Windows on Nokia: let there be light
John Delaney - Research Director, IDC
Today, Nokia publicly announced the first of its long-anticipated Windows phones. Branded the Lumia 800 and Lumia 710, both devices run the Mango version of Windows Phone. The Nokia Lumia 800 features a 3.7" AMOLED display, 1.4 GHz processor, 8 megapixels Carl Zeiss camera with dedicated button, 16Gb embedded memory and a 1450MAh battery. The Nokia Lumia 710 features a 3.7" Display, 1.4 GHz processor, 5 megapixels Carl Zeiss camera with dedicated button and 8Gb embedded memory.
The first thing to say is: that was quick work! When Nokia first announced the adoption of Windows as its primary smartphone platform back in February, our immediate reaction was that it would be very important to get its first Windows phones onto the market speedily. Well, nine months is pretty speedy - and of course, it gets the phones into the shops in time for the crucial pre-Christmas buying period.
What about the phones' prospects? Given Nokia's recent reverses in the smartphone market, Lumia clearly faces something of an uphill struggle. We don't think the Lumia 800 is an iPhone or Galaxy killer. Those two franchises still have very strong momentum, and there's nothing unique about the new phone that looks powerful enough to stop them in their tracks. That said, however, the Lumia phones do have some strong selling points in their own right, as we'll detail below, and they offer a look and feel that's radically different from anything seen previously on a Nokia device. These devices are strong contenders - especially if Nokia's current round of intensive negotiations with the operator channel results in good in-store prominence and some attractive package deals.
What about the phones themselves? We'll focus on The Lumia 800, described by Nokia's as its "hero device for the Christmas market", which is in the same device bracket as Apple's iPhone and Samsung's Galaxy. In terms of hardware, the Lumia 800 is basically the same as the recently-launched N9, with the addition of a few buttons. As such, it stacks up rather well. It looks slim, sleek and simple, and the smooth matt finish makes it feel very pleasing to hold. ("No RF interference from the polycarbonate body", Nokia points out with a straight face.) The screen is large, bright and clear. The camera is as excellent as one has come to expect from a Nokia phone.
In terms of software, the Lumia 800 scores especially well in four areas:
- Social hub. In Windows Phone 7, Microsoft made a very good job of bringing together the various modes and services with which users communicate, into a coherent, contact-centred interface
- Live tiles. Lots of the "quick-check" information that a user is likely to need is present on the home screen, and constantly available at a glance
- Browsing. The Internet Explorer 9 browser in Windows Mango provides a fast and easy-to-use mobile web experience, especially because its H. 5 support reduces the need for scripting and plug-ins such as Flash. There's also the added benefit of having the Internet Explorer logo on the home page as the point of entry to the web, an experience with which users are familiar from their use of the web on PCs
- Mapping and navigation. Nokia's assimilation of its Gate5 and Navteq assets has been a long and sometimes painful process - but Nokia Maps now offers a powerful, easy-to-use and (crucially) free set of resources for helping users find their way about, one of the primary use cases of a smartphone. In particular, Nokia is launching the Lumia 800 with an upgraded user-interface for in-car navigation which puts it on a par with the experience provided by a dedicated satnav PND.
There are some weak points too. Windows Marketplace is still a struggler among the app storefronts, being less copiously stocked and less popular than App Store or Android Marketplace. With music, there's some brand confusion between two not especially strong offerings - Zune and Nokia Music (formerly, and sometimes still, known as Ovi Music) Despite pouring in a lot of investment, Nokia has not really established Nokia Music as anything more compelling than one among a number of alternative music download stores - and one that isn't especially competitive on price against, say, Amazon. (The only possible exception is in China, the one market where Nokia's Comes With Music unlimited download offering has proved to be quite popular.) And if you want to synchronise music between your phone and your PC, that may prove to be even more frustrating, since there will be no compatible PC client for Nokia Music - you'll have to use Zune. The "Mix Radio" and unlimited streaming offerings are new, but will struggle to achieve substantial traction in an already-crowded market for such offerings. Nokia will need to make some hard choices in the near future about services and content, if the overall "ecosystem" package is to match that of the iPhone for coherence and simplicity.
There's a clear need for Nokia to put a major marketing push behind the Lumia phones, and what we've seen of its plans in that area indicates that Nokia agrees. Its above-the-line marketing and branding is visually distinct from anything Nokia has done before, and the Windows brand is strikingly inconspicuous. Many buyers may not even be aware that it's a Windows phone - it's just the new-look Nokia. The "Lumia" brand is not obviously connected to Microsoft or Windows (but with its light-based connotations it also winks subtly at those who are more aware of the platform wars). In addition to above-the line advertising, Nokia is also working with operators to train and incentivise the staff in operator retail stores.