Now that Nokia's unveiled its first midmarket Windows Phone for the U.S. market, the story is shifting to the Finnish phone maker's inevitable follow-up.
Chris Weber, president of Nokia's U.S. division, told Bloomberg in December that his company will have a "very large presence" at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), slated to begin next week. It will certainly display that midmarket phone, the Lumia 710, and analysts and pundits such as Paul Thurrott generally expect that other, higher-end devices will make an appearance.
"Three LTE-based Windows Phone handsets-the Nokia ACE, HTC Radiant, and Samsung Mendel-will ship on AT&T Wireless before the middle of 2012," Thurrott wrote in a Dec. 29 posting on Supersite for Windows. "The ACE is due March 18, 2012."
Internationally, Nokia is already in the midst of a similar high-low punch, marketing the Lumia 710 alongside the Lumia 800. The latter is packed with powerful hardware, including a 1.4GHz processor, an 8-megapixel camera with Carl Zeiss optics, and a 3.7-inch AMOLED ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate. It seems likely that Nokia's first high-end smartphones for the U.S. market will align at least somewhat with those specs.
Nokia and T-Mobile, its carrier partner on the Lumia 710 venture in the United States, recognize that they're marketing a midlevel smartphone. In that spirit, their campaign for an audience focuses on price ($49 with a two-year contract) and Windows Phone's supposed ease of use. This is a device meant for customers who've never owned a smartphone before, they argue, or find some higher-end rivals too intimidating.
But Nokia's future Windows Phones will need to focus on features worth a higher price tag. In addition to Long-Term Evolution (LTE), current rumors hint at future devices with larger screens, front- and rear-facing cameras, and other hardware perks. In addition, Microsoft will reportedly engage in a more up-tempo marketing campaign for its smartphone platform, in conjunction with carriers and handset makers.
CES will almost certainly offer a first glimpse at what could be a rather large campaign in the making. If that campaign succeeds, then Nokia CEO Stephen Elop will have been validated in his decision to abandon the company's homegrown operating systems, including Symbian, in favor of Windows Phone; moreover, Microsoft will gain market share for a smartphone platform that's struggled for adoption over the past year. If it fails, though, things could become rather stressful for both parties.