After signing the definitive agreement with Microsoft to adopt its Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, abandoning its home grown Symbian OS and announcing ambitious plans for a third ecosystem, Nokia finally announced the first two devices based on the platform at Nokia World. Although the phones feature some great hardware, in terms of software differentiation, they have little to offer.

– Nokia’s WP7 handsets: Nokia launched a range of new phones under the Lumia series: the Lumia 710 and 800. While the Lumia 800 is based on the same hardware design as that of Nokia’s recently launched Meego phone, the Nokia N9, and is a premium phone, the 710 is a mid-level handset sporting interchangeable covers. In terms of software customization, the phone does not offer anything extra except a few Nokia branded apps for location, music and sports.

– Software differentiation: Nokia Drive, which offers free turn-by-turn navigation and an in-car interface, Nokia Music with MixRadio, which will offer a free, global, mobile music-streaming service with locally-relevant channels and ESPN Sports Hub, offering sports news and scores. Note that Samsung and HTC, which also offer WP7 phones also offer similar services, however, Microsoft prevents fragmentation and does not support interface level changes. This means that the even after the big partnership, Nokia phones will more or less offer the same user experience that other phones based on the platform offer.

– Availability and Price: Nokia Lumia 800 will be available from November in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK, across 31 operators with an estimated retail price of EUR 420 (Rs 29,000 approx), before any local taxes or subsidies. Other territories including Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan will get the Nokia Lumia 800 before the end of the year. The Nokia Lumia 710 will first appear in Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan at the end of 2011, before becoming available in other markets in 2012.It is expected to cost around EUR 270 (Rs 18,600 approx) before any local taxes or subsidies.

– WP7 and India: It would be interesting to see how Nokia customises apps and services for the Indian market on the WP7 handsets. We are curious if it will offer the streaming music service with Indian music and who it will tie-up for the content. Although, it was just a few days back that Microsoft officially launched the WP7 (or rather WP 7.5 or Mango) platform in India, with handsets from HTC and Samsung, there are still a few missing links. As of now the platform does not support Indic content (I can say that for Devanagri script). Also a lot of popular apps including Seesmic, Fruit Ninja, iHeartRadio and others are not available on the Indian Marketplace and the desktop version of Zune still does not offer the App Marketplace. Bing, the Microsoft search engine is also not completely optimized for India. With Nokia, which sees India as an important market, launching the WP7 phones, we hope that these problems will iron out.

– Nokia & Microsoft- A third ecosystem?: Judging by the recent announcements, not really. We would have loved to see more apps from the Nokia stable, including some popular third-party apps like Gravity. The Nokia phones don’t feature a front facing camera, which means that the phones won’t support video calling. Although, a lot of users don’t make use of them, however most new Symbian phones feature the front camera. Even the mid-range WP7 phone, HTC Radar sports one.

Also, with Symbian, Nokia had the advantage of some exclusivity (never mind Samsung’s short term tryst or Sony Ericsson’s UIQ phones). Now its more or less one of the OEMs making phones for Microsoft. We do agree that the hardware is top notch, but so was Nokia N8’s hardware. So we’re not completely sure if this would really bring Nokia the much longed-for come-back, till we see more differentiation.

New Feature Phone Range

Nokia also announced a new range of feature phones including dual-SIM ones, based on its Series 40 platform under the name Asha. The Nokia Asha 303 and 300 feature a touchscreen as well as a keypad (the 303 features a QWERTY one). The phones feature smartphone like specifications such as 1GHz processors and support for popular apps like WhatsApp, Angry Birds and Facebook chat among others. They will also feature Nokia’s new cloud based web browser which compresses pages by up to 90% and Nokia Maps. The Nokia Asha 201 and its dual-SIM sibling Asha 200 are messaging phones with full QWERTY keypads. The 303 will cost EUR 115 (Rs 8,000 approx), the 300 EUR 85 (Rs 6,000 approx), while the 201 and 200 are expected to be priced at EUR 60 (Rs 4,000 approx).

All these phones will be launched during the fourth quarter ranging from the holiday season(November-December) to the beginning of 2012. India has been a good market for Nokia’s feature phones and we expect the new devices to do well.