Most of today’s tech marketing is geared towards putting human faces on tech products. Personally if I see a photo of Steve Jobs, the first mental image in my mind is of an iPad. Similarly, Bill Gates evokes Windows 95 and Zuckerburg brings to mind a big F. By this yardstick, a picture of Stephen Elop, the CEO of Nokia, should probably bring to mind the Lumia line of smartphones. For me though, Elop’s face evokes an image of a man standing on a burning oil platform looking back at the spreading fire and wary of jumping into the freezing waters. Of course, this is because of the now-famous letter he wrote to Nokia’s employees when he took over the company.
Last week when Elop visited India to launch a new operating system called Asha OS, the burning platform is exactly what I remembered. The way I saw it, the feature phone market was the oil platform that is burning up real fast, and the high-end smartphone segment is the freezing waters of the ocean. Asha OS, and the first phone running this new operating system, Asha 501, could well be the solution that would eventually rescue Nokia from both the fire and the water.
The Asha 501 is a beautiful phone. It borrows many design cues from the high-end Lumia line. Available in six colours and at a price of around `5,500, the 501 sits prettily between smartphones and feature phones. The OS developed by a Norwegian OS maker called Smarterphone makes use of an all -swipe user interface and gives the users a choice of two home screens. A traditional home screen full of app icons called Home, and a home screen that gives you access to recently-accessed content like apps and contacts called Fastlane. It even has a Google Now like feature called Nokia Xpress Now, which recommends content to the phone’s users based on factors like location. 501 users will also get access to operator billing, which means that when they buy an app, the cost will be added to their phone bill instead of them having to use their credit cards. If you still did not get the message, it is this: Nokia wants to bring the power of smartphones to the millions of people who never owned a smartphone in more than 90 countries in Latin America, Asia-Pacific and Africa.
The introduction of 501 could be very good for Nokia which is faced with a dwindling feature phone market, and which is struggling to get a foothold in the smartphone space despite having a very good top-end phone in Lumia 920. But you know who it is better for? For you and me. The consumers. Just step into any shop selling mobile phones. If you are rich enough to splash upwards of `30,000, you have the choice of different operating systems. If you are looking to buy in a budget of `5,000 to `15,000, you will see that you don’t have choice. On the face of it, it will look like you have choice with seemingly hundreds of screen sizes and phone manufacturers. But inside, all of them are the same. Cheap Android in different flavours. And there is nothing worse in the world than cheap Android. The Asha OS, if nothing else, is the beginning of choice for the economical buyer. I will welcome ANYTHING that is an alternative to cheap Android. If it is from Nokia, it is like all my dreams came true.
The writer is a tech geek.