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Nokia unveils N97 Mini, plus Netbook pricing

Nokia, the world’s largest maker of cell phones, on Wednesday announced new phones loaded with more music features and better integration with Facebook, as well as pricing for its upcoming Netbook.

The company announced the new phones and services at its Nokia World Conference in Stuttgart, Germany.

Tops on the list of new phones is the N97 Mini, a slightly smaller version of Nokia’s existing flagship N97 smartphone. This new, smaller N97 has a shorter battery life than the earlier device and also less memory (8GB compared to 32GB), and a smaller touch-screen display. The device is expected to ship in October. Its list price at 450 euros, or about $639, is not much less than that of the full-fledged N97, which initially went on sale in the U.S. for $700.

The new N97 Mini also will have Nokia’s Comes With Music service integrated. This service increases the cost of the device, but provides users with a free download music service. And the device will be the first Nokia phone to have tighter integration with the popular social networking site Facebook. Nokia has struck a deal with Facebook to let users update their location and status directly to the Web site through a Nokia Ovi account.

Nokia plans to offer the Facebook integration on other phones as well.

The handset maker also announced two new music phones: the X6 and the X3. The X6, which has a touch screen and 32GB of built-in memory, will be Nokia’s new flagship music phone. The company expects to ship the new phone in the fourth quarter for a list price of 450 euros, or $639. As with the N97, users will also get the Comes With Music service bundled into the phone.

Nokia is the world’s leading cell phone maker with close to 40 percent worldwide market share. Recently it has been trying to diversify its business by offering its cell phone users online services, such as music downloads, games, and maps. The company created its Ovi service platform as a repository for all of these functions and hopes that one day all Nokia phone customers will use their Ovi accounts to access and manage their music, video, and photos.

But even though Nokia estimates that the global online market will reach 100 billion euros by 2010, the company must continue to feed its core device business with new phones. There’s no question that Nokia is still the leader in the overall cell phone market. It has done especially well providing low-cost devices to the developing world, but it has been challenged to keep up with innovations in the smartphone category.

Even though Nokia is the No. 1 smartphone maker worldwide, it’s losing market share to players such as Apple with the iPhone and Research In Motion with its BlackBerry. Nokia is particularly challenged in the U.S., where it is virtually non-existent and lacks key carrier relationships for its hottest devices.

Unfortunately, the new phones announced at the Nokia World are unlikely to slow its slide in the high end of the market. While the devices mark improvements for Nokia’s overall product line, they are not revolutionary with respect to other products that they will compete with on the worldwide market.

Still, Nokia is not giving up. The phone maker announced last month a relationship with Microsoft to develop a version of Microsoft’s Office software for Nokia handsets. And last week, it also announced its N900 smartphone, its first Linux-based phone, which is expected to compete more directly with the iPhone and a flood of Google Android phones due to hit the market later this year and early next year.

In yet another attempt to diversify, Nokia also plans to offer more sophisticated hardware, in the form of a mini-laptop or Netbook–last week it announced the new device, dubbed the Nokia Booklet 3G (watch a video here). At the event in Germany on Wednesday it announced that it will ship the mini laptop in the fourth quarter with a list price tag of 575 euros, or about $817.

What makes Nokia’s Netbook different from others in the category is that the device will have GPS embedded to provide access to Nokia’s Ovi Maps software and service.

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