Not Dead! Not Dying! In Brilliant Move, Nokia Launches $99 Smartphone for Indians

To millions awaiting news of Nokia’s obituary, the Finnish company decisively proved today that it was neither dead nor dying with the launch of Asha 501, a cheap smartphone for the Indian market.

Asha 501 is built not on Google’s Android nor on Windows, but on Nokia’s proprietary Asha software platform. Good move!

At first glance, Asha 501 looks like a decent device that will fulfill the desire of millions of poor Indians for a cheap but a quality smartphone from a leading brand.

Although the sheen of the Nokia brand has dimmed elsewhere, it’s still shining in India.

Asha 501 Smartphone

Validates Sub $100 Market

Cheap smartphones are not a new phenomenon.

A few years back, an Indian friend in NYC proudly brandished an iPhone knockoff he’d picked up in China for $99.

Even in India, Chinese and Indian vendors are peddling smartphones for as low as $65. Samsung is said to offer a smartphone for $110.

Nokia’s entry into the sub-$100 segment validates that there’s a strong unfulfilled market for cheap and good quality smartphones.

Plus, the move is a big gamble for Nokia which is tottering against the onslaught of iPhone and Android devices in North America and presumably in Europe too.

Unlike a no-name Chinese $50 or $60 smartphone, Nokia cannot afford to put out a shoddy product.

Still, we will wait for the first reliable reviews of Asha 501 before singing halleluiah to Nokia’s new smartphone.

Asha 501 is slated to be on the market in June in India and several other countries.

Great Potential

India is a dirt poor country where countless people live on the margins of existence.

But even poor people aspire for the good things of life when they see the fortunate others playing with fancy toys that can play music, video, games and also make “missed” calls. 😉

To these millions, an iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy S4 costing an obscene $650 or higher (Rs 35,000 plus) is not the answer.

Asha 501 (costing $99, about Rs-5,500), from a leading brand like Nokia, is the right solution.

Smartphone penetration in India is pitiful, a mere 3%.

So India is ripe for a vendor willing to offer a smartphone at a low and affordable price to the teeming masses.

Smartphone Penetration in india


Let’s be clear at the outset that Asha 501 is not going to come with any of the fancy features of the Samsung Galaxy S4 or iPhone 5 like a 13-megapixel camera, iTunes integration, Smart Scroll etc.

But Asha 501 offers enough nice features to get millions of India to jettison their old feature phones for touchscreen smartphones.

Weighing 98 grams, Asha 501 is a 3-inch touchscreen device with a 3.2 megapixel rear camera that supports both still and video. The glass and plastic phone is 12.1mm thick and comes with 4GB of storage (expandable to 32GB), Bluetooth, USB 2 and Nokia’s Xpress Browser. It supports single or dual microSIM cards, 2G connectivity and has a talk-time of 17-hours.

To pander to the Indian craze for garish colors, Asha 501 is available in Bright Red, Bright Green, Cyan, Yellow besides the sedate Black and White.

Asha platform is built on the mobile operating system technology that Nokia acquired in 2012 by buying the Norwegian firm Smarterphone.

Asha Smartphones Colors

Decent Apps

Just because a smartphone costs $99 does not mean that users have to be deprived of the popular apps.

CNN, eBuddy, ESPN, Facebook, Foursquare, Line, LinkedIn, Nimbuzz, Pictelligent, The Weather Channel, Twitter, WeChat, World of Red Bull and games from Electronic Arts, Gameloft, Indiagames, Namco-Bandai and Reliance Games are said to be some of the apps that are already available for Asha 501 or in development.

Plus, as the phone moves into people’s hands and gains popularity app developers are bound to follow.

In the Box

Here’s what you can expect in the box when you fork out $99:

Asha 501 smartphone Nokia Charger AC-11, Removable Battery BL-4U 1200 mAh, Stereo Headset WH-108 and 4 GB microSD Card

Big Dreams

Nokia has grand ambitions for the Asha smartphones.

It expects to sell 100 million of them over the coming years, beginning with the Nokia Asha 501.

