Microsoft Outs An Entry Level Facebook Messenger Phone

Fans of branding confusion will be pleased to hear Microsoft hasn’t ditched the Nokia phone brand quite yet. It’s just announced a new entry level mobile phone, badged with the Nokia name: the Nokia 215, dubbing the handset its “most affordable Internet-ready entry level phone yet” — and aiming it at first time mobile buyers starting in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe in Q1.

Likely Microsoft is more comfortable carrying on trading on the brand of the company whose mobile making division it acquired last year (for some $7.2 billion) here at the barrel-scraping end of the device spectrum. The Nokia 215 is not a smartphone — so does not run Microsoft’s Windows Phone OS — but it is a very inexpensive dumbphone: priced at just $29 before taxes or subsidies.

Low price aside, what’s most interesting about an otherwise uninteresting mobile phone is that Microsoft is carrying on Nokia’s strategy of trying to ‘sex up’ dumbphones with some smartphone-esque features.

In February 2013 Nokia was releasing a basic mobile for $85 with smarter-than-average camera phone features. Roll the clock on nearly two years and Microsoft is pushing this same strategy to an even lower price point, albeit the Nokia 215 does not have 3.5G or even 3G. It’s a 2G device with Bluetooth — so the “Internet-ready” description is, to put it charitably, rather tenuous.

And, in fact, the Nokia 215 is not quite as cheap as the $25 Nokia 130 — announced by Microsoft back in August — but those few extra bucks buy a few more ‘smarts’. Specifically Microsoft has preloaded Facebook Messenger onto the device, touting instant notifications of when your friends ping you via its Messenger chat app.

So it’s evidently hoping to tap up the appeal of the social web as a stand in for the full-fat Internet, which isn’t going to be any kind of pleasing experience on this handset (the Opera Mini browser and Bing Search are the basic web navigation tools in this 2G toolbox). Ergo Microsoft is aiming to trade on Facebook’s appeal, as well as Nokia’s brand clout in emerging markets.

Nokia 215 is our first entry-level phone to come with Facebook and Messenger with instant notifications, giving people more options to connect with friends and family,” noted Microsoft in a statement.

(Long time Nokia watchers will recall that company previously tried to hitch its low end phone wagon to Facebook and other messaging apps by putting physical keys on devices to fire up specific social services.)

Why is Microsoft making this dumb phone, rather than trying to squeeze the price-point of its Lumia smartphones even lower? Well it’s doing that too. But at $29 this dumbphone goes where Lumia can’t and where the growth in the mobile market is strongest. Microsoft is evidently hoping to hook first time mobile owners onto its services with the carrot of a very tasty price-point.

As well as Bing Search the phone has MSN Weather. So that’s at least two Microsoft brands it can push before digitally impressionable eyeballs. Whether that translates into any long time brand loyalty and/or subsequent upgrades to Lumia smartphones remains to be seen.

The latter seems unlikely, given how low Android’s price-point already goes. But perhaps Microsoft is also laying the ground work for a services-centric future in mobile — if it runs out of road/will-power for pushing its own platform.

Using another mobile platform to push Microsoft-branded services was also a strategy cooked up by Nokia — with its Nokia X fork of Android. But after acquiring Nokia’s mobile division last year Microsoft killed off this Android trojan horse to concentrate efforts on pushing its Lumia smartphones.

And while it initially appeared the company would axe all Nokia’s low end mobile phones, Microsoft’s Jo Harlow subsequently confirmed the company sees potential to convert low end consumers to Microsoft account holders via dumbphones. And so we arrive at the Nokia 215.