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Nokia's lost weekend ends with N8?

Profits could crawl back up

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Nokia can start restoring its diminishing profit margins later this year with the release of the N8, announced today. It's the first Symbian^3 phone, and so the first to be based on new code written since Nokia acquired Symbian and then spun it out to become an anarcho-syndicalist commune in 2008.

Nokia watched its profit margins decline with the barnstorming success of the iPhone and Blackberry into areas where the Finns had spent years investing. The company lost two years, spent in a hiatus, as lawyers and administrators made themselves busy. Thanks to the legacy Symbian code, which last got a major update in 2005, Nokia has been able to maintain a market share lead, but these days Apple and Blackberry now scoop the lion's share of the profits.

Nokia N8

The N8 might signal the start of a comeback when it appears in Q3. At the very least, it will be shiny and new.

The N8 turns out to be a surprisingly low cost phone, priced at €370, which suggests the competition is Samsung, LG and lesser known Android licensees rather than the iPhone. The specifications - HDMI-output for playing 720p movies, a 12MP camera with Xenon flash (sample pics here) and 16GB on board for music and movies - should be competitive. The N8 also scores high marks for design: it looks expensive. Symbian's power management should help, with Nokia claiming five hours of video playback and 3G talk time.

(Apple fancifully claims five hours of 3G talk time for the iPhone; Android's power management sucks in comparison, but Android is still enjoying a honeymoon.)

Nokia has pinched a few ideas from Apple, but perhaps not the one that matters most. The case is carved from aluminium, like most of Apple's laptop range. The battery is non-removal, like the iPhone. And the N8 offers a 'Cover Flow'-like view of your music library, like iTunes and recent iPods. But the UI is stuck on the make-do S60 Fifth Edition, which is not directly-manipulable (but just enough to be annoying). A prototype N8 that fell into the hands of Mobile Review wasn't well received.

Put a good UI on old technology and you'll have happy users. Maybe we'll see that in Symbian^4 phones next year.

Last week Nokia lowered its margin guidance because of slippage to the Symbian roadmap. ®

Bootnote: Detailed specs have appeared at Forum Nokia, here.

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