7 Responses to "Not Dead! Not Dying! In Brilliant Move, Nokia Launches $99 Smartphone for Indians"

  1. boopalanj   May 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    May be, I’m not thinking much, but just curious. Why is ‘building on its proprietary platform’ (now) a good move? Responds:

    In this context, a new proprietary mobile platform could lead to a better, leaner OS, simple UI without unnecessary fancy bells and whistles, without requiring quad-core processors or 2GB RAM…in short better suited for cheap smartphones. Windows is a waste of time…ain’t going nowhere.

    iOS and Android are bulked up platforms that require faster processors or greater RAM.

    Also, more platforms mean Greater smartphone choice and hopefully fair (cheaper) prices, less gouging (a la Apple) of consumers!

    • boopalanj   May 9, 2013 at 5:35 pm

      In the past, I’ve tried some of Nokia’s touch-and-type kind of phones. The touch screen was not that responsive. Not sure if they improved it though. We’ll have to wait and see. Responds:

      I’m hoping Asha will be a robust platform.

      That will put pricing pressure on the greedy rats at Apple and Samsung to reduce their prices.

      Apple has exploited more people (fortunately, most of them Chinese slave laborers) than Stalin and Hitler combined.

  2. vedagiris   May 9, 2013 at 10:59 pm

    Nokia 501, which was introduced yesterday might not be a good handset to have for mobile addicts. But it contains some new features such as “Swipe” to see all the icons and “FastLane” which shows us recent 50 apps, calls, music, movie accessed.

    I was hoping to buy Nokia 501, and had to postpone because of lack of 3g, smaller screen size, lack of digital music sound and HD video support. Hope, Nokia makes improvements to 501 and release a strong upper mid range phone in future.

    This handset will be sellout for people who want to get good games, express browser and easy access to social networking sites under 10,000 INR.

    Anyway, Nokia made a good decision to make mobile phones other than for Windows Platform. It is better to be late rather than never. Responds:

    Yeah, having both the Home and FastLane options for the home screen is a good idea.

    Lack of 3G support is the only quibble I too would have.

    Overall, it’s a decent entry-level smartphone for the masses.

  3. Naveen   May 10, 2013 at 1:34 am

    Nokia Lumia 920 is a very good phone but it came way too late to be taken seriously.

    Off topic: Just sent you an email. Responds:

    Will respond to your e-mail in 1-minute!

  4. tiramisu   May 11, 2013 at 11:53 am

    Got a chance last year to get a view of the Indian cell phone scene.

    If the quality and reliability standards on this phone are good, this is likely to do very well. Today the Micromax’s and Karbonn’s are producing sub-par instruments with cheap Chinese import kits. I also noticed that these phones have a need to be “serviced” at least once a year. Granted operating conditions in India and other developing countries are much harsher, Nokia seems to do a better job in dust sealing phones for Indian conditions. Hopefully consumers are getting a quality product for their Rs.5000.

    Slightly off-topic, looks like given the current economics in India, they are sticking to 2G networks. Folks seem to recharge their calling credits with denominations as low as Rs.10, mobile providers are operating in a hyper cost sensitive environment. Bharti for instance has the subscriber base equivalent to Verizon + AT&T but the revenue per mobile number is nowhere close.
    With Sprint and TMobile are struggling to stay afloat, one can imagine the financial pressure in a discount market like India.

    In a country where the bulk of mobile traffic is predominantly voice, SMS and missed calls 2G networks would be ok …for now.

    I think whoever figures out a way to offer cost sensitive 3G in the Indian subcontinent and Africa stands to gain big. For a little while I thought WiMax could be a solution, but looks like it hasn’t really taken off not even in the US. Responds:

    1. You write: Bharti for instance has the subscriber base equivalent to Verizon + AT&T but the revenue per mobile number is nowhere close.

    Another way of looking at it – Maybe, we’re getting ripped off in the U.S. My iPhone plan without Texting costs $75 a month (and that’s probably one of the cheaper plans).

    2. I too was surprised at WiMax’s failure to gain traction.

    • boopalanj   May 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

      Yes. Some of India’s plans are way cheaper than US.

  5. shadowfax_arbit   May 12, 2013 at 6:49 am

    Nokia seems to be doing good in its Lumia series as well. 920 is especially good! Responds:

    1. Nokia is releasing Lumia 928 in the U.S. for $99 (with 2-year service contract) in a few days.

    2. Nokia is faring miserably in the U.S. Sold just 400,000 phones in Q1, 2013.

    Source: WSJ

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