Nokia's first Windows Phone 7 handset: Is it enough?

  • 26 October 2011
  • From the section Technology
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Imagine this. You're an outsider from another continent, brought in to try to pull what was Europe's leading technology business out of a death spiral.

Your first move is to tell your staff that the software on which the company's reputation was built is history and their future depends on working with what was once a deadly rival. And today you have to unveil the first fruits of that partnership.

No pressure then for Stephen Elop as he opened the Nokia World conference with a keynote which featured his company's first two Windows Phone 7 handsets.

He's the Canadian who sent that famous "burning platform" memo to staff earlier this year, shortly before unveiling a deal to use Microsoft's latest mobile operating system in place of Symbian.

This morning he proudly showed off the Nokia Lumia 800, designed to be the flagship of a fleet of smartphones combining Nokia's hardware expertise with Microsoft's likeable if little-known Windows Phone 7 software.

He extolled its design elegance - "just beautiful" - but went on to make a big claim which Microsoft's other partners might find a touch arrogant:

"Lumia is the first real Windows Phone."

Crowded space

What then will differentiate Nokia Windows phones from HTC or Samsung handsets with the same operating system? Nokia will say its hardware has always led the way, but it is also packaging the phones with services to try to make them stand out.

Nokia's mapping software will power Drive, a navigation system which users get for nothing.

They will also be able to listen to millions of tracks on their phones via Nokia Music. No, a PR executive told me, it's nothing like "Comes With Music" the firm's last ill-fated venture into this industry - that was about downloads, this is about streaming. And there will be football via an ESPN sports app.

With rather less fanfare, Nokia unveiled a second Windows Phone handset today, but this cheaper device was a signal that it wants to compete right across the fast-growing smartphone market.

But they will be entering a market now crowded with very clever phones - whether you favour Android, Apple or Blackberry, you are now spoiled for choice.

Nokia and Microsoft know they will have to work very hard to get consumers to pay attention, so prepare to be be subjected to one of the biggest single marketing campaigns the mobile industry has ever seen.

Network operators will be playing their part, keen to make sure there is more competition in the market to drive down the price of the hardware.

So Nokia has put its entire future in the hands of Microsoft...or has it? What surprised me about this morning's keynote was that Mr Elop also unveiled four devices that had nothing to do with Windows, phones aimed at the developing world.

Nokia points out that it's been selling huge numbers of these phones - a million a day - and it was only this part of the business which made its most recent financial results look halfway respectable. The message was that the next billion internet users would be connected by Nokia, and the new Asha range of almost-smart phones would help make that happen.

And there was even some news about Symbian, with a public transport service helping you get across more than 400 cities worldwide, and an augmented reality app. Symbian, it seems, is not dead, just resting.

So Mr Elop is hedging his bets. He hopes and believes that the new Windows phones will restore Nokia to its rightful position as a leader in the lucrative smartphone market.

But if a year from now it's still failing to make headway in the race with Android and Apple, expect to hear plenty more about the huge opportunities offered by the developing world.

The question is will Indian and Chinese consumers continue to want Nokia phones if they are shunned by American and European buyers?