Nokia hopes new interface on Asha 501 will prop up phone business

The phone has an upgraded user interface and platform based on the acquisition of Smarterphone

Nokia has expanded its line of phones with the Asha 501, which comes with an improved touch user interface to help keep low-cost Android-based products at bay.

The launch of the second new member of the Asha family in about two weeks follows Nokia's announcement last month that sales of its mobile phones in the first quarter had dropped by 21 percent year-on- year, to 55.8 million units. The product family has become important for Nokia because a lot of the future growth is expected to come from low-end smartphones, and its Windows Phone-based products are still not cheap enough to address the whole market.

The new phone and the underlying platform is, in part, the result of last year's acquisition of Norwegian company Smarterphone.

The Asha 501 will cost US$99 before taxes and subsidies when it starts shipping in June. The GSM phone has a 3-inch screen, a 3.2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and a choice between one or two SIM cards. Offering the latter has become a must in many developing countries.

One of the advantages of having a smaller screen and less powerful hardware is better battery life, and Nokia said the phone has a standby time of up to 48 days, with the caveat that it was achieved during test conditions.

However, it isn't the hardware Nokia is putting the biggest emphasis on with the Asha 501, but the device's improved user interface.

The phone's user interface has two main screens, Home and Fastlane, which users can swipe between. Home is a traditional, icon-based view for launching individual apps or accessing a specific feature, like the dialler or phone settings. Fastlane, on the other hand, shows recently accessed contacts, social networks and apps. It can display up to 50 of the most recent activities, Nokia said.

The underlying platform has been improved to offer better performance and flexibility, including the ability to add new features and functionality more easily in future updates, according to Nokia.

On the software side, the company will also put out a version of its mapping software Here during the third quarter for the phone, which will offer basic services, according to Nokia. The Asha 501 doesn't have GPS, so it has to rely on cellular network positioning to tell users where they are.

Third party applications that have been preloaded or integrated include Facebook, Twitter and games from Electronic Arts as well as Gameloft.

When the phone starts shipping, it is expected to be available via approximately 60 operators and distributors in more than 90 countries worldwide, Nokia said.

At the end of April, Nokia also announced the Asha 210, which comes with a physical key to access WhatsApp messaging, as well as software clients for Twitter and Facebook. The phone also a 2.4-inch screen, a 2-megapixel camera, Wi-Fi and a QWERTY keyboard. There are physical keys for both the camera and the Wi-Fi connection.

Just like the Asha 501, it will start shipping during the second quarter.

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