Will the latest Lumia launch lure back Nokia users?

As Nokia unveils its latest handsets, running Microsoft’s new Windows Phone 8 mobile OS, will it win over the industry and become a contender again?

Nokia today revealed its latest flagship Lumia smartphone to the world, dubbed the Lumia 920, running Microsoft’s upcoming mobile operating system (OS), Windows Phone 8.

Despite looking much like its previous range of flagship mobiles, a raft of improvements has been announced – such as a more powerful Qualcomm chip, the Snapdragon S4, impressive-looking photography settings from PureView and even wireless charging.

But, with Samsung seemingly taking over the world with its handsets – wherever it got its ideas from – and Apple’s next iPhone looming over the mobile industry, is the launch enough to grab the attention of the market and, most importantly, the users?

First impressions of the handset and the lower-end accompanying device, the Lumia 820, were positive, with more than one analyst telling Computer Weekly they were “solid” designs. For once the phones are not comparable to Apple’s iPhone or Samsung’s Galaxy SIII and, although the significant range of colours are bright and perhaps a tad tacky, the change is refreshing.

Although the launch was very consumer-focused, there is also no doubt the handsets would be very good for the business user too. With Microsoft powering the software, the compatibility for work documents and applications is superb and the ability to secure devices for a corporate network will be easy to take advantage of.

“Windows Phone 8 will certainly be an alternative to RIM for some organisations, and also has the potential to get into enterprise before Android has a real place in there,” said Carolina Milanesi, research vice-president at Gartner.

“Encryption was one of the main things that our clients were waiting for and that came.”

But, despite this opportunity for Nokia to aim at the enterprise with these devices, its focus still seems to be on winning over the cooler consumer customers from Apple and Google.

That begs the question, if it is the consumer market Nokia wants, was Microsoft really the right choice of partner?

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst at Ovum, believes that, at this point, sticking with Microsoft is Nokia’s best option.

“They would likely have sold many more phones over the last year or so with Android,” he said, “but now that Windows 8 is launching, a Windows Phone will be a much easier sell and that should really help them.” 

Now that Windows 8 is launching, a Windows Phone will be a much easier sell and that should really help Nokia

Jan Dawson, chief telecoms analyst, Ovum

Milanesi agrees that Microsoft was the right choice to make over Android for its longer term strategy.

“Nokia still cares about building a Nokia ecosystem and not being swallowed into the ecosystem of the platform owner – as would have been the case with Android,” she said.

Both Dawson and Milanesi are right that Microsoft is a safe company to bet on, and with all the momentum it is growing behind the launch of its desktop and tablet OS, Windows 8, Nokia should be able to ride the wave of the hype.

But, while Nokia remains dedicated to the Microsoft cause, the software giant has its fingers in a number of pies.

Samsung jumped the gun last week at the IFA conference in Berlin by offering journalists a sneak peek at its Ativ S Windows Phone 8 handset and the HTC offerings are just around the corner.

Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer, even brought up the prospect of more Windows Phone 8 devices at Nokia’s own launch party, mentioning Samsung’s unveiling and hinting towards seeing others “over the course of the next month or two” – something that must have left Stephen Elop, CEO of Nokia, reeling as he loitered in the background.

But Milanesi claimed Nokia didn’t have too much to worry about as other manufacturers would not put as much effort into its Windows Phone 8 devices.

“Of course, today the Samsung brand is stronger in many markets, but I doubt that we will see a strong push from Samsung in the short term,” she said. “I also think Nokia has a better chance to differentiate than Samsung does, so as long as they build up their brand, it should not be a long term issue.”

Dawson added that Nokia was still ahead of its competitors, as journalists only got a brief glimpse of the Samsung option and HTC still hasn’t been seen.

“Nokia now has phones announced which are ready to show, whereas Samsung only showed its phone on stage,” he said. “Nokia's phones are better differentiated in both hardware and software from what we've seen so far, so I think Nokia is in good shape.” 

But with Nokia shares down 12% within the first hour after launch, it seems not everyone shares their enthusiasm.

The only hope for Nokia is to make this relationship with Microsoft work. It has been 18 months now and it needs to start paying off.

The benefit of the Windows 8 OS launching for tablets and PCs will surely give the phone market a boost and bring more attention to what Nokia is offering than with previous versions.

But if all the extra design, dedication to one OS and marketing drive still doesn’t make Nokia a contender against the Apples and Samsungs of this world, we really don’t see what can.

Maybe a bigger push towards the enterprise would also serve it well, but with consumerisation of IT in full swing, maybe the tactic to win over the general user first could pay off in the long run.

Until the competition has been fully revealed, it is hard to say if Nokia’s handsets are winning designs or not, but for the company’s future, we hope they are.

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