Nokia’s Smarterphone Buy Yields First Fruit: $99 Touchscreen Asha 501 Polishes S40 With Fastlane View For Recent Apps, Contacts

Posted: May 9, 2013 in Apps, Europe, Gadgets, Mobile, Nokia
Tags: , ,

Nokia has given its Series 40-based range of
touchscreen Asha smartphones another push to try to
keep up with the low end reach of Google’s Android
platform today. The mobile maker has announced a
new addition to the range — the Asha 501 (pictured
left & below) — which also ushers in a new version of the Asha touch UI that’s designed to be quicker and
slicker, and has a focus on swiping gestures to make
it feel more fluid. The three-inch capacitive screen Asha 501, which
has Wi-Fi but no 3G and costs $99 before taxes &
subsidies, is expected to start shipping in June, via
some 60 carriers in more than 90 countries worldwide.
Nokia’s Asha range typically targets emerging
markets in Africa, Asia and South America but Asha devices have also been ranged in Europe. Although Nokia has retired its other in-house platform
Symbian, to concentrate its smartphone efforts on
Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS, it has continued to
expand its portfolio of low end Android alternative
S40-based devices — adding in a variety of new
hardware and software features to devices in the range, including full Qwerty keyboards; dedicated
keys for Facebook/WhatsApp; refreshed industrial
design; its Bluetooth sharing technology Slam; its
Xpress browser to lighten the data consumption load;
preloaded social networking apps; free games
downloads; and a focus on long battery life. But keeping up with low end Androids also means
improving Asha’s usability — and that’s what its
latest platform refresh is all about. The Asha 501 is
in fact the first fruit of Nokia’s 2012 acquisition of
Smarterphone, a Norwegian company that made
mobile OSes for feature phones designed to give them smartphone looks and capabilities. Nokia said the new Asha platform is faster and more
responsive. It also introduces a touchscreen UI
refresh — with a dual homescreen view: the Home
screen is a “traditional icon-based view for launching
individual apps or accessing a specific feature”, while
the new Fastlane view changes based on device usage, showing things like “recently accessed
contacts, social networks and apps”. Fastlane “provides a record of how the phone is used,
giving people a glimpse of their past, present and
future activity, and helping them multi-task by
providing easy access to their favorite features”,
according to Nokia’s press release. The feature
sounds a lot like certain portions of Motorola’s Android skinning software — such as the widgets
deployed on 2012 devices like the Motorola
Motosmart. The overall idea of the design refresh is to make it
easier for Asha users to get to the apps and features
they’re after, according to Nokia – with the two main
screens accessible by a “simple swipe”. ”Fastlane is
integral to the whole Nokia Asha 501 experience, but
so is the ‘swipe’ motion,” a spokeswoman told TechCrunch. “With swipe as you experience it on the
device, we were able to make optimal use of screen
space, so you see just what you need. You swipe to
everything else, including pull-down menus and of
course, Fastlane. The whole user experience is faster
and more responsive.” New Asha, New Apps So what about apps? The new Asha platform does
require developers to rework apps for it — either by
writing them afresh or porting them over. Which does
mean Nokia is pushing the reset button yet again, but
the company would probably argue that at this price
point with these price-conscious consumers, users aren’t expecting hoards of apps — just select key
apps. It’s also added in-app purchases to the new
Asha platform, offering developers a new way to
monetise Asha apps, along with its Nokia Advertising
Exchange and carrier billing network. “A good percentage of existing apps can be ported to
the new platform,” said Nokia’s spokeswoman. “We
already have many developers working on this. Going
forward and with the new Nokia Asha Software
Development Kit, developers can write an app once,
and it will be compatible with future devices also built on the new Asha platform, with no need to re-write
code.” Apps that are already available for the new Nokia
Asha platform include 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. Nokia said its HERE location software will
also be available as a download, starting in Q3 this
year — and will “initially include basic mapping
services”. Messaging giant WhatsApp is noticeably absent from
the list but Nokia’s spokeswoman suggested that
may change in future, noting: “WhatsApp and other
key partners continue to explore new Asha.” In select markets, certain carriers are also offering
data-free access to apps including the Facebook app
and mobile website on the 501 for a limited time,
offering another hook for the target cost-conscious
consumers. The 501 comes preloaded with Nokia’s cloud-based
data compressing Xpress browser. Nokia has also
created a new web app, called Nokia Xpress Now,
which ”recommends content based on location,
preferences and trending topics”. It said this will be
available via the Browser homepage or as a download from the Nokia Store. “Nokia has surpassed expectations of what’s
achievable in the sub-100 USD phone category with a
new Asha handset that is unlike any other, with
design cues from Lumia and a mix of features,
services and affordability that is valued by price-
conscious buyers,” said Neil Mawston, executive director, Global Wireless Practice, Strategy Analytics,
in a supporting statement. Commenting on the launch via Twitter, Gartner
analyst Carolina Milanesi added: “Asha 501 shows
what you can achieve when you design bottom up
rather than strip down features to hit the right price
point. “Asha 501 Dual SIM with hot swap very important to
users but what is most striking on this device is the
user interface.” The full device specifications for the Asha 501 are as
follows: Dimensions: 99.2 x 58 x 12.1 mm; 98 grams Camera: 3.2 MP Single SIM standby time: up to 48 days Dual SIM standby time: up to 26 days Talk time: up to 17 hours Additional memory of 4GB (card included in box),
expandable up to 32GB Forty free EA Games worth €75 downloadable from
Nokia Store Available colours: Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan,
Yellow, White and Black Suggested pricing is 99 USD before taxes and

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