Nokia’s Drastic U.S. Steps: No N9, No Symbian, No Low-End Devices

Call this streamlining of the highest order. The beleaguered handset maker Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is setting itself up for what it hopes will be a lean and mean relaunch in the U.S. later this year: it has finally admitted that it will not launch its newest N9 device — the first and possibly only one based on the MeeGo platform — and that it plans to end sales of its Symbian-based devices as well as low-end Series 40 handsets, as it prepares for a generation of devices it is developing using Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 platform.

The N9 handset, revealed earlier this year, has seen a lot of rave reviews from those who have played with it. The takeaway for many was that the MeeGo-based handset was finally living up to many expectations of what Nokia could do with a smartphone: smooth graphics; bright interfaces; intuitive operations; and non-clunky, sleek design.

But although it looked for a while like Nokia was hedging its bets by revealing the device after it had already announced a major strategy shift to Windows Phone, now it appears that Nokia has decided to take a different, simpler approach. In a statement provided to mocoNews, Nokia said that it would not be launching its N9 device in the U.S. after all:

After the very positive reception to the launch of the Nokia N9, the product is now being rolled out in countries around the world. At this time, we will not be making it available in the US. Nokia takes a market by market approach to product rollout and each country makes its own decisions about which products to introduce from those available. Decisions are based on an assessment of existing and upcoming products that make up Nokia’s extensive product portfolio and the best way in which to address local market opportunities.

The news was first reported earlier today by Engadget.

But this doesn’t seem to be the only big decision the company let loose today. In an interview with AllThingsD, the company’s U.S. president, Chris Weber, effectively said that Nokia would also cease to sell Symbian smartphones and Series 40 feature phones in the U.S. when it launches the Windows Phone products, the first of which are expected to come out at the end of this year.

“When we launch Windows Phones we will essentially be out of the Symbian business, the S40 business, etc.,” he told the blog.

Although Nokia has outsourced and guaranteed support for Symbian for years to come in some markets (such as Asia), its decision in the U.S. should not come as too much of a surprise: Nokia has had a dismal time in the U.S. market, losing share to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), Android-based handset makers, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM) with its line of Symbian devices that have failed to capture mindshare in the country.

The last big device that it had launched in the U.S., the Astound with T-Mobile, has had “disappointing” sales, according to Weber. Its poor showing in the U.S., it could be argued, has been one of the chief reasons behind Nokia’s massive turnaround effort, led by ex-Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) exec and now Nokia CEO Stephen Elop.

The other big shift for Nokia will be in its channel strategy. It plans to only sell phones via operators in the U.S. going forward — in the past it had also retailed directly. What is the reason for that? It will mean a more streamlined (and lower cost approach), and it will mean that it could use that to sweeten the deal for the operators to give the devices more prominence — as a result of less competition from other channels.

Meanwhile, it might turn out that people in the U.S. will get a taste of the N9 after all. In the “leaked” video of Elop showing off the first Nokia Windows Phone device, codenamed “Sea Ray”, Elop refers to how similar the new device is in form to the N9 — and it would not be far-fetched to bet that Nokia is furiously trying to work in all the highly rated N9 features into its new generation of Microsoft devices.

And what of the UK? Nokia has still not released any details on what its N9 plans are here, so still time for a turnaround here as well. The spokesperson told us that “Pricing and availability of the N9 in the UK has not yet been announced. We shall let you know as soon as this changes.” The device will definitely launch in Sweden with a number of carriers.