Nokia’s famous fightback in the smartphone market, initiated by the now departing Anssi Vanjoki, really began in earnest this week. The unveiling of three new smartphones running the “all new Symbian platform” at the Nokia World event in London may make developers think twice before abandoning the much-maligned operating system to concentrate on more fashionable rivals, such as Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
On paper at least, Symbian ^3, Nokia’s new developers’ tools and, most importantly, the new smartphones, look competitive with their California-designed counterparts. Priced at EUR495 before subsidies and taxes, the Nokia E7 business phone has both a full keyboard and a four-inch touchscreen, as well as an eight megapixel camera and an impressive arsenal of preinstalled business and security software, in a fairly slim (13mm) package. The E7 is bound to appeal to the many business people who want to bash out emails and documents, but some multimedia fans may be put off by the screen’s relatively low resolution – just 640-by-360 pixels, compared with the iPhone 4’s 960-by-640-pixel resolution and 800-by-480 pixels on the Samsung Galaxy S.
For most business apps, 640-by-360 will be more than adequate, but the E7 won’t necessarily muster the “wow factor” that the iPhone 4’s razor-sharp display can engender. That’s important because many businessmen like to show off.
The other two Nokia smartphones are much cheaper than the iPhone, but still boast some impressive specs. Billed as a social networking phone, the C7 has a 3.5 inch touchscreen with the same resolution and the same high-spec camera as the E7, but it is lighter, slimmer and cheaper at EUR335. The C6 comes with a smaller screen (3.2 inches) and is a bit bulkier, but also has the same eight megapixel camera and an attractive price tag of EUR260.
The previously-announced Nokia N8 also uses the new Symbian platform and boasts a market-leading 12 megapixel camera, but it too may be held back by its relatively low resolution 640-by-360 pixels screen. Still, the price tag of EUR370 will draw interest.
But what about the new version of Symbian? Does it address complaints that Symbian is clunky and hard to code for? Nokia said Symbian ^3 has more than 250 new features and improvements, bringing “significant enhancements in speed and ease of use.” The world’s largest handset maker also claimed that its new Qt Software Development Kit (SDK) will enable Symbian app developers to write 70 percent less code. Moreover, Nokia’s Ovi store has been revamped to support in-app purchases, while offering developers using operators’ billing systems a better revenue share deal.
The significance of Series 40
Whereas many of these new features amount to Nokia and Symbian playing catch-up with other smartphone platforms, the Espoo-based handset maker is still the most influential force in the massive mainstream mobile phone market. At the Nokia World event, it announced a SDK for its new Series 40 Touch and Type handsets. The bulk of the roughly one million handsets Nokia ships every day run the Series 40 software and, if the combination of a touchscreen and a keypad proves to be a hit, this developer tool may ultimately be one of the most significant announcements at Nokia World. To reach the mass-market in the fast-growing BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) economies, developers’ best bet has to be to work within the Nokia Series 40 ecosystem.
While the recent changes in Nokia’s leadership may have unnerved some of the company’s longstanding supporters, the new CEO, the new version of Symbian and the new SDKs may tempt many developers back into the Nokia fold.
For me, the most compelling opportunity for the Nokia ecosystem continues to be in the mid-market where the giant handset maker’s emphasis on photography makes a lot of sense – many ordinary people either can’t afford or don’t want to buy a separate digital camera. Equipped with half-decent cameras, high-end Series 40 handsets and low-end Symbian smartphones will likely sell in droves in BRIC countries and beyond.
This article was first published on the GSMA’s Mobile World Live portal. David moderates discussion forums on the site and is a freelance media and investor relations consultant.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members