Nokia Asha 308, 309 Designed for Next Billion Internet Users

Nokia has grown its Asha line of affordable smartphones with the Wifi-enabled Asha 309 and the dual-SIM Asha 308. They'll be priced around $99 and head for developing markets.

Nokia introduced the Nokia Asha 308 and 309 Sept. 25, continuing to reach out to first-time smartphone users and the next billion people yet to have easy access to the Internet.

The small, attractive and nearly identical sister phones feature scratch-resistant 3-inch touch-screens, run Nokia's Asha Touch operating system and differ in two ways—the Asha 308 can accommodate two SIM cards, and there's no need to power down the phone to switch between them, while the single-SIM 309 is also WiFi-enabled.

Another big selling point is the newest version of the Nokia Xpress Browser, which is said to offer 90 percent more efficient mobile browsing and faster access to Web-based applications than conventional browsers. As of July, Nokia offered more than 10,000 Web apps.

The two new Nokia phones run on 2G networks—making the speed of the new browser necessary—and include multiple, customizable home screens, stereo radios, loud speakers and a microSD card slot that can support 32GB of storage. The 308 and 309 feature stand-alone apps for social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, include Nokia Messaging and are the first Asha handsets to offer streaming video from sites like YouTube.

Nokia is also offering buyers the gift of 40 free games from Electronic Arts.

While the phones arrived with none of the fanfare of Nokia's Lumia line, they do get to enjoy some of Nokia's mapping expertise through a Nokia Nearby Web-based app. Nearby helps users to find friends and places nearby and presents it all on a map.

Priced around $99 U.S. dollars, the phones will begin shipping during the fourth quarter. The 308 will come in black or golden light, and the 309 in white or black.

Nokia estimates that of the roughly 7 billion people on the planet today, 3.2 billion don't yet own a mobile phone and 1.2 billion others own a basic phone capable of voice calling and Short Message Service (SMS) but little more.

The typical Asha buyer is "urban, young and really social; normally between 16-24 years old, and living in big metropolitan areas such as Cairo, Karachi, Sao Paulo or Jakarta," said Saulo Passos, Nokia's communications director for mobile phones. "They are really interested in what they can do with technology, and very smart about how they can find the best phone for their needs."

Passos adds that ideal Asha users are very socially connected, and "financially constrained" due to their age. They like Asha features such as an updated browser, which compresses more data and so surfs faster, ultimately saving them money on their phone bills.

The 308 and 309 will also ship with the Nokia Life+ Web App, which offers location-specific information in areas such as education, health and entertainment. Later this year, Nokia will add local versions for India, China and Indonesia.

Research firm Research2Guidance expects the number of households in China that can afford a smartphone to double, from 40 percent to 80 percent, by 2017. IDC, also noting strong smartphone growth in China, expects the country to finish the year as the world's largest smartphone market and to retain that title well through 2016.

After the United States, which China bumped to second place, the next largest phone markets are the United Kingdom, India and Brazil.

For developers interested in the new Asha smartphones, Nokia has also introduced new Web-based tools that it says makes it "even easier" to build applications.