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Nokia Takes on BlackBerry with WhatsApp-Focused Asha

Nokia Takes on BlackBerry with WhatsApp-Focused Asha
By Jennifer LeClaire

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Analyst Avi Greengart said Nokia, with the Asha 210 feature phone, was trying to hone in on the specific reasons why consumers buy smartphones. "Why do most consumers want a smartphone? In many case it's for social and communication apps....Nokia is still competing against the cheap BlackBerry phones like the Curve, so the QWERTY form factor is still relevant."
 



It's got many of the qualities of a smartphone, but it's a feature phone. It competes with low-end BlackBerry phones in emerging markets. And it's making headlines for including the first-ever WhatsApp button.

It's the Nokia Asha 210, which Nokia is billing as the "most social Asha yet" at an "affordable price" of $72. The Nokia Asha 210 supports Wi-Fi so people can log on to the Internet from more places, and a QWERTY keyboard. But it's the WhatsApp button that's turning heads.

WhatsApp Messenger is a cross-platform mobile messaging app that lets users exchange messages without having to pay for SMS. It works with iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone and Nokia devices. WhatsApp is offering its service for free on all Nokia Asha 210 devices with the WhatsApp button for the lifespan of the phone.

A Smart Feature Phone

But the Asha 210's social functions go beyond the WhatsApp button. The device also features support for Facebook, Twitter and popular e-mail accounts such as Gmail.

Consumers can also share photos and other content using Nokia's Slam feature. Slam works by enabling the transfer of content -- such as images or videos -- to another Bluetooth-enabled phone without the need to pair devices.

Avi Greengart, a principal analyst at Current Analysis, told us Nokia, with its latest feature phone, was trying to hone in on the specific reasons why consumers buy smartphones.

"Why do most consumers want a smartphone?" Greengart asks. "In many case it's for social and communication apps. In some of these markets Nokia is still competing against the cheap BlackBerry phones like the Curve, so the QWERTY form factor is still relevant."

Wanted: Super-Social Consumers

Timo Toikkanen, executive vice president of Mobile Phones at Nokia, said the device aims to give "super-social consumers new ways to express their personalities." He also mentioned its focus on allowing "people to easily update their social networks, stay in touch with friends and share user created content."

The Asha 210 is also equipped with a 2-megapixel camera that can be accessed through a dedicated button even when the keypad is locked. The camera offers a choice of image capture, editing and sharing options.

The Asha 210 leverages the Nokia Xpress Browser, which uses the company's cloud technology to reduce data consumption by up to 90 percent. The device also features Nokia Nearby, a Web app that lets people discover points of interest such as restaurants, shopping and ATM machines close to their location.

No Longer Dominating

"Nokia is selling up against low-end Android phones in emerging markets. So, yes, the Asha is a feature phone. But they are dropping Java applets on the phone out of the box. Many Asha phones also provide a suite of Java games," Greengart said.

The idea is to offer a Nokia phone at roughly the same price point as inexpensive, usually locally produced Android phones. Of course, Nokia would argue that it provides a better user experience and is more responsive.

"The Asha line has done reasonably well. Nokia sold more than 5 million units last quarter," Greengart said. "So the Asha line is definitely touching a nerve but I don't know that it's actually been as successful as Nokia would like it to be, given the growth in the low-end smartphone market and some of the problems it has seen in the feature phone segment in emerging markets, where its sales are down in markets where they used to dominate."
 

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