Nokia Launches Its First Windows-Based NFC Phone, the 610, With Orange

Nokia has been weathering a series of glitches around the launch of its Lumia range of Windows Phone devices — the most recent of which saw the company issue credits to users affected by data connection issues on the new Lumia 900. It is pressing on with new devices, though, and we have confirmed with sources close to the company that it will be launching its first NFC-enabled Windows Phone in Europe, a version of the Lumia 610, at 1pm UK time today — along with a partnership with a European operator, France Telecom’s Orange, to launch the device “across Europe.”

Update: Orange and Nokia have now officially announced the 610. The details are noted as below. The pair say that the device has been certified for contactless payments both with MasterCard PayPass technology, and with Visa’s mobile application for payments at the point of sale, Visa payWave, which means it will work when activated and used with merchants that have linked up with this technology.

Nokia first unveiled the phone accidentally via a video on YouTube, which it then made private. Before it did that, a copy of it was made by TheGadgetBuff and picked up by The Next Web, which also published a photo of a display noting a 2pm launch. We have confirmed with sources that the launch is taking place at 1pm UK time.

The source told us the device will be launching with an operator, and in the video (embedded below) Nokia’s lead program manager for NFC, Andrea Bociaccola, says that the operator is Orange. We have confirmed that the launch will be “across Europe” according to our well-placed source.  It is not clear whether this launch is going to be in one of Orange’s market or several Orange has mobile operations throughout Europe, including the UK, as well as Africa and the Middle East.

Orange has made a big push into rolling out NFC in its home market of France, and more recently has also committed to services in the UK. In March the company said it had sold 500,000 NFC-enabled handsets in France — a mix of Samsung, Acer and BlackBerry devices. Rollouts of actual commercial services to use them more widely, however, have been slower in coming.

Today’s launch, it appears, was scheduled to take place in Monaco at the Global NFC Products, Applications & Services Congress, where Nokia’s VP of product marketing and smart devices, Ilari Nurmi; and Orange’s mobile contactless services director, Didier Durand, are scheduled to speak together at 2pm Monaco time. TechCrunch understands that may now be moved forward in light of the video leak.

Bociaccola demonstrates how the NFC can be used with (Nokia) speakers to manage music, and he notes that in future it can also be used for monetary transactions — although this doesn’t seem to be something that will be available at launch.

It will also be usable with Foursquare check-ins, judging by the video, as well as to interact with other social networks (eg ‘tap to follow us on Twitter’).

Nokia was one of the first handset makers to incorporate NFC into mobile phones. However, up to now NFC has not gained much critical mass among other handset makers, merchants and others that might utilize the technology (like other consumer electronics companies) — so Nokia hasn’t had much of an early mover advantage as a result.

On top of that, there have been a multitude of solutions rolled out that bypass NFC altogether (Square and PayPal’s Here being two notable examples). That raises the question of whether NFC really will be as central to mobile commerce and other kinds of mobile transactions as people once thought it would be.

However there are plenty of companies out there putting big stakes into NFC, including the big payment processors as well as Nokia competitors, and so it’s an important area to keep pursuing.

Nokia’s putting NFC into the 610 means also that Nokia is continuing to forge ahead and make sure that it’s bringing along some of its legacy innovation into the next stage of its strategy to remain relevant in the mobile world.