Nokia to Halve Its Smartphone Portfolio

Nokia (s nok), like an aging boxer who’s put on too many pounds, is hoping to shed some extra weight to better compete with the young up-and-comers. The Finnish handset manufacturer said today that it will halve its smartphone portfolio next year to “cut down unnecessary differentiation” and put more effort behind fewer products.

The long overdue move to consolidate its lineup isn’t entirely unexpected — Nokia said two weeks ago it planned to whittle down its number of new models — but the degree to which it’s reducing its portfolio is drastic given that it churned out some 20 smartphone models this year alone. Cutting its number of offerings should help the struggling manufacturer, though, as it will allow Nokia to better tie its brand to a few flagship devices and cut the costs of developing a wide range of phones.

The company’s success selling low- to mid-range smartphones in developing markets is well documented, but Nokia continues to lose ground in the U.S. and Europe as superphones from Apple (s aapl) and Research In Motion (s rimm) chip away at its market share. And that’s a trend that’s likely to continue — in the short term, at least — as Google’s (s goog) Android platform picks up steam.

But while a slimmed-down handset portfolio is sure to help Nokia fend off its challengers, the key to its success over the next couple of years will be its Symbian OS, which is slated to receive an extensive facelift next year.  Symbian has long been a serious vulnerability for Nokia, and many questions are being asked about how slowly the Symbian Foundation is moving when it comes to open sourcing its OS, but the platform has a massive installed user base and will continue to be the company’s primary OS as development continues on Maemo. Coupling an overhauled Symbian platform with a smaller lineup of impressive new handsets would be a solid step in reversing Nokia’s fortunes.