High-end smartphones sure are fun. But the smartphone market is inching closer to saturation in the countries that care the most about the high-end. That will leave much of the market’s future growth coming from emerging countries where the focus isn't necessarily on the latest announcement from Apple, Samsung, or HTC. Nokia is already a big player in these markets, but it’s hoping to take the next step with its new Asha 501 smartphone.
The Asha 501 is ridiculously cheap, with a US$99 suggested retail price. That's off-contract, of course. So naturally, we aren’t looking at headline-grabbing specs or features. But that doesn’t make it any less important.
The Asha 501 could be an important entry point for people who otherwise wouldn’t own a smartphone. And it’s also important to Nokia, which wants to build on its presence in emerging countries – while still playing the long game in wealthier areas with its Lumia line.
The handset runs Nokia’s Asha platform, which was designed for phones just like the 501. We’re talking basic smartphone functionality, without the higher-end bells and whistles that you get with iOS or Android.
Asha’s most distinctive feature is probably its Fastlane launcher, which shuns the traditional homescreen for a recently-used (and predictive) list of apps and services. If you aren't into that sort of thing, the OS also lets you use a more traditional homescreen.
Being a relatively new platform, Asha is skimpy in the apps department. But the Finnish company has already lined up a few heavy hitters, like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare. We'll likely see more developers added to the list as Nokia throws more of its weight behind the platform.
Not about the specs
There are already countless other low-end smartphones floating around. But the Asha 501 brings a hint of Lumia phones' design language to that end of the spectrum. Nokia describes the phone's look and construction:
- The device is available in a choice of six striking colours that complement the elegant design. It comes in just two parts: a durable, removable casing and the scratch-resistant glass display, which features a three-inch, capacitive touchscreen and a single 'back' button. The compact new Asha weighs only 98 grams, for the ultimate portability.
The Asha 501’s specs are – to the surprise of exactly nobody – a ways off from the high-end. We’re looking at a 3-inch display with 320 x 240 resolution (just 134 pixels per inch). It also totes 128 MB of RAM, 4 GB of storage, and a 3.2 MP camera. This is as budget as it gets.
But this $99 phone obviously isn’t about specs. It’s more about delivering the most fundamental things that a smartphone provides to places that may have never enjoyed them before. Things that we “first-worlders” often take for granted – like working mobile email, web, messaging, and social media services. It's a phone with somewhat different priorities, for cultures that often have very different priorities.
The Asha 501 starts shipping in June – to more than 90 countries. You can get the full scoop from Nokia at the source links below.