Nokia may have committed to Windows Phone 8, but it has just announced its new, less than $100, Asha phone plus a new SDK so that you can develop apps for it.
Before you write Nokia off as last year's platform, it is worth remembering its long-term success. The new Asha isn't quite as new as it seems to be as it benefits from this heritage.
Asha is a development on the Series 40 - not to be confused with the Symbian S60. There are an estimated 675 million Series 40 phones in use and Nokia predicts that it will sell 100 million Asha phones, but doesn't give a time scale.
If you can stand to watch this over-the-top promo for the new phone it does give you that general outline and a feeling for its importance:
The Asha 501 is quite a sophisticated device for the money: 3” QVGA touch screen, Bluetooth, Accelerometer, proximity sensor, 3.2 Mpixel camera and optional dual sim but no GPS.
The series 40 uses a Java-based OS with the option of either creating Java or web based apps. The new Asha has a new user interface sporting a pair of home screens. The SDK has support for six new APIs:
These probably make it worthy of being called a new platform, although Nokia is keen to stress that your apps will run on the existing Series 40 phones - presumably as long as you don't use the new APIs. Nokia also announced a new in-app payment tool.
There is also a new Nokia Asha SDK (currently in beta) :
"The SDK includes plug-ins to support LWUIT, Nokia Ad Exchange, and HERE maps. It also comes with the Nokia IDE 2.0 for Java ME, a tailored version of the Eclipse IDE, that delivers powerful tools specifically design for Nokia Asha platform app development."
The SDK also has the help of a new emulator based on the new phone.
As with earlier development environments from Nokia, you can either use the Nokia IDE for Java ME or NetBeans.
Nokia is making a point of explaining how easy it is to port you Blackberry and Android apps - no mention of how easy it is to port Symbian apps - to Asha. You can also sell your apps via the Nokia app store and make use of in-app advertising.
If you already have two apps in any app store for any phone then Nokia will let you join the Premium Developer Program for free and give you a Asha plus lots of other benefits.
The new Asha 501 may be a development on the Series 40 devices, but the way that Nokia is selling it to developers it looks like a restart and a renewal. Is this Nokia's safety net for when or if WP8 fails to give it a good market share?
It certainly looks as if it is a competitor at the low end of the market for the new Firefox OS based phones, it even looks a lot like the developer phones from Geeksphone:
The real question is do we developers need even more diversification?