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Nokia Aims New Smartphones At U.S.

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It’s long been known that Nokia’s had a hard time selling its popular devices in the U.S.

But its latest smartphones coming have a series of enhancements that it hopes will make it more competitive. The phones will run the latest version of the open source operating system, “Symbian^3,” which was demonstrated yesterday to reporters in San Francisco. David Rivas, Nokia’s VP of Technology Management, said the new version includes significant usability and performance improvements that may drum up more interest in its products in the U.S., reports The New York Times.

The software, which was first on display at Mobile World Congress last month in Spain, won’t be ready for prime time until the end of March, and it could be another four to six months until there’s actual devices for sale.

But the review in The New York Times sounds promising. It said the home screen is cordoned off into different customizable segments. The segments may include a calendar block that shows appointments, a Facebook block, or a contact block that has pictures from people in your address book. In essence, the user interface moves away from being a series of icons, which is found on BlackBerry devices and iPhones, and makes it more interactive.

It also becomes way more finger friendly, by integrating multi-touch and larger areas that can be tapped with a finger rather than a stylus. There’s also multi-tasking capabilities, meaning that it can run more than one application at the same time (a feature not present on the iPhone). In videos demonstrating the phones, it looks a bit like how Microsoft made the Windows Mobile operating system a lot more finger-friendly and graphics-rich in the 6.5 update. However, it still ended up having to ditch that and start over from scratch for Windows Phone 7. The big question is whether Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Symbian can make a good enough experience that can go head-to-head with feature-rich devices being released by Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Google (NSDQ: GOOG), Palm (NSDQ: PALM) and Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT). Although to be clear, Nokia’s entire strategy does not rest on Symbian, but also a Linux-based operating system called MeeGo (a combination of its own Maemo OS and Intel’s Moblin).

Perhaps, that’s why Rivas promised that Symbian^4 phones, due out at the end of this year, will “raise the bar