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Nokia: Is It Me You're Looking For?

BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK) is taking on a diverse set of wireless rivals with new phones, applications, and services here at the largest wireless show in Europe, but says that carrier partners shouldn't fear its latest incursions into mobile content and services, which might traditionally be considered the operators' domain.

Nokia's CEO, Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo, was on hand to reveal four new multimedia phones and a revamped mobile maps application. Niklas Savander, EVP of services and software, meanwhile, laid out more of the Finnish company's plans to deliver social networking applications via its Ovi brand, starting with a multimedia sharing application unveiled at the show.

Topology on the move
During the press conference at the majestic Casa Llotja de Mar, CEO Kallasvuo was most enthused about the prospects for Nokia's first major update of its mobile mapping application. The vendor has revamped the program using GPS capabilities so that a phone user walking round a city can find out where she is and plot her course on a map as she moves around.

"This is the first application of its kind," Kallasvuo claimed. "We believe it will become as desirable for the mobile phone as voice."

Nokia's key rival in this field is search giant Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which has its own popular mobile version of the Google Maps application. Google, however, can't yet plot a user's exact location on its mobile maps.

Nokia Maps 2.0 will be available for Series 60 devices later this month. Nokia's location ambitions, however, go beyond the application realm, and the vendor made it clear that it wants to shift plenty of hardware using GPS and cellular-enhanced GPS as well.

To this end, Nokia introduced the Navigator 6210, an "enhanced GPS" device that uses cellsite data as well as satellite triangulation to get an accurate fix on the phone. The device is part of a big location push planned by Nokia for 2008.

"We will ship 35 million enabled devices this year, which is equal to the entire GPS device market in 2007," boasts Kallasvuo.

Videodrome
As well as the navigator, Nokia unveiled three other phones at the show today: the 6620 Classic, the N78, and the N96. The N96 is the most interesting, a high-end rival to the Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and other smartphone devices. The gadget has 16 GBytes of storage onboard and supports Flash videos -- "Full Flash, not mobile Flash," stressed Niklas Savander.

The software chief said, however, that Nokia will not rush to follow Apple into touch-screen phones. The company is due to launch a Series 60 touch-screen user interface upgrade later this year. "We will bring out touch-phones but it is important not to bring out gimmicky touch-phones," he told the crowd.

Share and share a lot (of revenue)
Savander also showed off Nokia's first service derived from the acquisition of Twango last year, a mobile and PC-based content sharing application that supports "over a hundred different file types" for uploading and sharing media. (See Nokia Acquires Twango.)

The move follows Nokia's launch of its Ovi music service in the U.K. last year. Some question whether Nokia isn't encroaching on carrier turf with its interest in social networking and music downloads.

CEO Kallasvuo says that there is plenty of Web 2.0 pie to go around. "There is enough business there for both of us," he opined. "We are a very natural partner for the carriers in this industry."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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