Nokia's featurephone gets touchscreen and new browser
Asha Touch trio bring full cloud experience to sub-€100 segment as Finnish vendor battles against mass market Android
Published: 7 June, 2012
One of Nokia's key mistakes in recent years was to embrace touchscreens far too slowly at the high end, but now it has introduced touch to its featurephone range at last. The Finnish firm has unveiled the long awaited Asha Touch family, promising to take "the full touch experience to new price points".
Nokia has traditionally been strong in midmarket handsets and higher end featurephones. In theory this target is a good one, addressing the high growth markets where users want to add web capabilities to basic handsets, or upgrade to affordable smartphones - while avoiding the margin pitfalls of the ultra-low cost segment. However, Nokia has been squeezed between well-priced Android devices and the rise of low cost Chinese, Indian and Taiwanese manufacturers, and amid financial decline, has lost some of its own economies of scale, vital to this market. Its most recent results highlighted declining featurephone share, at a time when the Finnish firm needs that business to cushion its transition to WP7 at the high end. In Q1, it shipped 70.8m featurephones, down from 84.3m a year earlier.
So the Asha Touch is a particularly critical launch, bringing a modern user experience to the generally well regarded Asha range, and fighting back against Android. Most importantly, there are the first elements of a new web-focused operating system which Nokia has been developing for low end models, aiming to trump Android by taking low end users into the cloud environment at an early stage. It aims to deliver a full browser/cloud experience to the kind of handsets which remain outside Apple's sphere of influence, and the new Asha devices already sport a new browser coupled with cloud services, and claiming to reduce data consumption by 90%. This is based on Nokia's 2010 acquisition of Novarra.
For now, Nokia admits the Asha Touch has a major battle to defend the firm's mass market position against "really, really aggressive" competition. The trio of models - Asha 305, 306 and 311 - sport a "fully redesigned touch user interface", and will be priced between €63 and €92. The 305 has dual-SIM capabilities, also a key feature for competing in emerging economies, while the 306 is single-SIM, but promises to be "Nokia's most affordable Wi-Fi handset to date". The 311 supports HSPA and a 1GHz processor, and pledges a "fast and fluid" internet experience on its capacitive touchscreen, taking the Asha range into smartphone territory with a sub-€100 price tag.
Nokia is also getting wise to the need to offer added value to basic handsets, especially in terms of content. Buyers will "receive an exclusive gift of 40 Electronic Arts games to download free and keep forever".