Nokia World 2011: Crunchtime

It's been quite the month for mobile, and it's not over yet: Nokia is still yet to take the stage, following Apple and Google's respective plays for smartphone dominance. Next week sees Nokia World 2011 arrive in London, UK, an opportunity for the Finnish company to prove it's not only still alive and kicking, but relevant in an increasingly competitive and fast-moving segment. Competitive is not a word you'd use to describe Nokia's line-up over the past 12-18 months, but a close partnership with Microsoft promises to change all that. Read on to find out what to expect, and why 2011 could well be the most important year for Nokia since it gave up making rubber boots.

What are we expecting?

Windows Phones, and perhaps as many as three of them. It's no surprise that Microsoft's smartphone platform will be star of next week's show; Nokia hasn't exactly been shy about mentioning the Q4 launch window. Still, if there was any doubt, Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone, is set to take the stage for a Nokia World keynote.

Meanwhile, the devices themselves have also been leaked in various capacities. "Sea ray" we know most about, after Stephen Elop himself flaunted the handset earlier in the year. Outwardly resembling Nokia's MeeGo-based N9, with a polycarbonate casing, last we heard the smartphone is set to launch as the Nokia Lumia 800, though that could still well change before launch.

Other devices have been somewhat more mysterious. The Nokia Sabre, which we saw leaked images of earlier this week, is more akin to the X7 with its sloping corners. It's tipped to be smaller than the X7, however, with a 3.5-inch WVGA touchscreen, while inside is believed to be a 1.4GHz single-core processor, as in the Lumia. though a 5-megapixel camera to the Lumia's 8-megapixel.

[aquote]Expect plenty of developer outreach work to coax former Symbian/Qt coders to jump on board[/aquote]

Finally, there's a third device, codenamed Nokia Ace, with the largest display of them all: 4.3-inches and using the company's ClearBlack Display technology. A 1.4GHz processor and a sizable 1,800mAh battery are also expected, along with an 8-megapixel camera using Nokia-favorite Carl Zeiss optics.

Then there's software, with Nokia World likely to see the company's first dedicated apps for Windows Phone debut. Nokia Drive Maps is expected to replace Bing Maps, with talk of turn-by-turn spoken directions and integration with Windows Phone's voice recognition system, and the company will probably demonstrate that for the first time too. Expect plenty of developer outreach work, too, to coax former Symbian/Qt coders to jump on board with Microsoft's platform.

Why is it a big deal?

This is make or break time for Nokia. Symbian has already been given its marching orders, phased out over the next few years, while MeeGo is no longer the future of Nokia's smartphones but has instead been marginalized back into the labs. The company has bet its future on Windows Phone, but will also need to preserve some element of "authentic Nokia" in its line if it wants to remain differentiated from other licensees.

It's a potentially pivotal time for Microsoft, too. The smartphone market may have already shed itself of webOS, while RIM's BlackBerry prospects look ever-darker, but the rising forces of Android and iOS continue to dominate the segment. Microsoft needs a strong OEM partner, particularly one who can bring Windows Phone to more affordable price points, broadening the target market as the company aims for a strong third-man position.

[aquote]That should be the start of a steady flow of devices as we head into 2012[/aquote]

Finally, it's an opportunity for Nokia to prove it can do what the company, so far, has struggled to achieve: get its products to market without months of delay in-between announcement and sales. That's something, for all its production abilities, Nokia has seemed incapable of in the past, as well as being something CEO Stephen Elop specifically mentioned as a target for change when he took up the role.

We're hearing that Nokia has no small ambitions on that front, with plans to have at least one of the new Windows Phones launched next week – perhaps most likely the Lumia 800 – on store shelves mere weeks after it's officially unveiled. That should be the start of a steady flow of devices as we head into 2012.

What would be a show-stopper?

Nokia's new phones alone will arguably be show-stoppers. Windows Phone is such a considerable change of direction for the company, all eyes are on whether the new line-up is convincing enough to warrant frustrating employees, shareholders, developers and the "Nokia faithful" in ditching Symbian.

Nonetheless, there are still wildcards Nokia could pull out, if it particularly wanted to shake up the mobile market. Most obvious of those would be a tablet, with various mutterings from the company about alternative form-factors over the past few months. Nokia would not, Elop has previously said, simply create another me-too slate, but the generally positive reception previews of Windows 8 on tablets received earlier this year could motivate the company to reveal a device using the platform.

Finally, there remain stubborn rumors about a second MeeGo-based consumer device, something again in the manner of the N9: niche targeted, limited release and part experiment. Elop has been scathing about MeeGo's future, lending such speculation an increasing air of unlikelihood, but with it being confirmed that the team responsible for the platform already had further handsets on the original roadmap, there could still be a sop made to open-source developers. Much as we'd like to see MeeGo survive, however, we'd class this one as being particularly unlikely.

SlashGear will be at Nokia World 2011 next week, bringing back all the details on the company's new announcements. Can the Finns pull back their focus and eventually reclaim the smartphone topspot? We'll have to wait and see!