Nokia to skip operator tailoring for Linux phones

HELSINKI Wed Sep 9, 2009 8:55am EDT

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HELSINKI (Reuters) - Nokia Oyj plans to skip tailoring software of its upcoming top-of-the-range model N900 to different operators, raising the risk some carriers, who focus on integrating their own software, could refuse to offer the model.

Nokia's plan for phones using its Linux Maemo operating system is the latest twist in a battle between handset vendors and operators for access to cell phone users.

The world's top cell phone maker last month unveiled its first phone running on Linux, aiming at improving its offering and assuring investors of its ability to compete with Apple Inc and Google Inc.

Nokia is looking to save costs on launching new products while also competing with likes of the iPhone, but relations with operators remain crucial in some key markets such as the United States and Britain.

The focus of cell phone business has shifted to services and software following Apple and Google's Android entrances to the market in the last two years.

"Very clearly Apple, Android ... are a whole lot less about providing customization to the operators and a whole lot more about providing a really cool, compelling value proposition to the end-consumer," David Rivas, Nokia's vice president for devices R&D, told Reuters.

Nokia and its Symbian operating system -- which it tailors very specifically, installing operators' software -- have lost market share in smartphones, but they still control almost half of the smartphone market.

"We have an opportunity, that we are going to take advantage of, with Maemo platform to play the game a little bit more along those lines than with Symbian lines," Rivas said.

Some analysts said Nokia cannot afford to skip tailoring software.

"I don't believe Nokia can afford to say no to customization," said IDC analyst Francisco Jeronimo. "For N900 to succeed on the market Nokia has to approve any service operator wants to run on the phone."

Nokia plans to use Maemo at the top of its phone range, while most of its smartphones would continue to use Symbian operating system, which it is bringing to lower and lower price points.

"Smartphone is going very deep in terms of price point and high volume -- to the places never seen before," Rivas said.

Last month Nokia unveiled a new touch screen smartphone, the 5230, which runs Symbian and is expected to sell for just 149 euros, excluding operator subsidies and local taxes.

(Editing by David Holmes)

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