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The Lowdown: Nokia Debuts New Asha UI, Asha 501, In-App Payments & More

NokialogoNokia debuted a new version of its Asha platform, unveiled Nokia Asha 501 and announced a few developer initiatives at a press conference in New Delhi. Here’s a quick lowdown of everything that was announced at the event:

Nokia Store Stats: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced that Nokia store has registered a cumulative 2 billion downloads in the last year and 10 billion downloads since launch. Around 400 app developers have crossed 1 million downloads on the Nokia Store till now. Indiagames has seen 155 million downloads while Reliance Games has clocked 77 million downloads.

New Asha Platform: The new Asha series platform is based on Smarterphone, a feature phone operating system maker that Nokia had acquired in January 2012. This seems to be significant upgrade for the platform with Nokia bringing in some of the features we had earlier seen in the Meego-powered Nokia N9. These include the Swipe UI, double tap to unlock feature, and an always-on screen.

It also now features a dual homescreen mode – a regular icon grid based homescreen to launch individual apps on the phone or access a specific feature like the dialer or phone settings and a new Fastlane view which offers the recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps based on one’s usage and provides quick access to the user’s preferred features.

Nokia Asha 501: Nokia Asha 501 is a 2G only device that comes with single or EasySwap Dual SIM models and has a rather small screen of about 2.8 inch. It also features a 3.2 Megapixel camera, 64MB RAM, 4GB in-box MicroSD card (support for 32GB), and 1200 mAh battery. Connectivity wise, the phone offers support for WiFi, Bluetooth, Micro USB port, and 3.5mm AV audio port. Interestingly, Nokia claims that the Asha 501 will offer a talk time of 17 hours and a standby time of 48 days on single-SIM handsets while Dual SIM handset will offer a standby time of 26 days.

Asha 501

The device will be available in six colors like Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow, White and Black and will be priced at $99 (Around Rs 5,400) without taxes. While Nokia didn’t reveal the exact date of availability in India, Elop mentioned that it will be available for purchase by June 2013. Elop also added that they plan to launch a 3G variant of Nokia 501 the forthcoming future.

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It appears that with the new Asha series, Nokia seems to be targeting the low end Android smartphone markets by offering a smartphone like experience and push notifications for apps like Twitter and Facebook. However, it still lacks with features that low end Android handsets can provide like support for 3G and tethering, among others. We believe that if Nokia manages to keep the pricing between Rs 4,000-6,000 for a 3G version, it might be able to gain significant traction for these phones.

New Software and Apps: The company claims that Nokia Asha platform will feature apps like CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco-Bandai and Reliance Games among others. Elop mentioned that all these apps are already developed or are in development on the new Nokia Asha platform.

What’s worth noting that Asha 501 comes preloaded with Tencent’s messaging app WeChat. It’s not clear on what Nokia is trying to achieve here as the company had partnered with Bharti Softbank’s messaging app Hike to preload Hike messaging app on Lumia 510, Lumia 720 and all its Nokia Asha Full Touch smartphones earlier this week. Last month, it had also partnered with WhatsApp to launch Nokia Asha 210 with a dedicated WhatsApp button and a free WhatsApp subscription for life.

Besides this, Asha 501 also comes with preloaded with Nokia’s Xpress browser which claims to compress Internet data by up to 90% and multiple regional language keyboards including Hindi and Malayalam. Nokia also previewed a new web app called Nokia Xpress Now, which offers content based on location, preferences and trending topics to users. This app will be available through the browser homepage or as a free download on the Nokia Store.

Facebook Partnership: Nokia has also partnered with telecom operator Bharti Airtel and Facebook to offer free data access to the standalone Facebook app and its mobile site m.facebook.com. The validity period of this deal has not been disclosed.

New Asha Development Tools: Along with the launch of Asha series platform, Nokia has also released a software development kit (SDK) 1.0 that will support the development, testing, packaging and deployment of Java apps on the Nokia Asha platform. As we mentioned earlier, Nokia 501 is based on the new Asha series platform, which also means that developers would have to either rework their apps or start from scratch to support this platform.

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It has also launched Nokia Asha web app tools like – Web Development Environment (WDE) and an integrated development environment (IDE) that developers can use to create and edit their Nokia Asha web apps; Web Inspector which helps developers to debug and inspect elements in their web apps; and a Web Designer Tool to help developers create improved user experience for their web apps.

Nokia In-app Payment: Nokia announced a new in-app payment solution that will allow developers to sell content within their apps. The company said that this feature will also be rolled out to existing Asha and Series 40 phones, such as the Nokia 301 in June 2013. Consumers will be billed through operator billing and the company claims that this solution will offer operator billing in 59 countries through 158 operator billing partnerships.

Nokia informed that it will release a public beta of Nokia In-app payment solution in coming weeks and developers can sign up for the beta on Nokia developer website. There is currently no information if Nokia will take a cut from developers on each in-app transaction.

Nokia Ad Exchange: Nokia also launched a new mobile advertising exchange called Nokia Ad exchange program, which claims to offer app developers access to 120 ad agencies and networks globally, cross-platform support across various mobile platforms like Windows Phone, Series 40, Symbian, iOS, Blackberry, and Android and ability to offer payment in 200 countries.

Accessories: Along with Nokia 501, Nokia has also launched couple of accessories including a universal portable USB charger, which will be available in four colors – yellow, white, red and blue. The charger has a battery capacity of 1720mAh and unlike Nokia’s previous portable USB chargers, this new charger comes with an USB wire attached to the device.

Nokia also debuted changeable cover for the Asha 501, which will be available in three colors – Red, Yellow and White. The availability and pricing of these accessories have not been disclosed yet.

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