Once the de facto king of mobile phones, Nokia last week unveiled two Lumia smartphones, which many deem as the make-or-break smartphones for the Finnish giant. With its ego bruised after battling and falling, first to Apple and now Samsung, Nokia had to ensure that it blew everyone’s mind away with its new Lumia smartphones. Both smartphones runon Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 operating system.
Shrouded in mystery
Things didn’t roll off as smoothly last week as one would expect from an event that had severe consequences. Microsoft chose not to unveil any key features of the operating system. It kept Windows Phone 8 under wraps for a later day, which in all probability, is at least a month away. The entire event, which lasted for about 90 minutes, showed two phones (the Lumia 820 for just a few minutes) without revealing features of their operating system or details about their pricing or availability. Chances are that the phones would be available only in November or two months after the unveiling. Unsurprisingly, Nokia’s shares closed down 15 per cent after the event as shareholders and analysts were disappointed.
CEO Stephen Elop has been promising investors his bet of jumping the “burning platform” will pay off. However, patience is running thin in Finland as they haven’t heard anything but bad news in the 18 months since Nokia jumped off the burning platform and landed in Microsoft’s lap. Elop is not only the first non-Finnish CEO and President of Nokia but came to Nokia from Microsoft, which has only fanned suspicion about his motives.
I have seen both the Lumia 820 and Lumia 920 and the two not only have smart designs but also impressive specs. Pundits might say they have dual-core and not quad-core processors like some of the latest Android superphones. What they miss is the Qualcomm processors these phones are using which give an equivalent performance to those quad-core processors and even better battery performance at the same time. The design might be similar to Lumia phones Nokia launched last year but the design was one of the things that sold most of those devices. Why fix something that ain’t broken? And of course, the PureView camera on the Lumia 920 will set new standards for the industry.
Hardware has never really been a problem for Nokia. Instead, it is the software that has always let them down. The success of the Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 will depend solely on Windows Phone 8. Microsoft has kept the cards close to its chest but the little we have seen of the software, it looks impressive. In fact, the earlier Windows Phone 7.5 operating system was just a stopgap arrangement to allow Microsoft to work on Windows Phone 8.
From what has been revealed so far, Windows Phone 8 shares its core with Windows 8, the desktop operating system that will ensure developers would be able to develop apps for both desktops and smartphones with minimal modifications. Windows Phone 8 also has a voice command feature that is similar to Apple’s Siri but also works within third party apps. Windows Phone 8 devices will also have Nokia’s maps and navigation software that works offline (no need for a data connection on the phone once the maps are downloaded).
Microsoft is also promising advanced multitasking, a feature that was missing from the earlier versions. It also supports high resolution displays and most smartphones will have a memory card slot to expand storage capacity. In short, Windows Phone 8 should address most complaints consumers had about earlier Lumia smartphones and have some more features on top of it.
Having said that, Windows Phone 8, despite all the improvements, is unlikely to be competitive initially with Android and iOS. The challenge for both Microsoft and Nokia is to somehow undo everything that has gone wrong with the older Lumias and convince buyers to give them another opportunity. That won’t be easy as Android has matured vastly in the last year and has gained momentum that has not been seen in the recent past. It took Samsung just 100 days to sell 20 million units of the Galaxy S III globally, a smartphone that was launched at approximately Rs 40,000 in India. At retail stores a smartphone usually means Android or iPhone.
At best, Windows Phone 8 will be gunning to become the third alternative platform after Android and iOS. Microsoft and Nokia want to take BlackBerry’s position and build up from there hoping to compete first with Apple and then with Android. The duo would be pleased if they are the third platform of choice by the end of 2013. Anything additional would be icing on the proverbial cake.
(The author is Executive Editor of www.bgr.in)