Nokia’s New N97 Aims for the Super-Connected

With a touchscreen and advanced social networking and Net-connected features, the world’s largest phone vendor may be poised to mount a new threat to the iPhone.

December 2, 2008??? By Judy Mottl from

If Nokia’s N97 smartphone arrives on U.S. shores it could claim fame as a spoiler in today’s battle between Apple and Research in Motion (RIM) for the consumer smartphone user.

That’s because the N97 not only offers features both iPhone 3G fans and BlackBerry consumer users enjoy — a touchscreen display, full QWERTY keyboard and hefty video and music support — but it expands on those capabilities with an “always on” browser window and advanced social networking and messaging services.

Calling it the “world’s most advanced mobile computer,” Nokia (NYSE: NOK) debuted its latest high-end device today at the annual Nokia World event in Barcelona, Spain. The 3G device retails for approximately $700 U.S. and will be available in Europe in mid-2009.

Nokia, which did not respond to inquiries by press time, has not indicated a U.S. launch date.

“From the desktop to the laptop and now to your pocket, the Nokia N97 is the most powerful, multi-sensory mobile computer in existence,” Jonas Geust, vice president for Nokia Nseries, said in a statement.

The launch comes at a time when handset makers are battling for attention in an increasingly competitive environment. Smartphone vendors and wireless carriers have been revamping everything from their phones’ look and feel to their hardware and software in a heated race to attract users and grab greater market share.

The second coming of Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone, the 3G, kicked off the most recent leg of the race this June, altering the U.S. smartphone landscape with its popular touchscreen features and support for application downloads and high-speed 3G connections.

Meanwhile, Nokia remains the world’s largest phone manufacturer but is feeling pressure from rivals’ successes. Research firm Canalys reported that the company’s share of the smartphone market fell to 38.9 percent during third quarter, from 51.4 percent a year before. Meanwhile, Apple’s market share increased to 17.3 percent, while BlackBerry maker RIM’s (NASDAQ: RIMM) grew to 15.2 percent over the same timeframe.

The market may yet see further upheaval. Dozens of new handsets have been hitting the market since the new iPhone made its debut. Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) introduced the first Android-based open source device, the HTC G1, while Research in Motion pushed out two new BlackBerry devices, the Bold and Storm, the latter becoming the company’s first-ever touchscreen device.

Social networking goes mobile

Nokia, with more than one billion users, hasn’t remained idle, however.

Until today, Nokia’s chief candidate for an “iPhone killer” had been its 5800 XpressMusic smartphone, which launched earlier this fall. It features a touchscreen and a drop-down menu for easy access to music, as well as one-touch access to a Web browser and other applications.

The user interface also provides a widescreen display — another feature similar to the iPhone’s and G1’s designs.

The new N97 builds on the 5800’s features, and also marks the latest in a steady stream of Nseries devices that Nokia has been introducing into the European and U.S. markets this year. Just three months ago, Nokia launched the N96, N85 and N79, ranging in price from $400 to $900.

The N97’s 3.5-inch widescreen display can be personalized with widgets and quick icon access to social networking services. It comes with 32GB of on-board storage and is expandable up to 48GB, courtesy of a slot for a 16GB microSD card.

Just like the 5800, the N97 supports Nokia’s Music Store — the company’s downloadable music marketplace — and offers 36 hours of playback time. Like the G1, it also offers support for Adobe Flash — a feature that Apple’s iPhone continues to lack.

The device also supports the popular IM networks like AOL’s AIM and Microsoft’s Windows Live Messenger.

But it’s the N97’s advanced tie-ins to social networking — dubbed its “social location” service — that Nokia is banking will spark the most user interest.

The feature relies on an integrated GPS sensor and electronic compass that together enable users to automatically update their statuses on the major social networks — so friends can always be alerted to their current whereabouts.

According to the company, such services will change how mobile users interact in the very near future.

“Today, we are at the threshold of another profound change in the way we connect and interact with each other and with our world,” Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, Nokia’s president and CEO, said in a release. “We are, in fact, transforming the Internet.”

The N97 also supports new features debuting today on Nokia’s Ovi online service.

Mail on Ovi provides Web-based e-mail access that enables users to get to their device’s e-mail accounts from a PC. The new Maps on Ovi service enables users to plan a journey on a PC and synchronize it with the N97.

Nokia envisions that its service will become a destination site where users can share their location and content with friends.

“The Nokia N97 is the most powerful, multi-sensory mobile computer in existence,” Nokia’s Geust said in a statement.

“Together with the Ovi services, the N97 adjusts to the world around us, helping stay connected to the people and things that matter most.”

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