Nokia's N9 MeeGo phone to hit S'pore

By Kenny Chee

SINGAPORE will be getting Nokia's N9 smartphone - presumably the Finnish company's first and last phone running the MeeGo operating system - even though major markets like the United States, Britain and Germany are not.

The 3.9-inch touchscreen N9 phone will be available from authorised Nokia retailers and all three telcos "within a month", said Mr Vlasta Berka, general manager for Nokia Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei yesterday.

Unlike HP's TouchPad slate, which was discontinued about a week after it hit stores last month, Nokia said it will continue to provide hardware and software support for the N9 in Singapore "in the next few years".

Production of the phone will also go on for a "long, long time", Mr Berka added.

On whether the N9 could go on a fire sale like the TouchPad if the phone does not do well here, Mr Berka said: "I don't think we've got that challenge."

He added that the N9 will be priced aggressively, at $799 for the 16GB version and $899 for the 64GB version, without contract.

The phone reportedly received a warm reception when it was unveiled here at the CommunicAsia trade show in June. However, it has been regarded as a "dead-end" product by many technology observers.

This is especially so after Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop said in a June report that the N9 will be Nokia's last MeeGo device, even if the phone is a hit.

Mr Berka said yesterday that the N9 will be the only Nokia MeeGo phone this year, but would not confirm if this meant there could be MeeGo phones from the firm after that.

The fate of Linux-based MeeGo was also in question when Mr Elop said in February that Windows Phone 7 would be the main operating system for Nokia devices going forward.

Nokia has said that its first Windows Phone devices will be available later this year, with more to come next year. There is no indication of when Singapore will get these devices.

When asked why the N9 is coming here but not the US, Mr Berka said that Singapore is an "incredibly important and critical market".

He explained that Singaporeans have a "taste for new things and innovative ways to use devices" like the N9.

He added that Nokia believes the US will be "better served" by the company's Windows Phone devices, which will be launched in the "not so distant future".

This "does not mean that Singapore is not a priority" country for getting Nokia Windows Phone sets, Mr Berka stressed.

Mr Abhishek Chauhan, an associate director of research firm Frost and Sullivan, does not think the N9 will generate "significant sales" here because of its lack of apps and the general negative perception of MeeGo.

Nokia said yesterday that there will be "thousands" of apps for the N9 when it is launched.

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