*Nokia* may be the largest handset maker in the world, but the big question is: will wireless incumbents like Nokia (NYSE: NOK), or newcomers like Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG), be the ones to thrive in an industry that is increasingly focused on the mobile Internet? Today, Nokia’s unveiling the N97 (right, click to enlarge), which is the company’s best chance at staying relevant in the fast-paced and increasingly competitive industry. Nokia has done a good job of keeping this project under wraps, so this morning will be the first time pictures of the phone and the device’s specifications will be made public. Nokia will make the at announcement at Nokia World in Barcelona today at 9:15 a.m. CET, which is just a little past midnight on the West Coast.
Based on early information Nokia provided to the press before the announcement, the phone looks like an HTC Tilt, but behaves like the T-Mobile G1, and easily beats both the iPhone and G1 when it comes to a number of features and specifications, like the 5-megapixel camera, video-recording capabilities and support for Adobe’s Flash. What’s unclear at this point is how open the device will be. With Nokia’s increasing focus on building Internet services themselves, the company may be tempted to make another walled garden, where access for competing services is limited or difficult. But if early indications are worth anything, that won’t be the case this time around. In the past, Nokia has fostered relationships with other companies and services, like Facebook and YouTube — and those services look like they have already earned a potential seat on the device’s homescreen.
More details on the device after the jump:
— The shape: The handset looks startlingly like the HTC Tilt, which is sold by AT&T (NYSE: T), in the U.S. The phone has a slide out Qwerty keyboard, with a screen that is angled at a tilt. The touchscreen is a 3.5-inch display.
— User-interface: Although the phone may look like at Tilt, it acts like the T-Mobile G1, which operates on the Google Android operating system. The user interface is made up of a number of widgets, such as social networks, calendar, contacts, clock, email and music. The user can simply drag and drop the widgets around to customize the homescreen.
— Services: The phone stresses integration with Nokia’s Internet services from Ovi, and also provides access to Nokia’s music store, however, it’s also open to other social networks, like Facebook and MySpace. For location purposes, the phone is integrated with A-GPS and a compass, which allows you to update social networks automatically and mark the location of pictures of videos, Nokia calls this so-lo for “social location.” The N97 supports Flash videos, which beats both the iPhone and the T-Mobile G1.
— Specifications: The N97 supports up to 48 GB of storage, including 32 GB of on-board memory, expandable with a 16 GB microSD card. It has a 5-Megapixel camera with high-quality Carl Zeiss optics, a DVD-like video capture. All of these things beat the iPhone and T-Mobile G1.
— Availability: The N97 will begin shipping in the first half of 2009 at an estimated retail price of EUR 550 ($694) before taxes or carrier subsidies. No word on what markets it will launch in, or whether it will come to the U.S., where the company has not historically done well. A carrier subsidy would help the phone reach a mass consumer base.