Nokia's multimedia plans show mobile users the door

Introduces extensive line of gaming and media devices

Nokia Corp. revealed its new online multimedia strategy today, 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 the name Nokia has chosen for its new umbrella brand for online gaming, music, mapping and social networking services; it's also the name of a portal where those services will be available. 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, starting in 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.

"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 it has only managed to deliver 3 million so far, Vanjoki said.

Game publishers including Capcom Co., Electronic Arts Inc. and Gameloft Inc. have pledged support for the service, he said. Nokia will offer free trials of the games on Ovi, where they can be purchased for 6 to 10 euros or rented by the day or week.

After launching the new games offering, 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 debuts in 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 to mobile phones for 1 euro per song, with prices for albums starting at 10 euros. A subscription for unlimited streaming will cost 10 euros a month. Users will be able to copy tunes from their PCs to their phones and back again, but copying will be limited by Microsoft Corp.'s Digital Rights Management software, he said.

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

The company will release an upgraded version of its N95 multimedia phone in early October. It will have 8GB of memory and a larger screen -- 2.8-in. -- than its predecessor. It will cost 560 euros before operator subsidies and sales tax.

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

The N81 has a new 3-D 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 versions of the interface will take cues from Apple Inc.'s iPod and iPhone: Pressing a touch-sensitive panel below the screen will allow navigation through a series of menus -- scroll 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.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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