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Nokia upgrades older Symbian phones

The company has to hold onto as many users as possible until its Windows Phone-based products arrive

In an apparent push to keep customers from defecting to other platforms until its Windows Phones ship, Nokia is planning to upgrade some of its older Symbian-based smartphones.

The upgrade includes a new browser, which provides faster Web surfing, support for International Domain Names (IDNs) and non-ASCII letters such as Arabic or Chinese, Nokia said in a blog post on Wednesday.

Users will also be treated to improved versions of Ovi Maps. Owners of such phones as the E72, E52 and C5-00 will get indoor positioning using Wi-Fi as well as travel and recommendation services from, for example, Lonely Planet.

Those who have hung on to their N97 mini, 5800 XpressMusic, C6-00 or 5230 will get public transport lines and check-in services to social networking sites.

The upgrades are called Ovi Maps 3 SR4 and Ovi Maps 3 SR6, respectively.

The launch of the update will start Wednesday for the C6-00 and 5230, and the rest of the models will follow in the next few weeks. Users should make sure they have the software update autocheck feature switched on, Nokia said.

At an event last week, Nokia restated its commitment to the Symbian OS. It will start shipping the newer N8, E7, C7 and C6-01 with Symbian Anna software update in July, and by the end of August existing owners of those devices will also be able to upgrade.

Over the next 12 months Nokia plans to launch up to 10 new Symbian-based smartphones as well.

This is a critical time for Nokia, according to Roberta Cozza, a principal analyst at Gartner. The company is trying to keep engaged with owners of Symbian-based smartphones to prevent them from defecting to competing mobile systems, she said. Once they leave Nokia it will be difficult to make them pick up upcoming Windows Phone-based products, she added.

Nokia may release its first Windows Phone this year, but it won't ship large volumes until 2012. So preventing users from buying an iPhone or an Android smartphone will continue to be a challenge well into next year, according to Cozza.

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