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Nokia CEO Stephen Elop gives a press briefing at CommunicAsia 2011, an international communications and information technology exhibition and conference held on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 in Singapore. (Wong Maye-E/AP)
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop gives a press briefing at CommunicAsia 2011, an international communications and information technology exhibition and conference held on Tuesday, June 21, 2011 in Singapore. (Wong Maye-E/AP)

Nokia moves to convince handset doubters Add to ...

Nokia Corp. on Tuesday attempted to reassure its investors and customers about its commitment to its existing mobile phone handsets, ahead of a transition next year to smartphones based on Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Sales of Nokia's existing line-up have fallen sharply as consumers have doubted Nokia's commitment to handsets using its Symbian and Meego operating systems in light of the new partnership with Microsoft.

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However, Stephen Elop, chief executive officer, speaking at a conference in Singapore in his first Asia-focused event since taking over last year, said he was confident about the Finnish handset maker's prospects as he unveiled three Symbian phones and the N9, Nokia's first smart phone based on Meego.

"The reality is that 90 per cent of the world does not have or cannot afford a smart phone or a high-end device," said Mr. Elop, a former Microsoft executive. "This gap creates an opportunity," he said. "We are feeling very confident about our ability to strengthen our smart phone position."

Nokia plans to launch up to 10 new Symbian-based smart phones over the next year and also gave a demonstration of its first smart phone based on the Meego operating system that it had developed with Intel.

The high-end N9 is a touch screen device with an 8.1 megapixel camera that will be launched later this year

Nokia's market share has dropped sharply in recent years as it had been slow to respond to consumers' shift to smart phones such as Apple's iPhone and those running on Google's Android platform. Meanwhile, Nokia's strength in traditional mobile phones, particularly in emerging markets such as China, India, and south-east Asia, has been challenged by low-cost Chinese handset makers.

Last month Nokia, was forced to issue a profit warning for the second quarter, while analysts expect South Korea's Samsung to overtake Nokia as the world's biggest smart phone maker by volume in the second quarter. Nokia's first Windows-based smart phone will not be unveiled until the end of this year.

Mr. Elop announced a turnround plan shortly after taking over that would see Nokia make smart phones based on Microsoft's Windows operating system instead of Symbian and Meego. Symbian has been criticized for not delivering a user experience comparable with that of other smart phones, while the Meego platform had not been unveiled until Tuesday.

"Earlier this year, we outlined a comprehensive strategy to change our course," Mr. Elop said. "Today we took important steps to demonstrate a new pace of innovation at Nokia. It's the beginning of a new era for Nokia."

Mr. Elop gave no new information about Nokia's upcoming Windows phones at Tuesday's event, but the new devices and services launched were designed to fight back against the encroachment of cheap, Android smart phones made by Samsung and HTC on Nokia's traditional stronghold in emerging markets, particularly in Asia.

Nokia's traditional mobile phones have been popular for many years in such markets but consumers there are now increasingly demanding additional functions and web-based services on their phones. Chinese phone makers have been quick to rise to the challenge by providing added features such as support for using multiple Sim cards in a single phone.

In Web services, Yahoo, the U.S. search engine, this month announced a partnership with Taiwanese chip maker MediaTek to bring Yahoo's Web services to traditional mobile phones made by Chinese phone makers - a further challenge to Nokia in south-east Asia and other emerging markets.

Mary McDowell, executive vice-president of mobile phones at Nokia, said the company is now catching up by incorporating and improving on such features in its latest phones.

"We may be late to this party but we're in full swing now," she said.

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