A Hopeful Nokia, with New Asha Phones, Looks to India


Nokia's global VP, Blanca Juti, unveils the Asha phones. (Image source: Engadget)

When Nokia (NYSE:NOK; HEL:NOK1V) unveiled a bunch of new feature phones at the recent Nokia World event, there seemed to be two recurring themes: that so-called dumb-phones are getting smarter, and that Indian youth are both an inspiration and a focal point.

Indeed, Nokia’s new feature phone range is called Asha, which means “hope” in Hindi, and was launched with enthusiasm by Nokia’s global VP, Blanca Juti (pictured above), who grew up in India, and who stood on stage dressed in an elegant jacket made of a mosaic of Indian materials. The mantra was “the next billion” – as in the next billion potential customers for the company’s Symbian-powered phones. She said:

Think about the opportunity. In India today there are 1.2 billion people, but did you know there are only 63 million fixed internet connections.

That’s where mobiles plug the gap in India, tuning hundreds of millions of people into the web in the absence of decent broadband. And that’s where affordable yet cool phones come in – though they need to be, she emphasized, ones that can satisfy today’s demanding teenagers.

Ms Juti’s presentation culminated in four new phones being revealed, which were made specifically with emerging markets in mind – the Asha 200 (pictured below), 201, 300, and 303, priced from Rs 4,100 to Rs 8,000 (US$84 to $164). The latter two have touchscreens, transmuting into devices more powerful than those normally aimed at, say, Indian or Indonesian consumers, with a 1GHz processor, 3G, and multi-SIM support.

The Nokia Asha 200 feature phone, powered by Symbian. (Image source: MobileBurn)

Speaking to the Times of India today, Nokia India’s VP, D Shivakumar, said:

Our target share [in India] should always be more than half of the total market […] I think we would be able to get there in 2012 by focusing on great innovative products, great delivery and experience at retail points, services and content integration.

Actually, Nokia already holds the majority of mobile market share in India, with an independently tallied 59 percent, so the marketing-speak might be disguising the sentiment “We better not lose that or we’re screwed here as well.”

It remains to be seen if Nokia’s more powerful and funky Symbian phones can fight off the broader, more youthful Android and iOS platforms, which are gaining ground in India and across the region. It’s already looking like Nokia has lost all momentum in China. But at least some lessons are being learnt and Nokia is giving Asia consumers more of what they demand, such as multi-SIM support (which is useful for using the cheapest networks at certain times, or for juggling multiple small businesses), and in-built integration of the mobile OS with social media such as Facebook and Twitter.

As a back-up, Nokia’s two Lumia phones, which run Windows Phone 7, will make their way to India as well.

[Image sources: Engadget event liveblog; and MobileBurn hands-on with the Asha series]

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