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Nokia and RIM use social networking to lure US cellcos

By CAROLINE GABRIEL

Published: 14 July, 2009

READ MORE: Nokia | RIM | US

The shift of the social networking craze to cellphones shows no signs of abating, and is a key theme of the US cellcos' autumn plans, even giving Nokia a boost in its bid to improve its north American performance.

Nokia and RIM, both battling to get visibility under the Apple and Palm spotlights stateside, are heavily focused on tapping the social networking trend. The Finnish giant is launching another handset with AT&T, part of its slow but steady progress in establishing a foothold in the once hostile carrier. The companies have launched the Surge, a "socially supercharged smartphone".

The handset also represents broader strategies in Nokia - pushing its Symbian Series 60 smartphone platform into midrange, well priced webphones, to appeal to the mass market by making key applications easy to access and use. The Surge, then, majors on homescreen access to instant and multimedia messaging, text and email, plus AT&T Video Share and a new application called JuiceCaster, which allows users to post messages, images and video directly to social networks like Facebook. Other features include Flash support, 2-megapixel camera, AT&T Navigator and AT&T Mobile Music, and the price is $79.99 with two-year contract and after mail-in rebate, from July 19.

Of course, the real prize for Nokia would be to get major carrier support for one of its flagship, higher margin smartphones. Its best chance lies with AT&T, which has already launched the business focused E71x and promised to make Ovi Store available to its customers later this year. Some reports say that AT&T will also launch the N97 superphone in time for the holiday season, though currently this is only available without carrier contracts in the US. Nokia's north American market share was 7.9% in the first quarter, up from 6.5% a year before.

Over at RIM, the BlackBerry Tour has gone on sale at Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, as the smartphone maker also hopes to lure AT&T for its forthcoming 'Storm 2'. The company is looking to strengthen its hand by upping its social networking credentials, with reported plans to launch a network specifically for BlackBerry App World. According to reports from TechCrunch, the social site will be called MyBlackBerry and will allow users to create a social profile where they can share mobile tips and tricks, plus recommendations of BlackBerry applications and accessories. The site will also be personalized to connect to owners of similar devices.

Another blog, BoyGeniusReport, indicates that AT&T could launch Storm 2, though the cellco would not confirm this. This would show RIM pursuing a non-exclusive launch strategy, since Verizon Wireless - which had an exclusive in the original Storm's initial US sales period - has confirmed it will carry Storm 2 from October. The Storm range was co-developed with Verizon co-owner Vodafone and supports both HSPA and CDMA EV-DO. The upgrade is expected to plug a key hole in the first model, Wi-Fi support.

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