Nokia re-launched the Asha platform in Delhi yesterday and unveiled its $99 phone, the Nokia Asha 501. While the launch generated a lot of media buzz, it remains to be seen if this translates into sales and whether the latest offering from Nokia will help it stem the decline in market share the company has witnessed over the last couple of years. In today’s tech2 Round Table, we discuss the future of Nokia and the Asha range and whether it will help revive Nokia’s fortunes. Join in the discussion by adding your point-of-view in the comments section below.
I’m impressed with Nokia’s strategy and the direction the company seems to be going in. The new Asha 501’s design will help it ride the wave of positive buzz around the Lumias’ distinct look, and its software seems full of useful little touches. “Asha” is meant to convey aspiration, and the 501 will feel like a step up when compared to other phones in the Rs 4,500-6,000 price band. This device seems aimed at first-time users and those upgrading from entry-level candybar phones. The target audience wants to use Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter, take photos, play games, listen to music and watch videos, and the 501 delivers all of this at a sub-smartphone price. Wi-Fi, dual-SIM support, data compression and expandable storage will appeal to the savvy buyer and offset potential negatives like the low-res screen and lack of 3G. There is some competition from cheap Android phones, but none of them seem this polished and none of them carry the reassurance of Nokia’s brand name.
The Nokia Asha 501 has a slick interface
Nokia's 501 is probably the first Asha handset that looks interesting enough to warrant a second look. Maybe it's just the new design that makes it look a lot like a Lumia. I do feel that the Asha 501 has the potential to do very well, but only as long as Nokia lowers the price. The phone is still a month away from launching, and in that time, I expect top tier OEMs to launch at least one new Android smartphone in this price range. Samsung has already drawn first blood by announcing the Pocket Neo – a budget phone with the same screen size and battery as the Asha 501 but with 3G, Jelly Bean, Wi-Fi 'n' and GLONASS. The Asha 501 pales in comparison considering both handsets will be priced very similarly. And this is just the beginning, as you can bet HTC and Sony to jump on the bandwagon as well. The Asha 501 could have a very short shelf life if Nokia doesn't do something about the price.
The Asha has the looks, but would that be enough?
There’s little doubt that Nokia’s revamping of the Asha platform is a step in the right direction. The jaded UI has given way to a clean, Meego-inspired interface, although the flesh and bones remain S40. And Nokia is also making all the right noises by wooing developers to the platform with the Ad Exchange service and in-app purchases. Clearly, this is a well-thought out beginning. But when taking into account the competition, the new Asha range could come a cropper. The smartphone market in India, while still being price sensitive, has also started demanding half-way decent specs along with the low price. Thanks to an increase in general awareness of the latest technologies, the game is now about having compelling devices that compete in terms of specs, price and platform.
Nokia Asha 501 faces competition from cheaper Androids
While Nokia’s new platform deserves some more time before we talk about its success or failure, Android, its biggest competition, is well entrenched in the market. As hardware development hurtles forward at great pace, Asha 501 is going to look outdated pretty soon. The situation worsens when considering that smartphones are breaking through price barriers while delivering great specs, even though these low-cost smartphones may not have the brand recognition of Nokia. This is especially true in India, where we are sure Nokia is betting big on the Asha series.
For too long, Nokia has rested on its past laurels while smartphone development has become a different beast. We would like to be optimistic about Asha’s chances, but despite anything Nokia may have up its sleeve, the competition has pulled too far ahead.