Nokia's multimedia plans show mobile users the door

Nokia Corp. revealed its new online multimedia strategy on Wednesday, and showed mobile users the door. It also unveiled a range of new phones for playing games and music, and demonstrated a new user interface for future multimedia phones.

Ovi, the Finnish word for door, is Nokia's new umbrella brand for online gaming, music, mapping and social networking services, and also the name of a portal where they will appear. The portal, accessible from a mobile phone or a PC, will also be open to other vendors' services, executives said at a news conference, held in a former fish market in London.

The first service to appear on the site, from November, will be an updated version of Nokia's mobile gaming platform, N-Gage Arena, which currently works only with the company's N-Gage mobile game consoles, but will soon work with other Nokia devices too.

"We believe it will become the largest online gaming platform by far," said Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's general manager for multimedia.

The strategy is to make the service compatible with many of Nokia's existing N-Series multimedia phones, and all future N-Series models based on the S60 software platform. Nokia had originally promised game developers 6 million users of the service, but has only managed to deliver 3 million so far, Vanjoki said.

Game publishers including Capcom Co. Ltd., Electronic Arts Inc. and Gameloft Inc. have pledged support for the service, he said. Nokia will offer free trials of the games on Ovi, which can then be bought for between €6 and €10 or rented by the day or week.

After games, Nokia will add an online music store to Ovi. The store will open in the U.K. and other large markets in Europe in the fourth quarter, with Asian markets to follow. Plans to offer the Ovi platform in North America were not discussed.

"Our philosophy is to offer all the music in the world, everywhere, to all the people, at a reasonable cost," he said.

The store will offer millions of tunes for download over the Internet to PCs, or over the air direct to mobile phones for €1 each or from €10 per album. A subscription for unlimited streaming will cost €10 a month. Users will be able to copy tunes from their PC to their phone and back again, but copying will be limited by Microsoft Corp.'s DRM (digital rights management), he said.

Nokia also unveiled some new phones. The simplest models, the 5310 and 5610 XpressMusic, each have 4G bytes of memory and dedicated keys for playing music. The 5310 will go on sale in the fourth quarter for around €225, and can play music for 18 hours between charges. The 5610 slides open to reveal its keyboard, has a 3.2M-pixel camera, and will play music for 22 hours nonstop.

The company will release an upgraded version of its N95 multimedia phone in early October, with 8G bytes of memory and a larger, 2.8-inch, screen. It will cost €560 before operator subsidies and sales tax.

Another new multimedia phone, the N81, connects to 3G (third generation) mobile and Wi-Fi networks. A version with 8G bytes of memory will go on sale in the fourth quarter for €430 before subsidies and tax.

The N81 has a new 3D menu system, one of the first elements of a new user interface that will appear progressively in new phones over the next year, Vanjoki said.

Future version of the interface will take cues from Apple Inc.'s iPod and iPhone: Pressing a touch-sensitive panel below the screen allows navigation through a series of menus -- left and right to choose the menu, up and down to pick an option -- while stroking the panel in a circular movement familiar to iPod users will scroll through music collections or other long lists.

Asked about the similarity with Apple's interface, Vanjoki said he didn't know who had copied whom.

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