Nokia’s Asha phones target the ‘next billion’ internet users

While much of the attention from the opening keynote at Nokia World 2011 was focussed on the Lumia 800, the Finnish communications giant also announced that it intends targeting the “next billion” internet users.

Nokia CEO, Stephen Elop said he believed that “for many people, their mobile phone will be their first connection with the internet”.

“Our focus, particularly in emerging markets, is to bridge the digital divide,” Elop said.

One way in which it aims to do this is by connecting people with the internet via their new “Asha” range of phones, which it claims, further blurs the boundary between smartphones and feature phones.

Nokia claims that the ideal of the Asha phone series is embedded in the etymology of its name. The term is a Hindi one, and is generally summarised alongside its contextual implications of “truth” and “right(eousness)”, “order” and “right working”.

Introduced by Nokia’s Vice President of Mobile Phones Marketing Blanca Juti, the Asha range comprises the 200, the 201, 300 and 303.

Juti related the goals of the Ahsa range of phones to her own upbringing in rural Mexico.

“When I was a kid”, she said, “one in 10 families had a phone”.

“Today nearly everyone I know has a phone, and our lives are better for it,” she added.

“It’s easy for us to take voice for granted and internet for granted”.

Juti then urged the audience to imagine life without a number of the internet services we all take for granted including Facebook, Amazon and Wikipedia.

This, she said, is what billions of people around the world are faced with.

She illustrated how the Asha range of phones could change this with a series of examples from people in emerging markets, all under the age of 25 — the median age in a number of these countries.

The Asha 200 is a dual SIM phone and comes packaged with Nokia’s “Easy Swap” technology, which allows users to switch sim cards without switching the phone off.

It features support for a 32GB memory card along and 52 hours of music playback.

The 201 is the single SIM version of the 200 and supports push email and the popular WhatsApp messaging app. It also includes a high performance speaker and “enhanced stereo FM radio and ringtone tuning”.

The 300 is a powerful device, that combines a traditional alpha-numeric keyboard with a touch screen. It features a 1GHz processor and 3G, as well as support for the Nokia Browser. The communications giant claims the browser “allows for fast, affordable and localized Internet access by compressing web pages by up to 90%”.

The 303 combines a 2.6″ touch screen with a Qwerty keyboard. Nokia says the phone is “built with Internet and social networks ease in mind”. It runs off a 1ghz engine and comes pre-packed with 3G and WLAN “to deliver a fast internet experience”.

The phone also comes installed with a “lite” version of the popular Angry Birds title together with support for other “globally relevant” applications such as Facebook Chat, Whatsapp messaging and the latest release of Nokia Maps for Series 40 (in selected markets)

These phones, Elop said, “represent something that is uniquely Nokia” — The Finnish design concept of giving every day life “a gentler structure”.

Nokia has always been incredibly competitive in emerging markets. It will have to push it’s Asha range of phones aggressively, however, if it is to overtake affordable smartphones like the Huawei Ideos and Vodafone 858, which already provide affordable smartphone options for people in emerging markets.



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