More than two years after Apple launched the iPhone, and months after its rivals launched their versions of touchscreen phones, Nokia today started selling a touchscreen phone (5800 XpressMusic) and announced the N97 superphone, which has a touch screen and a keyboard and will be made […]

nokia_n97_white_15c_lowresMore than two years after Apple launched the iPhone, and months after its rivals launched their versions of touchscreen phones, Nokia today started selling a touchscreen phone (5800 XpressMusic) and announced the N97 superphone, which has a touch screen and a keyboard and will be made available sometime in the second quarter of 2009. Maybe. Despite the collective oohs and aahs that can be found on the Internet, however, it would take a lot more for Nokia to beat its competitors, especially Apple and its iPhone. You can buy the Xpress device, which was first announced in October, for $314 unsubsidized, though in India and Russia the prices are higher. As for the 5800 Xpress, a friend of mine recently brought one to the U.S. and after I played around with it for an hour, my response was meh! The touch was OK, just like it’s OK on any other device, but it’s not as responsive as the iPhone. So no, it’s not an iPhone killer, not by any means.

nokia_n97_group_05_lowres The N97 however, seems, like a worthy competitor — in an Aston Martin vs. Infiniti sort of a way, at least. I am withholding further judgment until I’ve had some time to play around with it.

The N97 is a Symbian S60 touchscreen device with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, a 5-megapixel camera and 32 GB of on-board memory (the Prada II has similar touch-with-a-QWERTY keyboard approach); it also features an upgraded version of Nokia Maps LG. You can bump up the memory by adding a 16 GB microSD card. It features a large 3.5″ touch display with 640 X 480 resolution. And yes, it will be sold in the U.S., where it’s going to cost $650; it will go on sale in June 2009 (specifically June 29, 2009, according to the company). One of its more attractive features is this concept of “social location.”

With integrated A-GPS sensors and an electronic compass, the Nokia N97 mobile computer intuitively understands where it is. The Nokia N97 makes it easy to update social networks automatically with real-time information, giving approved friends the ability to update their ‘status’ and share their ‘social location’ as well as related pictures or videos.

They are taking a cue from other phone makers, like INQ Mobile, which have already released their version of Facebook phones and are finding early success with them. (Scoble has a hands on review of the phone from a social perspective.) From the looks of it, this is an impressive entry. My frustration with Nokia phones is that they are either underpowered or are hampered by the S60 OS, which is not very reliable and makes the phones crash all the time. (Well, more than my iPhone and less than Windows Mobile.) (Related post: Symbian, iPhone and the New Mobile Reality.)

The very fact that Nokia is only now getting out touchscreen phones shows that as a company it is stuck in bureaucratic quicksand, with a culture of consensus that makes it difficult to respond to new challenges. Nokia — and I have been following them for a while — has become one of those companies that, much like Microsoft, is good with announcements, not so great with the follow-up.

There is word that Nokia has a whole arsenal of touchscreen phones coming in the latter half of 2009. Let’s hope they can get their mojo back and start coming out with great devices — especially ones that will make me go back to using Nokia devices on a daily basis. Until then Apple and its iPhone has the pole position all to itself. 

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  1. Good analysis, Nokia reminds me a lot of Microsoft too. I have a bunch of videos, including with the N97’s designer here: http://www.kyte.tv/scobleizer — it’s a nice device, but the proof will be in the shipping. Steve Jobs doesn’t have to lose sleep over this, that’s for sure.

  2. Sebhelyesfarku Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    “I played around with it for an hour, my response was meh”


  3. its exciting to hear Nokia’s first touchscreen smartphone. their phone’s like N95, N85 were popular models and they always seem to beat in multimedia features. i personally used my friends N95, it had awesome camera and music, only problem it was thick. i m sure N97 will not be far behind in the smartphone race and hopefully they get slimmer in size.

  4. Nokia with S60 is clearly a failure. I mean, Symbian only sold 80 000 000 smartphones last year, vs the sparkling 12 million of the iPhones. That proves what EVERYONE in the world wants is an iPhone, because the sell more.

    Sorry, my mistake. They sell less. This proves most people do not want an iPhone. OK.

    Oh, it doesn’t work that way? Why are American journalists so obsessed with the fruity phone then? Nokia is a proven big seller, so we know this phone will outsell the iPhone, hype or no hype.

  5. Worst case scenario for Steve Jobs is he can make a next gen iPhone announcement at MacWorld for later in the year. That would totally undercut this Nokia phone.

  6. I always loved Nokia for the best menu navigation and their great mobiles. But here it seems that Nokia is chasing a trend and trying to copy. And this in a bad way as it seems to me. What do we need a keyboard for, while the iPhone has one touchscreen integrated. Why does the N97 look so similar to the iPhone? I am convinced that Nokia makes a good job, but I really doubt if this is a strategically smart decision.

  7. @Om,

    Though I haven’t had the chance to use an N97 as of yet, I agree with Surur here – I expect the N97 to handily outsell the iPhone in the rest of the world. I doubt that the N97 will outsell the iPhone in the US. I own an iPhone, but acknowledge that it has major flaws. Nokia has clearly exploited these flaws, and can take advantage of the iPhone carrier lock ins world wide.

    The question regarding the iPhone is this, why has the T-Mobile G1 and BlackBerry Storm developed significant sales velocity if the iPhone is as dominant as you’re implying in this article? During my years selling packaged software at retail, products that developed strong sales velocity against incumbents usually carved out healthy market shares. Hence, expect the N97, like the G1 and Storm, to carve out a healthy market share.



  8. Om, I agree. Too pricey, Too late (why can’t they launch w/ announcement). A classy looking phone though.

  9. Saurabh Kaushik Tuesday, December 2, 2008

    This is a followed up act which can not give them any edge. Nokia have to serve and volley on next set of human senses to break back with Apple.

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