Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Mobile World Congress: Asha, Lumia and the problem for Nokia in the low-end smartphone market

Nokia announced three new Asha handsets yesterday to great fanfare, in addition to a new, lower priced Lumia. I played with all four devices at Mobile World Congress, a process that got me thinking about Nokia’s current range.

My conclusion is that, despite being great products and well engineered, they’re not addressing a serious problem with Nokia’s range – the lack of credible smartphones in the crucial $150/ €100 price bracket. This part of the market is important as it is outside of the typical average selling price of contract smartphones and therefore not impacted by the distortion of operator subsidy that so damages the success of high end Lumias by making them effectively equivalent in price to the unassailable iPhone.

For those who haven’t encountered it, Asha is a low-end device based on Nokia’s venerable Symbian 40 “smart-ish” platform that is aimed at feature phone users upgrading to a more feature rich device, either in emerging or developed markets.

All three of the new Asha devices are perfectly acceptable handsets: imagine a cheap Blackberry from 2010, combined with a typically excellent Nokia-branded media player and content service and you’re about right on the quality of the device and user experience. They have some application store functionality (and Angry Birds), but nothing like the richness of a true Android, iOS or Windows device.

In the true smartphone world, the launch of the Lumia 610 takes Nokia’s Windows phone range into uncharted territory in the mid-market of affordability. It too is a perfectly acceptable device from Nokia, being well engineered and user friendly.

Unfortunately for Nokia, the schematic highlights the issues with their current two-part range. There is a glaring gap between €90 and €190 where Nokia lacks a compelling smartphone platform and this area coincides perfectly with the sweet spot of Huawei’s range (and ZTE’s in China; and Micromax’s in India).

Until Nokia can offer a genuine smartphone experience in this price point, I’m afraid I can only see their market share globally continuing to slide.

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