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N8 flicks budget-price spitballs at iPhone

Nokia takes cues from HTC, Samsung to wind up Apple

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Nokia has already unveiled its first smartphone running the upcoming Symbian^3 operating system, the N8, but will not ship it until later in the summer. It is keeping interest high, though, by making its most aggressive ever move against the iPhone, pricing the N8 well below the Apple icon and touting all the added value that will be included, especially free turn-by-turn navigation.

It is not the first to attack Apple from two directions - trumping it on hardware and software features while undercutting it on price. The HTC Desire, one of the most high end handsets on the market, is coming to the UK at an unsubsidized price of around £360, significantly below the unlocked iPhone 4.

"The mobile phone market today is so much more interesting than it was pre-Apple" Will Harris, Nokia's head of marketing for Asia-Pacific, told Australia's PC World. "The last two years have been pretty horrid, and we've been kicked a lot." The Asian market is key to Nokia - it has overwhelming market share in many markets, such as India, and has taken to launching even its high end models first in the region, rather than in its European homeland.

As well as integrated functionality like navigation, which Nokia now offers for free on most of its phones, it will try to distract attention from Apple with an eye-catching price tag of around $430. "This is a high end device for the mass market," the firm says. It will aim to pack a lot of high end features into this price bracket - as Samsung and others are doing - but also says it has leeway to provide a truly premium product for the cutting edge users, to whom price is no object. The N8 will be quickly followed, in time for the holidays, by an 'N9', which will be "at the very top of our range". This should have a gigahertz processor and very high end display and camera.

Like HTC and Samsung, Nokia will unleash a multifaceted family running Symbian^3, all variations on the N8 theme tailored for different carriers and user profiles. Next year, a new family will follow in the N Series, running Symbian^4. This will have a a completely new user experience - many will be disappointed that this will not appear with Symbian^3, but Nokia says that, while the underlying OS has been rebuilt from scratch as well as open sourced, it will "look quite familiar in some ways". This will limit Nokia's ability to appeal to those who are not wedded to its familiar UI.

Many of Nokia's signature features will be included or upgraded for the N8 and its stablemates, including a top end 12.1-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, a 3.5-inch touchscreen with multiple desktops and live widgets, and the full suite of Nokia's Ovi services including Music, Maps and Mail.

Nokia is also looking at new device formats like tablets. Like Sony Ericsson, it said it is interested in a mini-tablet design with a screen around five inches in size, similar to the Dell Streak, though it would not confirm plans. The MeeGo operating system is likely to be the main platform for new formats, particularly those with larger displays than conventional phones. "The usability will go up if the screen is bigger, but of course the portability will go down as the screen gets bigger. The N900 is not the most beautiful device in the world but it has a good form factor and screen size, so making it bigger is certainly a direction we could go in," said Harris.

Although the first commercial release of MeeGo will be Intel driven and targeted at netbooks, Nokia also plans to release a preliminary version of the OS optimized for handsets on June 30, according to Valtteri Halla, director of MeeGo software. "It's what we call day one for the MeeGo handset release," he explained. "The productized release of the software is still October of this year, but this is a kind of pre-alpha release."

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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