Nokia's big plan for its comeback in the U.S. smartphone market: unleash the flood of Windows Phones.
Starting Jan. 11, Nokia and T-Mobile will offer the Lumia 710 to U.S. customers for $49 with a two-year contract. The midmarket device will feature a 1.4GHz processor, 5-megapixel camera, and a choice of either black or white exterior. Preloaded applications will include Nokia Drive, which offers turn-by-turn navigation and voice-activated control.
"The intended audience is the first-time smartphone buyers," Chris Weber, president of Nokia's U.S. division, told eWEEK Dec. 13. "That is by far the biggest opportunity for us in the U.S." Nokia is also angling to make the Lumia 710 a go-to device for those first-time buyers normally intimidated by smartphone technology.
Microsoft will also contribute "learning and resources" to Nokia's and T-Mobile's promotional efforts, according to Weber. Unlike rivals such as the iPhone and Google Android, which present the user with grid-like screens of individual applications, Microsoft's Windows Phone offers a set of subject-specific tiles ("People," "Games" and more) that group applications and Web content.
Internationally, Nokia is also pushing a higher-end Lumia 800 with a 1.4GHz processor, hardware acceleration and graphics processor, an 8-megapixel camera that uses Carl Zeiss optics, 16GB of internal user memory, and 25GB of free SkyDrive storage for music and images. It features a 3.7-inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate.
But Weber was reluctant to share when the Lumia 800 would join its midrange sibling on the U.S. market. "We haven't announced any additional devices," he said. "We'll shortly communicate some additional announcements for the marketplace."
By pricing the Lumia 710 at $49, Nokia is clearly aiming at a midmarket currently dominated by a broad range of Google Android devices. The Finnish phone-maker has a negligible presence in the U.S. market, something the company desperately wants to change. Earlier this year, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop made the controversial decision to abandon his company's Symbian and MeeGo operating systems in favor of Windows Phone, something he insisted would allow Nokia to compete more heartily against both iOS and Android.
For Nokia, then, Windows Phone is something of the ultimate bet: Success could result in a broad-based revival of the company's fortunes. But if its newest device line fails, the company lacks a fallback operating system. Considering Windows Phone's small market share, it's also a somewhat risky wager. Some analysts have questioned Nokia's ability to take a significant chunk of the higher market away from players like Apple's iPhone and Motorola's Droid franchise.
"With no breakthrough innovation, we believe Nokia's new phones are unlikely to get traction in a highly concentrated high end," James Faucette, an analyst at Pacific Crest Securities, wrote in a research note quoted by The New York Times Nov. 22. With that in mind, he set Nokia Windows Phone sales for the quarter to 500,000 units, down from his previous projection of 2 million.