Live With Nokia At MWC: Nokia’s New Smartphones Are Its Feature Phones

I’m sitting in the packed press room for the Nokia press conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Stephen Elop has just come out and right off the bat praised his company’s performance in the last year, a huge one for the company in its turnaround strategy with a new operating system (Microsoft), and a shift away from its own Symbian platform. It’s proven that “We can rapidly execute our new strategy.”

Windows Phone is still accounting for less than 5 percent of all smartphone sales worldwide, but those small numbers are not where Elop is dwelling today:

He noted that sales at T-Mobile in the U.S. have “exceeded our expectations.” And he said the Lumia 800 is the number one selling high-end smartphone… in Russia. People are lining up around the corner in Singapore trying to get the device.

Series 40 sales (feature phones) are up by 250 percent.

Now Mary McDowell is introducing new services that enhance that line of devices, and frankly is laying out a pretty impressive move by Nokia to smarten up its feature phone line:

First off, a new suite of services called “Life Services.” Not clear whether this is related to Nokia’s acquisition of Smarterphone (feature phone specialists) earlier this year — or whether that will mean even more enhancements. A new line of games, too. These are a strong sign that Nokia has no intention of dropping those devices in its rush towards Microsoft.

Now some feature phones that look at whole lot like smartphones. Asha 202 and 203, and the 302 — a phone loaded with social media integration and a 1 GHz processor. “That’s faster than many low-end Androids,” she notes. These are, she says, “a low cost entry to smartphones.” The 302 is already shipping now and will be priced at under €100 — €95 specifically.

Another big enhancement: Microsoft Exchange is now being integrated into the new Asha devices.

Stephen Elop is back on to talk high-end.

The LTE-enabled Lumia 900 is coming to Canada, he says: “My home country.”

Jo Harlow is now on and she is confirming that the Lumia 900 is also going to start shipping without LTE for the many countries that have yet to deploy the 4G technology.

Harlow: “These [have] the same sleek progressive look and feel and the same stunning 4.3 Amoled display, the same 1800 high capacity batter that keeps consumers enjoying content all day long and the same signature experiences from Nokia.”

Nokia has made its first foray into e-reading: Nokia Reading. This is a clear sign of what it needs to do when it launches a tablet.

Also: News Stream, bringing together feeds on topics and sources into one digital magazine. Not clear if Nokia has developed this on its own or whether it has collaborated with one of the many companies like Pulse, Flipboard, Zite, Taptu and others that offer this kind of service.

AND…. at long last, a Skype app! It’s now available for download through Microsoft’s Marketplace. That app store now has 65,000 apps.

And another bit of closure on something that’s been promised for ages: the Windows Phone is coming to China, via Nokia. This is crucial, too, as Nokia is rapidly losing share to Android makers in the country.

The new Nokia Lumia 610, says Harlow, will be priced at €189. It is, she said, the “perfect Windows introduction for a younger audience… the whole phone conveys quality and aspiration.” Among what now sounds like table stakes for phones today — social integration, music services, maps — the 610 will feature XBox gaming integration. This is a significant development and possibly Nokia’s best bet for actually connecting with the young users it so hopes to court.

Now on to Symbian… for those that said Nokia was no longer going to release any more Symbian devices…not quite yet.

Today Harlow is showing off a bright red Nokia 808 Pure View, a device that seems to be all about the camera with a 41 megapixel sensor “to set a new standard in image quality.” It’s certainly something that appears to leave HTC in the dust, if what you judge are megapixels (HTC was very big on its new camera capabilities).

The benefit of 41 megapixels, she says, makes it possible for anyone to take professional pictures under any conditions. If you only focus on megapixels, she says, images become too large to share — so all pictures will be super compressed to be shared with others, and stored on the phone.

One dampener on that Nokia 808 Pure View: it’s selling for €450. That’s pricey for a device that is not part of its flagship line.

Elop is back on to talk Nokia Maps. It is partnering with Groupon to offer its maps and Elop says it is delivering to other third party platforms too.

Elop says it is seeing 13 million downloads a day on its devices. He singles out India: with more than 200,000 developers there and more than 40 of them have achieved one million downloads or more each on their apps.

A nod to carriers here. Nokia says it has operator billing in 150 operators in 40 markets — I think that may be the highest figure for any handset maker and app store operator. Why is this important? Elop spells it out: “We can offer developers access to all consumers, in all markets, at all price points, and we will continue to grow this more.”

It has been a very challenging year for Nokia and yet it has been an amazing year for Nokia and we are not slowing down,” he says.

Question from the floor about that impressive camera and why it’s not in a Windows Phone: “It was important for us to mature this and make this the best camera device in the world. Nokia is not ruling out whether it will take these cameras to its Windows Phone devices,” says Harlow.

Question from me about where Symbian is going (there have been persistent rumors that they will be discontinued): “We’re living up to our commitment to produce great Symbian devices and will continue to ship them around the world,” says Harlow.