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Nokia intros Lumia and Asha phones with emphasis on craftsmanship

Nokia CEO Stephen Elop introduced the first Nokia Windows Phone smartphones at Nokia World and set a tone for the company of elevated design and real craftsmanship. "We're playing to win."

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From Nokia World in London, the beleaguered device maker didn't so much make a long-awaited grab at the number-three position (behind Apple and Android) as take on Apple directly.

"We are signaling our intent to be today's leader in smartphone design and craftsmanship," said a serious Stephen Elop, who took on the CEO role in September 2010 and shortly afterward announced a new alliance with Microsoft.

Elop indeed introduced the first Nokia smartphones to run Microsoft's Windows Phone OS, the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710, insisting that they don't simply run the platform but complement and amplify it. "Lumia is the first real Windows Phone," Elop insisted, to applause.

Elop and his team also introduced a line of Asha phones for the "next 1 billion people," feature-rich mobile phones with smartphone-like presence and appeal.

One can barely count all the phones that have come to market this year, each touted as fast and slick and cool and powerful. Nokia's presentation, however, was notable for instead angling for an emphasis on quality (while of course also calling the devices gorgeous and awesome and cool).

In this way, there was a touch of Apple about it all. These aren't just Windows Phone devices, or more stamped-out smartphones for boosting holiday sales; this is what craftsmanship looks like, was the message.

"They represent something that is deeply Nokia," said Elop, explaining that in his new role he'd become acquainted with the revered Finnish architect Alvar Aalto

"Aalto sought to give items in everyday life what he called a gentler structure," Elop continued. "He wanted to make beautiful, easy-to-use things and make them accessible to more people. Nokia shares these Nordic design roots. And the Nokia Asha family of products is an example of making great design accessible."

For example, the colors on the Asha — the name means "hope," in Hindi — is achieved through a two-shot molding process ("That is craftsmanship at any price point," said Elop), while the speaker holes on the Lumia 800 are each individually milled so they're as small as possible.

Apple spends an entire year working on a single device, and then over the course of the year a handful of manufacturers throw as many Android devices against it as possible, enjoying that at least in sum their platform figures best iOS. While Nokia is hardly going the one-device route, at Nokia World today it nonetheless arguably managed to align itself more with the former than the latter.

Whether such craftsmanship comes at a price Nokia can sustain, whether the world will even find the phones as well designed as Elop does, and whether Nokia can help to get consumers re-interested in Microsoft, all remain to be seen.

In the meantime, it's interesting to take Elop at his word.

"We're playing to win," he said.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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