Nokia plans new, lighter version of Communicator

Trying to regain some of its lost market share, Nokia Corp. is hoping to woo both enterprise and consumer customers with a lighter, sleeker version of its high-end Communicator handset that will be released worldwide at the beginning of next year, the company announced Wednesday.

The Communicator 9300, which is both a phone and a PDA (personal digital assistant), opens from its side rather like a glasses case to reveal a full keyboard and 65,536-color screen. It uses Bluetooth for wirelessly transmitting voice and data, offers high-speed Internet browsing and comes with built-in office applications, in a package that weights 167 grams. That compares to more than 200g for the previous Communicator, Nokia spokeswoman Tia Matthews said on Wednesday.

"With voice communications and the PDA-like features, it is combining the best of both worlds and we feel that we've packaged it right this time," Matthews said. "We feel this is the right form factor."

While the handset is aimed primarily at the corporate market, Nokia believes that the new product, which when closed looks and works much like a standard mobile phone, will appeal to a wider audience than its predecessors, Matthews added. The Communicator line was launched in 1996.

The Communicator 9300 will be released by Nokia in the first quarter of 2005 with an estimated price of €700 (US$847) before subsidies by mobile service providers, Matthews said.

The handset will come in two tri-band versions, optimized for GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) networks in the European and Asia markets (on 900MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz bands), and in the Americas (on 850MHz, 1800MHz and 1900MHz bands). Both versions will be able to roam in GSM networks across regions.

Nokia, which is the world's largest mobile phone maker, has been suffering this year from increased competition from the likes of Motorola Inc., Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB and Siemens AG, as well as makers of PDAs that include mobile phone capabilities such Hewlett-Packard Co., PalmOne Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd., the maker of the BlackBerry device.

In the face of declining net sales, the company promised last April to quickly introduce new handsets and to focus on three areas of development: expanding mobile voice, driving consumers' use of multimedia and encouraging more business use of mobile applications.

The 9300 runs on the Nokia Series 80 software platform, which is based on the Symbian Ltd. operating system, and will ship with 80M bytes of memory, expandable to 2G bytes with an optional MMC (MultiMediaCard) flash memory card, Nokia said. It supports HTML/XHTML browsing, HTML 4.01 and JavaScript 1.3 and offers a calendar, address book and spreadsheets as well as a PDF viewer.

The handset can also support BlackBerry Connect, though it is not included in the basic sales package, and support for the BlackBerry is patchy among European mobile operators. Nokia has been offering some handsets with the BlackBerry feature in Europe since March, and in the North American region since June.

What the Communicator 9300 will not come with is integrated Wi-Fi or a built-in digital camera. In July, both HP and Motorola introduced mobile devices that function as voice-over-Internet Protocol (VOIP) phones on Wi-Fi wireless LANs and as cellular phones over GSM networks.

"With the Communicator 9300 we focused on the design and on the form factor, and felt that we had to give up something in order to achieve our goals. That's where the Communicator 9500 comes in," Matthews said.

The 9500, which had been announced previously and was described in more detail Wednesday, will come with integrated Wi-Fi and a camera, but will weigh about 220g. That compares with 145g for the Motorola CN620 and 190g for HP's iPAQ h6315. It will be released in Europe and Asia beginning in November and in the Americas in the first quarter of 2005, with a estimated price of €800 (US$968) before subsidies by mobile service providers.

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