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Finland’s Nokia unveils music downloads, Internet services, gadgets

Nokia Corp. unveiled new Internet services and gadgets Wednesday to help customers download music and play games on mobile handsets – in a strong push to challenge rivals, including Apple’s iTunes and iPod.

The latest move by the world’s largest mobile phone maker, which has a strong position in emerging markets with basic handsets, is further recognition that high-end markets require multitask handsets with photo, music and video capabilities and quick access to the Internet.

Nokia said it will focus its Web services in a new site known as ”Ovi” – Finnish for ”door” – that will include an online music store that allows users to browse for music ”with millions of tracks from major labels” and buy downloads onto their devices, including one that holds up to 6,000 songs.

The new services will also enable the transfer of music from PCs to compatible Nokia devices, and give customers the chance to play and download N-Gage games on ”tens of millions” of Nokia devices sold worldwide, the Finnish company said.

The high-power launch of the new services, announced in London, sent Nokia stock to its highest level this year in Helsinki, closing up 4.6 percent at euro23.31 (US$31.77).

”The industry is converging towards Internet-driven experiences and Ovi represents Nokia’s vision in combining the Internet and mobility,” Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said in London. ”Looking into the future, we will deliver great devices, combined with compelling experiences and services, to make it easy for people to unlock the potential of the Internet.”

Kallasvuo also said that global sales of multimedia phones – with access to the Internet thereby enabling video, music and data downloads – would grow to 120 million devices this year, an increase of 50 percent on 2006.

Nokia’s new top-range models, including 5-megapixel cameras, Carl Zeiss optics and memory of up to 8 gigabytes, range from euro225 to euro560 (US$300-750).

Last year, Nokia bought Loudeye Corp., a leading provider of digital media distribution services, for US$60 million to expand its mobile digital music offerings.

Now it has completed deals with four major music labels – Universal Music Group, EMI, Sony Music and Warner Music Group. It will price downloads of single music tracks at euro1 (US$1.36) and albums at euro10 (US$13.60). The ”Nokia Music Store” will open this autumn in Europe and later in Asia, it said.

The online store will offer ”locally relevant music” as well as hits.

”People don’t just want the top global hits, but also music that is relevant to them, whether from local artists or songs in their own language,” Tommi Mustonen, head of Nokia’s music activities, said. ”That’s why we are working with thousands of major and independent labels to bring as many songs on the local top charts as possible to the Nokia music store in each country.”

Since losing out to rivals on popular camera features and clamshell models several years ago, Nokia is regaining its dominance in the market. In part, that success can be attributed to its successful smart phones that are pushing further into the domain of photos, music players and TV.

In the second quarter, Nokia sold 100 million mobile devices – more than its three main rivals combined. It accounted for 37 percent of the global market share, according to technology research group Gartner Inc. – up from 34 percent in the same period a year earlier.

Nokia, based in Espoo near the Finnish capital, Helsinki, has sales in 130 countries and employs 110,000 people worldwide.

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