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In the smartphone wars, Nokia and Microsoft take on Google using Android handsets

February 25, 2014

Samuel Gibbs and Charles Arthur Barcelona

Nokia and Microsoft have opened a new front against Google in the smartphone wars, using its Android open-source code for low-end handsets but replacing Google search, maps and email services with their own apps.

The new X, X+ and XL smartphones will offer Microsoft search, email and "cloud" storage, and Nokia's maps, despite running on a system based on Google's freely available program code. The phones are the Finnish company's first departure from Microsoft's Windows Phone system since it began abandoning its own Symbian software in January 2011.

"The Nokia X family will introduce the next billion people to Microsoft and act as a feeder system for our Lumia smartphones," said Nokia chief executive Stephen Elop at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The man behind Nokia's original decision to dump Symbian, he said that Nokia will release more Lumia phones in the near future.

Google's Android software powers about 80% of all handsets sold worldwide and has more than a million apps available and the Nokia X phones aim to piggyback on that success to lift sales for Nokia and boost use of Microsoft's online services, while excluding Google.

The Nokia X is aimed primarily at developing markets such as India and China where handsets typically sell for less than $100, although Elop did not rule out expansion to other markets, including Britain.

Although Microsoft is buying the Nokia handset division, the deal is not yet complete - which has led some analysts to question whether the software giant will continue with the scheme.

Nokia's handset division has lost money for seven of the past eight quarters, and seen the number of smartphones sold grow only slowly. In the fourth quarter of 2013 it sold 8.2m Lumia phones running Windows Phone, compared to Apple's 51m iPhones and Samsung's estimated 86m in the same period.

Also yesterday Samsung unveiled its answer to Apple's top-of-the-range iPhone 5s, in a move set to ramp up the rivalry between the world's two biggest phone makers.

Samsung's new Galaxy S5 has a 5.1-inch screen, slightly larger than the phone it updates - the one-year-old Galaxy S4. Samsung has also given it a better camera and a heart-rate monitor.

But the biggest addition is a fingerprint scanner which, like the one on the iPhone 5s, is built into the home button. However while the iPhone version can be used to unlock the phone and verify purchases at Apple's app store, users can teach the Samsung phone to recognise three different fingerprints and can then swipe their finger across the home button to unlock the phone rather than having to key in a code.

In a considerable expansion of the technology, Samsung has also partnered with online payment provider PayPal to enable a range of online purchases to be verified with the swipe of a finger.

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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