Nokia vows to defend smartphone territory

Finland's Nokia on Monday vowed to defend its number one position in the lucrative smartphone market, where it is under fierce pressure from Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's Blackberry.

The Finnish giant's latest top-end device, the touch-screen N8, was unveiled at its annual Asian trade event in Singapore.

The regional launch of the N8 comes exactly a week after Apple chief executive Steve Jobs unveiled an upgraded version of the phenomenally successful iPhone in San Francisco.

Smartphones are advanced handsets that allow users to surf the Internet, record videos and carry out other multimedia functions as well as talk and send messages. The N8 is based on Nokia's updated Symbian operating system.

"Nokia's leadership has been questioned in recent months," Jo Harlow, senior vice president for smartphones, said in an opening speech at the event.

"However, it is often overlooked that we continue to have the largest market share in mobile devices and the largest share in smartphones, which is the fastest growing segment," she said.

Nokia is still the world's top mobile phone maker but it has struggled to find an answer to the iPhone and Blackberry in the smartphone sector, where profit margins are much higher.

In April, Nokia - which has sold more than a billion phones of all types worldwide - announced it managed to boost the company's smartphone market share to 41 percent from an estimated 40 percent in October-December 2009.

In absolute figures, it meant Nokia sold 21.5 million of the 52.6 million smartphones sold globally during the first quarter.

For the first quarter, Nokia's net profit rose to 349 million euros (465.6 million dollars) from 122 million euros a year ago, when it was hit by the global economic downturn.

Analysts said Nokia was trying to regain the initiative in the smartphone sector from the US-made iPhone, Canada's Blackberry and a host of other challengers including products made by South Korea's Samsung.

"In terms of market share, they are still the market leader because of their large existing customer base and strong shipments," said Nathan Burley, a telecommunications analyst with Ovum consultancy.

"But in terms of value and mindshare, they have really lost their way...," he told AFP.

Despite the fierce competition, Nokia is still seen as a formidable player.

"What Nokia can leverage on is their massive scale and brand recognition, said Marc Einstein, Tokyo-based industry manager for regional mobile and wireless communication with research firm Frost and Sullivan.

"You can never write Nokia off because of the massive scale that they still have."

The N8, available in the third quarter, is described by Harlow as a "full blown entertainment centre" that can be plugged into home entertainment systems and take high-quality still pictures with a 12-megapixel camera.

More than 1.2 billion people globally own a Nokia mobile device and the company is determined to be nimble and responsive to customer needs, said Chris Carr, the company's regional vice president for sales.

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