Nokia threatens to blow iPhone away

Nokia has launched new multimedia phones, as well as Ovi, a music and games service that spans phones and PCs. Nokia clearly hopes to the package will leave Apple's iPhone and iTunes standing, but it might cause tension with operators.

Ovi is a door to a new Nokia music store, GPS-linked maps, and a revived N-Gage gaming service, which users will access through PCs as well as mobile devices. It includes a new user interface, and will be open to developers for new services, as well as to share photos and movies, and access existing communities such as Facebook and MySpace. Appropriately enough, the word Ovi means "door" in Finnish.

The services, which will launch just before Christmas in many countries including the U.K and Australia, will initially be for Nokia's high-end N series, but will filter down to other phones based on the Symbian S60, S40 and S30 user interfaces, potentially giving Nokia a massive market that could eclipse Apple's.

Four phones were also announced. These include an upgrade to the popular N95, with memory extended to 8GB, and the N81, a 3G music phone with Wi-Fi, which can have either 8GB of internal memory, or a microSD card for expandable memory. There are also two cheaper 4GB XpressMusic phones -- the 5310 and the 5610, which has a sliding keyboard a 3.2 Mpixel camera, and the ability to play music continuously for 22 hours. Nokia couldn't confirm exact launch dates, but all four models are likely to be launched in Australia before the end of the year.

Despite the obvious overlap with the iPhone, the Nokia executives refused to give the Apple product any more publicity at the London launch of Ovi, dodging a question that asked whether the new user interface, with its revolving panes, was similar to the iPhone, pointing out that Nokia has done its own creative work and is the largest consumer durables maker in the world, with 900 million users.

The Nokia phones and Ovi service scored over the iPhone on at least three major counts: the phones have 3G capability, Nokia promised to welcome third party developers (the iPhone has been criticised for being closed), and outlined a wider cross-platform services story. The PC interface to Ovi might, in fact, answer our call for a Symbian desktop.

Nokia already has touch-screen devices in its N series, (the Linux based N800 Internet tablet), and plans to bring a touch interface to the Symbian phones in its N series next year, the company said.

The move into services might controversial, with operators, but Nokia president and chief executive officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo explained the reasoning. "Phones and devices are not enough any more," he said. "If the consumer wants anything, they want a service on top of that, and the ease of use of the totality is important. This is to help operators. Ovi will support them in their strategies."

The service will enable downloading, sideloading (loading from the PC onto a mobile device) and listening live: "The online part of the music business is small, because the full experience has been missing," said Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president and general manager of multimedia at Nokia. "Users want a simple experience which does not take any position on how the music is consumed." The service will, however, include sufficient digital rights management (DRM) to reassure the music industry they are not losing revenue.

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Peter Judge

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