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Weekend Tech Scan: A tech marvel for Microsoft or the emperor’s new phone?

There's much at stake for Microsoft, Nokia, and AT&T as the much-publicized Nokia Lumia 900 debuts this weekend.

Nokia Lumia 900

Nokia Lumia 900

On Sunday (April 8), the new Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone goes on sale at AT&T stores throughout Seattle and the rest of the nation. It’s a full-featured phone, as feature-laden as iPhones and top-of-the-line Android smartphones, and its standard selling price is an amazingly cheap $99 with a two-year contract.

This is no ordinary launch. The reputations, if not the fates, of two technological giants, Microsoft and Nokia, are at stake here. 

Microsoft’s gamble on the phone is enormous. It badly needs a consumer winner other than the Xbox to counter several years of bad consumer press, plus the (erroneous) perception that it no longer has a seat at the table with other market leaders such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. It needs the phone as proof positive that it has properly redesigned its mobile phone operating system, now called Windows Phone, to compete in the market. Microsoft phones currently occupy less than 2 percent of the mobile phone market — where it once owned 47 percent. 

Its mobile phone interface is based on Metro, a Microsoft design innovation that radically changes the look and feel of all Microsoft software products.  The Metro style is a clean, functional tile-based look. Several tiles are portals to other functions: “People” gives you entry to your social media accounts and “Marketplace” contains all your apps, music, games, and podcasts.

Metro started as the face of Windows Phones, including the new Windows 8 now in preview. It has transmuted into becoming the new face of Microsoft software. Windows Phone, in essence, is the stalking horse for a new direction.

Nokia was and is a company in trouble. Once the world’s largest phone manufacturers, its dated Symbian operating system, plus the rise of Apple and Android in the marketplace, all but marginalized the company in the last few years. According to CNN Money, until recently, Nokia had not sold any smartphones in the U.S. has been “almost invisible” here in the last five years. The Verge claims its Finland-based workforce has been cut in half since 2010 and it’s outsourcing to Asian companies.

If the public buys into both the phone hardware and the supporting Windows Phone operating system, then celebrations in both Redmond and Keilaniema, Finland — homes to Microsoft and Nokia, respectively — should be loud and boisterous. Last night in New York City’s Times Square, Nokia threw a launch party with an appearance by a "special guest artist" (it turned out to be Nicki Minaj).

While not as deeply dependent on the phone’s success, a glass or two will probably be raised in Dallas, the home of AT&T, which is heavily supporting both the new phone and the Microsoft phone system. AT&T is banking on the Nokia/Windows Phone as its replacement for its once-exclusive marketing of the iPhone. According to a Slashgear report, AT&T was calling the overall Lumia 900 promotional campaign its biggest launch ever, now that the Apple phone is being sold through additional providers.

When the Lumia 900 phone was introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show last January, the reviews were ecstatic; several publications gave it “best of show” awards. The PR excitement came from reviews, not through any exceptional push from the companies. It is ironic that the same press that earlier raised expectations for the phone may be responsible for lowering them as the phone is hitting the market. 

Here are some samples.

Walt Mossberg,  dean of U.S. gadget writers and a Wall Street Journal columnist, noted the phone is the best yet for the “attractive” Windows Phone software, but added “[it] still doesn’t measure up to rival smartphones.” 

New York Times columnist David Pogue called the phone “beautiful, fast and powerful,” praises the new operating system and says its functions are generally top notch. And then he asked, “But is that enough to make you sacrifice apps like Scrabble, Pandora and Dropbox [which are lacking on Windows Phones]? Is ‘just as good’ enough to justify losing out on the universe of accessories and compatibility?


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Apr 19, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

"Microsoft phones currently occupy less than 2 percent of the mobile phone market — where it once owned 47 percent." I find it hard to believe Microsoft ever had 47 percent of the mobile phone market. Maybe 47 percent of the smart phone market, in the very early days, when smart phones were a small percentage of the total cell phone market.

sully

Posted Wed, Apr 25, 4:55 p.m. Inappropriate

The Lumia 900 running Windows Phone 7.5 is a beautiful phone. Once you get Windows Live and Xbox up an running you're well on your way to "three devices and the cloud".

App-to-app parity doesn't exist yet. What intrigues me is what it will be like to have all my devices seeing all my stuff all at the same time. Keep an eye on Microsoft's vision and remember this launch a year from now...

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