Nokia S40 – the formidable feature phone platform
We live in a world where the hype and visibility of smartphone platforms guides almost everything, including developer activity. If it is not a smartphone platform, many developers won’t even touch it with a 100-foot pole. Now imagine a non-smartphone platform that keeps getting some love from mainstream developers.
I was chatting with a friend and thought to ask her what mobile she was chatting with. She replied that it was a Nokia 201. Here she was chatting via Facebook on a GPRS/EDGE connection. But it wasn’t just that. Not too long after that, when she found FB chat frustrating due to network problems, she asked if I was using WhatsApp, with the rider that a friend mentioned it to her. in a few minutes, she had downloaded the WhatsApp app for S40 and we had abandoned Facebook. While there are scores of apps that may not be getting official support for Nokia’s S40 platform, that Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp would pay it attention and have official apps for the platform speaks volumes. Heck, there are smartphone platforms without any official support from these key social brands!
Nokia is currently the number two phone maker on the platform, and its S40 platform (which includes the Asha range) make up the vast majority of their marketshare. The mobile world is migrating into a smartphone world, and Nokia knows this. That is the reason for the energy and focus being put into their Lumia smartphones. But because the market that the S40 platform caters to is so huge and viable, I believe that Nokia’s choice to continue to push the S40 platform in the market is a sound one. So far, so good. No feature phone platform will ever get the kind of support that Android or iOS gets, but one cannot argue against results – when you see S40 listed alongside Android, iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone on the official download pages of key apps like Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook, that platform is no pushover. It is the only feature phone platform so listed.
That is because Nokia’s S40 remains the world’s largest feature phone platform by far. None other comes close in terms of numbers While low-cost Android smartphones are beginning to encroach on its territory, one looks forward to seeing how Nokia intends to defend the strong hold it has on the budget phone segment. We already see some new Windows Phone 8 smartphones at new low price points from the Finish manufacturer, but they are not yet at the point where they can be viable competition for the cheapest Android smartphones. Nokia needs to find a way to cannibalize the S40 market by themselves before others do so. Remember that Nokia purchased Smarterphone in November 2011? Smarterphone was a small Norwegian company that had an operating system designed for more basic cell phones. We have already seen the new UI for S40 on Nokia’s Asha range, and it looks good. If Nokia would add some form of multi-tasking and a few other handy features, S40 might just be ready to join the ranks of smartphone platforms and be even more compelling in today’s mobile world.
Someday, unless S40 evolves fast and markedly, it will be consigned to be read of only in the history pages. For now, it is a formidable feature phone platform that gets listed alongside more powerful smartphone platforms. That is no mean feat.