* Delays deliveries by few weeks into October from end-Sept
* Says shipping still on schedule by end-Sept
* N8 seen as Nokia’s first iPhone challenger
* First day in office for new chief executive Elop
* Shares fall 3.2 percent
(Adds analyst comments, updates shares)
By Tarmo Virki, European technology correspondent
HELSINKI, Sept 21 (Reuters) - Nokia NOK1V.HE said it would delay again its flagship smartphone N8 model, hitting its shares on the day new chief executive Stephen Elop started at the helm of the world's top cellphone maker.
The N8 is seen by analysts as Nokia's first top-range model to challenge Apple's AAPL.O iPhone more than three years after its launch.
Its success is seen as being crucial for Nokia’s profit margins, and analysts warned on Tuesday the delay could hit earnings in the third and fourth quarter.
“A single device does not normally have a significant impact on Nokia’s ... development. But with the N8 the firm has much more at stake,” analysts at Helsinki-based FIM Bank said in a note.
“The new delay is once again a blow to Nokia’s already tarnished image and it could also endanger the firm’s Q3 earnings target,” they said.
Nokia shares were 3.2 percent lower at 7.62 euros by 1203 GMT, underperforming 0.2 percent softer STXE 600 Technology index .SX8P.
“Given an envisaged around 3-5 week delay in N8 ramp-up, as well as potential further execution delay around the remaining product portfolio refresh, we believe Q4 sell-side estimates are too high,” Citigroup analyst Zahid Hussein said in a note.
A company spokesman said the first phones were still scheduled to leave factories by the end of September, but deliveries to consumers who had preordered the phone would be delayed by a few weeks.
“In some markets, we had planned to start delivering the N8s to our pre-order customers by the end of September. To ensure a great user experience, we have decided to hold the shipments for a few weeks to do some final amends,” the company said in a statement, adding that the N8s would reach consumers in October.
Nokia announced the delay only a few days after the Sept. 15 closure of its showcase event of the year, Nokia World.
“This is embarrassing,” said John Strand, chief executive of Danish telecoms consultancy Strand Consult.
The N8 smartphone, first to use Nokia’s new Symbian software, was originally scheduled to reach consumers in June.
In April, Nokia warned that the software renewal would take longer than it had expected due to quality problems and said that the N8 would reach consumers by the end of September.
The weak smartphone offering and problems with software were see as the main reasons for Nokia to replace its chief executive. [ID:nLDE68J097]
Stephen Elop, from Microsoft MSFT.O, started at his job as Nokia's chief executive on Tuesday.
The N8 stands out among its rivals for its 12 megapixel camera but has a slower processor than Samsung's 005930.KS top model Galaxy S and the latest iPhone. (Reporting by Tarmo Virki; Editing by Hans Peters)