A phone for the next billion people
During my time at Nokia I was fortunate enough to work on a project aimed at providing a low cost phone for the next billion people coming online. This was to be a bridge between a feature phone that people were used to and a smart phone, much like an iPhone. Unline the Apple products, however, we wanted to make a phone that had multitasking (a core feature of what makes a smart phone) for under $100. It was an intense timeline and we had to work very fast to put all the components together. We were not using Symbian - a platform that ran previous Nokia phones. This one was to be built from the ground up to accomodate the new hardware requirements. Borrowing from previous generations of designs and inventing a whole set of new interactivity for the phone, we set out to create one of the most affordable smarphones of the time
Pictured above is the phone we worked on - the Asha 501 that shipped in 2013.
The new Asha phone needed a full range of features and Nokia-built apps in order to be competitive from day one. We had to come up with designs that would translate the Nokia brand and be accessible enough for phone users who have never interacted with a smartphone before. We set out to refine the toolkits needed to build the experience from both a visual and interaction aspect.
Every byte counts
In order to keep the price to a minimum the hardware had to be paired down compared to more expensive smart phone models. To make sure the software was ready in time for the hardware release we had to work with early prototypes of the phones. This allowed us to test how fast or slow our apps would be performing on the new device. We would often have to trade features for digital memory in order to make sure that the phone could perform to standard we were happy with. Notificaitons, for example, had to be designed with special care as not to use too much data or RAM on the phone.
The app store experience
At some point in the Asha devlopment process I was tasked with designing the the app store experience and the developer portal. This was by far the most complex app on the phone and had a ton of edge cases and regional nuances to navigate. As a part of our launch we would need to partner with several big names in the app world to bring essential apps to the Asha phone. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, Skype and of corse Angry Birds had to be pre installed. In order to keep the store stocked with apps we needed to have a place where developers could go to learn about Asha and get specs for the new platform.
"It’s difficult to ignore that $99 price tag. For all of its shortcomings, camera and Web browsing included, the Nokia Asha 501 is an impressive package for anyone on a budget. The interface feels modern and trendy, but also accessible enough that even my parents could use it without being overwhelmed."