Nokia Focuses on Hardware Design as Key Windows Phone Differentiator


Nokia (NYS: NOK) intends to differentiate its first smartphones running Microsoft's (NAS: MSFT) Windows Phone platform through hardware and the user experience, a key company executive said. Meanwhile, the handset maker is apparently looking for suggestions on how to brand its U.S. Windows Phone devices.

Nokia, which is banking much of its future on Windows Phone, will focus on creating differentiated products through industrial design and user experience, according to Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia's head designer. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Ahtisaari revealed some of Nokia's design strategies. Ahtisaari, who is the first head designer to report directly to Nokia CEO Stephen Elop, also echoed the Windows Phone ethos propounded by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and his lieutenants: that Windows Phone is a simpler mobile experience that lets users access information without being distracted or overwhelmed.

Many analysts have assumed that Nokia, long known for its hardware prowess, would try to create unique offerings via hardware differentiation. Leaked videos of Nokia's first Windows Phone device, dubbed "Sea Ray," have shown that it bears a striking resemblance to the N9, Nokia's first and only MeeGo-based device. Ahtisaari seemed to confirm this approach.

"We will drive this trend toward reduction and more natural forms," he told the Journal. "Compare that to the black, grey and metallic rounded-corner rectangles you are seeing in the market."

The N9 is notable in many respects, especially because it does not have a home button (or any other buttons). Instead, when users are running an application, they can swipe from the edge of the screen to return to the home screen. "Designing for true mobility ... makes it easier for people to have more eye contact and be aware of their environment, and is an example of what people would not explicitly ask for but love when they get it," Ahtisaari said.

Nokia intends to work more closely with wireless carriers in the United States for its Windows Phone launch, and will also introduce a variety of devices at multiple price points, in some cases undercutting cheap phones running Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android platform. Nokia also intends to make sure that its Windows Phone devices are displayed prominently and touted by retail sales representatives in carriers' stores.

Still, it appears that Nokia's branding strategy may be a work in progress. Chanse Arrington, Nokia's head of developer marketing for North America, posted a link on Twitter to a poll asking respondents to decide what Nokia should call its series of Windows Phones in the U.S. market. Among the top vote-getters were "Phoenix," "Genesis" "Fusion" and "Elite," though 16 percent of respondents chose "other."

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