When Nokia launched the Asha 501 (see our first impressions) in India, it was seen as the big play by the Finnish company to start the trudge back to profitability. This was clear from the fact that Stephen Elop made an appearance himself to unveil the phone and the number of ecosystem tie-ups for the Asha platform. It was believed that a price tag of around $99 and the smartphone-like experience of the revamped Asha OS will attract first-time buyers as well as snatch some chunk of the customers looking for a minor upgrade.
On paper, the deal sounded sweet. Users would get nearly everything they want from a smartphone thanks to some niche Asha apps, for a low price and of course, be assured of the same trusted Nokia service. But there were a couple of red flags and the chief of them being the drop in price of the low-cost Android smartphones.
When Nokia announced the Asha 501 back in May, cheap Android devices were not a very strong argument against the 501’s chances. To be honest, many of the low-cost Android smartphones at the time ran Gingerbread or worse. Couple that with ‘no-name’ manufacturers and you are just making a bad buy. In comparison, the Asha was a great deal for its touted price of under Rs 5,000. Eventually, the Asha 501's price ended up being Rs 5,199 on the official e-store. That’s after a discount of Rs 800. While Asha 501 would no doubt have been a fantastic buy for under Rs 5,000, it seems very overpriced for the current price.
The colourful Asha 501 is a youth-oriented phone
Just last week Intex launched the Cloud X3, which might have just passed under the radar, were it not for the fact that it runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean and is priced at Rs 3,790. We’ll let that sink it for a moment. How does it do this? Thanks to the MediaTek MT6572, the world’s first dual-core chipset that has integrated modules for Wi-Fi, FM, GPS and Bluetooth. As you can imagine, this reduces the cost of producing the smartphone dramatically. Thus, the Cloud X3 has a great price and specs advantage over the Asha 501 and it runs just one version of Android lower than the latest one. This is just the beginning. The Indian Android smartphone market is very reactive and the Cloud X3 is sure to spawn a legion of cheap Jelly Bean smartphones.
When it comes to Android, the Asha platform has a Goliathan competitor. The Asha OS is good for a half-way smartphone, where the user can get their dose of social networking, have the most prevalent IM app and also have a good enough multimedia experience. However, with Android, these are standard. In addition, the sizeable number of apps and games will be a far more attractive proposition for the soon-to-enter-college son or daughter, an audience the Asha 501 will be pushed towards. These are the guys hungry for the latest trending games and the utility apps for everyday work. The semi-smart Asha OS is too late in the game to now compete with Android in apps and games, and we highly doubt that developers will take the initiative to back the platform, unless there’s hard proof of its popularity.
The Asha OS's Fastlane view mimics a smartphone lockscreen and notification panel
The Asha platform is Nokia's solo endeavour as opposed to the Microsoft-backed Windows Phone 8 play, so its success is all the more crucial for the company. Nokia’s very own Lumia range is another threat to the Asha 501, thanks to it being better marketed and the extra resources on hand for Windows Phone development. The entry-level Lumia 520 has emerged as the most popular Windows Phone 8 smartphone in the recent quarter. The chief attraction is of course the low price (around Rs 11,000) and the promise of the full-fledged WP8 OS. The recently-announced Lumia 625 will also be a hot seller as it conforms to the large-screen trend and will also have a competitive price tag, based on its Europe pricing of 220 euros.
In the face of all of this, the Nokia Asha platform is seemingly in need of a revival once again; the kind of revival that the Asha 501 was expected to usher in.