Ashas to ashes: goodbye Nokia feature phones

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According to a leaked internal memo, Microsoft has sounded the death knell for Nokia’s Asha and Series 40 feature phone platforms, along with its tentative foray into the Android market, Nokia X. Instead, Nokia’s new owner plans to double down on its Windows Phone operating system and the Lumia range of smartphones it powers.

Sweeping changes were inevitable when Microsoft announced its acquisition of Nokia in September last year and appointed a new CEO, Satya Nadella, in February. The result has been a slew of job cuts, and now the news that Nokia’s massively successful and margin-rich feature-phone division’s days are numbered (support and services will wind down over the next 18 months).

Nokia AshaIt’s unpleasant news for Nokia employees and their families, and for those in developing markets who’ve come to trust the hardiness and battery life the devices promise. But it’s a sensible move. Lumia devices are getting cheaper – the Lumia 630 costs R1 999 – and every smartphone manufacturer is trying to make their handsets last longer.

The move also forces those who would usually buy a Nokia feature phone to consider alternatives. But will Nokia’s brand recognition be enough? It’s brave of Nokia to hope that entry-level Lumia devices – rather than the abundant selection of low-cost Android devices already on the market (and constantly being improved) – will be a sufficiently enticing alternative for enough people to make up for the feature-phone shortfall.

But then, bravery is precisely what’s needed if Windows Phone is going to cement its third-place position in the smartphone market, and battery-life aside, there’s plenty of reason to want people everywhere using smartphones – they enable e-health and e-government services, access to online retail and mobile banking, and empower small businesses.

The margins on feature phones are pretty similar to those on smart phones, but Microsoft’s nevertheless betting that smartphones are going to kill off feature phones and it would do well to plan accordingly. It’s unusually confident and, dare we say, focused, behaviour from the Redmond-based company. Let’s hope for Microsoft’s sake its bet pays off.

Cutting Nokia X, meanwhile, is no surprise. Nokia was too noncommittal to Google’s Android OS too late. If Nokia was going to build an Android range it should have done so years ago. Now, Android is just another platform for developers to build for that isn’t Windows Phone, so why should Microsoft dilute its own efforts?

Microsoft is cleaning house and arranging its toolbox, and its realised one OS is far easier to maintain, grow and develop for than three. It’s right. So long Nokia Series 40, and thanks for all the feature phones.

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