How the Asha series is saving Nokia’s bacon

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Nokia Asha Series

Nokia is in a pretty bad state, probably the worst since the company was founded in 1871. Once the undisputed leader of the mobile phone space, Nokia is now at the bottom of the ladder in the smartphones category. In part, this is due to a lack of innovation and an inability to keep up with its rivals. Prior to releasing the Lumia series, none of its smartphones were even comparable to those of its competitors. There was even a constant threat to Nokia from Indian and Chinese manufacturers in the entry level segment. As a result, Nokia slipped out of the top five smartphone brands in terms of market share last quarter.

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Even in countries like India, once its biggest market, Nokia wasn’t able to sell smartphones.

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In the feature phone market meanwhile people have increasingly turned to the bigger screens, louder speakers and multi SIMs offered by other manufacturers. At first, Nokia was hesitant to release phones with multiple SIM slots, calling them ‘unnecessary or cheap’. Nokia was totally ignoring requests from consumers and it took a big hit in sales as well as dignity.

The consolidated sales figures for mobile phones from every brand are not out just yet but you can have a look at the mobile phone and smartphone market share for Q3, 2012 from tech research company Gartner. Nokia is nowhere to be seen in the list of top five smartphone vendors and it even lost the crown of biggest mobile phone brand to Samsung.

But if estimates from IDC Research are To be believed, by 2016 Microsoft’s Windows Phone will grab the largest share in the smartphone market. That’s obviously good news for Nokia.

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Considering its failure to keep up with consumer demands and competition, there were rumours that Nokia might be bought out by the likes of Samsung or Microsoft. After it realised that it couldn’t compete with Google and Apple by creating its own operating system (Maemo, Symbian & MeeGo) whose development was already behind schedule, it decided to ditch all its smartphone platforms in favour of Windows Phone.

That was clever, but it’s maneuvers in the feature phone market were pretty spectacular.

Don’t get me wrong, there were still stumbling blocks. When Nokia finally had a change of heart and started manufacturing dual SIM phones, the initial response wasn’t great. People complained for instance that the devices didn’t feature dual-standby. With constant consumer feedback and demands, Nokia went ahead to improve their feature phone user interface to match with smartphone operating systems.

Then there was Asha

At the same time as it launched the Lumia series of smartphones, Nokia announced a new range of feature phones under the sub-brand ‘Asha’. Most brands are moving towards making smartphones cheaper as the time passes by. But Nokia decided to tread the reverse path by trying to make feature phone UI better and similar to whay you’d find on a smartphone. Nokia probably thinks that a proper smartphone OS doesn’t suit the low hardware configuration of feature phones. The Asha OS UI is very similar to smartphone operating systems such as Android and iOS. You can actually consider its UI as a great mix of UI elements from Android and MeeGo. Let us have a look at how Asha OS is better than other feature phone UIs.

Notifications Centre

The new Asha OS has a dedicated notifications centre similar to Android and iOS where you can see all the notifications you receive such as missed calls, messages and even toggle for mostly used settings such as Wi-Fi, Data, Bluetooth and Music player controls. These notifications are also displayed on the lock screen and you can view more details about the notification by swiping that notification icon, something very similar to iOS 5.

Better internet connectivity and social sharing

Asha phones are targeted at young people who would love to be connected but can’t afford to buy costly smartphones. The Finnish phone maker is bundling its own browser named Nokia Xpress Browser which basically cuts down the data usage cost by compressing the webpages (very similar to what Opera does with its mobile web browser). Users also get a pre-installed chat client which can integrate all popular IM accounts including Facebook, Yahoo!, MSN Messenger and GTalk. Users can also configure multiple mail accounts from GMail, Hotmail and Yahoo. Even the newer chat apps such as WhatsApp, Nimbuzz and EBuddy XMS are available to be installed from Nokia Ovi Store. On the whole, a college going young mind can stay always connected with the friends by whatever means possible and they won’t feel the pinch of not having a proper Android smartphone.

Better multimedia support and gaming

The video and music player has also been redesigned. It is now flexible and supports more multimedia formats such as DivX and Xvid up to 720p resolution. Nokia also bundles 40 free games from EA such as Tetris, FIFA and NFS for entertainment on the go. Nokia Music can be used to download millions of tracks or just stream the songs with Mix Radio.

Asha series, a life saver for Nokia, but is it enough?

Asha OS is compatible with touchscreen as well as non-touchscreen based devices, meaning that even the older audience can use them easily if they are not comfortable with the touchscreen based mobile phones. Most of the Asha OS based phones have been best sellers such as Nokia Asha 305, Asha 308, and Asha 311, particularly in markets like India. But Nokia can’t reap much profit per device in this segment as prices are very low. The average price of a Nokia Asha series phone is around US$80. Compare that to Apple, which makes a profit of around US$440 per iPhone 5 sold. Nokia obviously earns a lot less for every device sold and therefore has to sell a lot more to make a profit.

Now that it has a strong hold in the feature phones market, now they can focus on the making better smartphones using Windows Phone platform. In recent months, Nokia has been successful in regaining the consumer’s faith that Nokia can still produce phones with competitive features and performance while keeping the price low. The reviews of the new Lumia smartphones have been well received among geeks and ordinary users alike.

Nokia Smartphone shipments

Recently, Nokia announced that it managed to sell 86-million mobile devices in Q4, 2012. Of those, 4.5-million were Lumia devices and 14.5-million were Asha phones. That means three Asha series phones are sold for Lumia smartphone sold.

On the whole, the new Asha Series has saved the Nokia as a whole from the predicted doom. Its flagship, the Lumia 920 saw more than 2.5- illion pre-orders and sold-out in the US. So we can safely say that Asha series has been a saviour of Nokia in recent months.

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