Beleaguered smartphone giant Nokia on Tuesday announced the release of a major new smartphone, the Nokia N9, which combines elegant hardware design with innovative new software features. Although the N9 in many ways represents Nokia's first viable iPhone competitor, it's also something of a lame duck: It runs the Meego OS, which the company is dropping in favor of Microsoft's Windows Phone.

"With the Nokia N9, we wanted to design a better way to use a phone," Nokia Head of Design Marko Ahtisaari said. "To do this, we innovated in the design of the hardware and software together. We reinvented the home key with a simple gesture: a swipe from the edge of the screen. The experience sets a new bar for how natural technology can feel. And this is just the beginning. The details that make the Nokia N9 unique—the industrial design, the all-screen user experience, and the expressive Qt framework for developers—will evolve in future Nokia products."

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The N9 is an admittedly beautiful phone, one that Nokia CEO Stephen Elop says proves that innovation is alive and well at the company. It features a gorgeous slab design, available in multiple, scratch-resistant colors. The UI is "pure" multi-touch, of course, but features a unique "swipe" interface in which a finger gesture from the edge of the screen invokes the home screen, removing the need for a dedicated button. And unlike certain smartphones that compromise antenna reception for design, the N9 delivers "superior" reception via a new polycarbonate body. "This means better reception, better voice quality, and fewer dropped calls," Nokia notes. Take that, iPhone.

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Continuing Nokia's tradition of superior camera optics, the N9 also includes an 8-megapixel camera with a wide-angle lens and HD quality video capabilities. The device also features turn-by-turn navigation functionality, maps with voice guidance, and a true 16:9 widescreen display.

Nokia says the N9 will ship "later this year" in 16GB and 64GB variants and in multiple colors. Exact availability and pricing has yet to be determined. Of course, Nokia also plans to deliver at least one Windows Phone model later this year and will then focus on Microsoft's platform going forward. Elop recently returned from the company's San Diego design labs with various Windows Phone prototypes, according to sources, and work on Windows Phone is proceeding faster than expected, with engineers at both Microsoft and Nokia reportedly very excited by the resulting products.