Forget Apple; Waiting for Android and Symbian

Anssi Vanjoki is reportedly the man who chose Nokia’s signature ring-tone–once so ubiquitous it was difficult to get through a day without hearing it several times, chiming from subscribers’ pockets.

But if Vanjoki delivers on his promise to bring NFC to Nokia’s Symbian smartphones starting next year, I’m sure most people in the industry would forgive him for the tune.

Vanjoki, the man Nokia has called upon to bring back the company’s troubled smartphone unit, announced June 17 that the Finland-based handset maker would begin to include NFC in its Symbian smartphones announced in 2011.

Vanjoki made the disclosure just a day after Nokia issued a profit warning in advance of its Q2 earnings report, advising investors that sales and market share would be lower than projected. That was due in large part to the losing battle Nokia has been waging against Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry and, increasingly, phones supporting the Android platform.

That Vanjoki–who will head Nokia’s new Mobile Solutions division following corporate restructuring–is tapping NFC to help breathe life into the smartphone business shows he believes the technology can sell higher-end handsets.

Details, however, were sketchy on the Symbian NFC rollout, including which quarter Nokia planned to ship its first NFC-enabled smartphones. And the announcement did not cover the smartphone/tablet devices Nokia plans to launch using its MeeGo platform developed with Intel, according to a company spokesman.

But if Vanjoki intends to use NFC to differentiate the phone maker’s devices against those of its rivals, he might not have much of a window of opportunity.

Though Apple passed on putting NFC in its the fourth-generation iPhone, introduced June 7, most observers believe the 2011 version will support the technology. RIM is also working on NFC for some future BlackBerry models, sources agree.

Never mind Apple, however. More certain still will be the arrival of NFC smartphones supporting Google’s Android operating system. Sources working on the platform predict “several” models will be launched by the first part of 2011, with at least a couple of models surfacing before the end of this year, they predict.

The Android handset makers are responding to demand from mobile operators for high-end phones packing NFC. Even giant China Mobile is interested, NFC Times has learned.

Putting NFC in the OPhone
Beijing-based software company Borqs, which has developed a customized version of Android for China Mobile, called OPhone, has produced a couple of prototypes supporting NFC, said sources.

Borqs got a request from China Mobile two or three months ago to start incorporating NFC in the OPhone platform, NFC Times has learned. If China Mobile gives the green light to the inclusion of NFC, such handset makers as Samsung, LG, Motorola or HTC could develop the NFC-based smartphones for the telco.

The increasing interest by China Mobile in NFC puts another nail in the coffin of the RF-SIM project, the telco’s abortive attempt to roll out its own contactless SIMs and reader infrastructure, a pullback you first read about here.

A number of other mobile operators are interested in Android-based NFC phones, including South Korea’s two largest telcos, SK Telecom and KT, and some big operators in the United States and Europe. And in Japan, telcos are ordering some Android phones supporting NFC-like FeliCa technology for the ongoing contactless-wallet rollout there. 

Paltry Lineup at Present
A snapshot of the current availability of NFC phones shows a rather gloomy picture, with a tiny two-gee touch-screen model from Samsung, the S5230, available in only limited quantities; an unappealing Nokia mid-tier feature phone, the 6212, going out of production; and a model due out next month from tier-two handset maker Sagem Wireless targeted at the senior set, the Cosyphone. That’s in addition to a few Chinese feature phones.

But with what appears to be a number of NFC-enabled smartphones headed to market by next year, it looks like the wait by mobile operators and service providers for some compelling NFC phones might be finally coming to an end.

Of course, NFC might never become as ubiquitous as Nokia’s signature 13-note ring-tone once was.

But maybe it’s better that way.



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