.

In the past, Nokia sold handsets directly to consumers, which meant they cost hundreds of dollars more than those subsidized by carriers that offset prices in exchange for the required two-year contracts. Right now Nokia’s E71x is offered at reduced price by AT&T and is the only handset sold here under such a deal.

Next page: New handsets.

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Also during fourth quarter, Nokia will debut two new music handsets, the X6 and its smaller version, the X3. The X6 will cost $640 before subsidies, has 3.2-inch screen, 5-megapixel camera and 32 GB of memory. It’s powered by Symbian S60 and also has GPS and accesses the Internet through Wi-Fi or HSDPA.

The X3 will cost $163 prior to carrier deals, runs Symbian S40, and has a 3.2-megapixel camera.

It will be some time before the X3 and X6 are available in the U.S., however. A key feature is Nokia’s “Comes with Music” digital song service, which isn’t offered stateside yet. The feature allows users to pay an upfront fee in exchange for unlimited digital music downloads from Nokia’s music store for one year. The files don’t expire when the phone contract does, but rather, they are copy-protected, limiting usage to the phone and one registered computer.

“Perhaps, if ‘Comes with Music’ launches in the U.S., perhaps the X6 (and X3) would come to the U.S. at that time,” Oistamo said during the conference call with the press.

On the wireless device front, Nokia provided details on the Booklet 3G, its effort to push into the netbook space.

The company said that the Booklet 3G will ship with Windows 7 and cost about $800 before carrier subsidies.

[cob:Special_Report]During the keynote, Vanjoki said he expects the device to be more affordable once carrier deals are finalized — but did not disclose any details on potential network partnerships.

The netbook, which weighs 2.8 pounds, boasts a 10-inch screen with a 1280×720 pixel resolution, and can connect to bigger displays using an HDMI port. The Booklet 3G can access the Internet using HSPA (High-Speed Packet Access) mobile broadband or 802.11n Wi-Fi.

Nokia late last month revealed some details of its upcoming N900, a new entry in the mobile Internet device (MID) category. MIDs typically offer Web-connections along with larger displays and more power than smartphones, but fall short of full-featured mobile PCs. Running on the new open-source, Linux-based Maemo 5 software, the Nokia N900 lets users run dozens of applications simultaneously while also operating cellular features, according to a company statement.

At the time of its announcement, the company said the N900 would deliver a “PC-like experience on a handset-sized device,” and will be available in “select markets” in October.

Nokia today confirmed in a conference call with the press that both the N900 and Booklet 3G would be available in the U.S.

However, Oistamo said during the call that the company wouldn’t be providing other details on carriers or subsidized pricing.

The new product line up comes as Nokia begins to reinvent itself as not just a mobile phone manufacturer, but “mobile solutions provider.”

“We are experiencing the biggest changes we’ve seen in the past 20 years in the mobile industry. We believe it’s an opportunity for growth, and for us to transform the company into a mobile solutions provider,” said Oistamo.

Part of that transformation, he said, is to increase its wireless service side. “We are already seeing progress in this strategy. The number of active users downloading at the Ovi store is 55 million. We want to head for 80 million by the end of the year. The whole organization is working on it…we have a counter up at the headquarters,” Oistama said. “And we’ve seen over 10 million downloads in the Ovi Store, which is pretty good because it’s only been live for several weeks, so on multiple levels we’re seeing progress on the new approach.”

(Updated to add comments from Oistamo.)

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