Nokia, Microsoft Lumia Event Launches Significant iPhone 5 Alternative

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2012-09-05

Nokia, Microsoft Lumia Event Launches Significant iPhone 5 Alternative

Nokia's launch of the Lumia 920 in a hoopla-filled New York City event is significant for several reasons. First is the venue-Nokia is clearly pinning its hopes for sales of the new Lumia phones to the United States, and chose to launch in Manhattan instead of Finland. But there's more than just that. Nokia and Microsoft have worked hard to integrate Windows Phone 8 into Nokia's hardware, and in the process develop capabilities you really can't get elsewhere.

Much of the announcement focused on the new PureView camera that resides in the Lumia 920. This phone features more light-gathering capability for its camera than other phones, and it performs optical stabilization to make sure the photos are sharp. Other phones use digital stabilization for their cameras, or they don't use stabilization at all, and the difference, done right, is big. In Nokia's case, the 8MP camera has the entire optical system stabilized so that it all floats within the camera.

The Nokia 920's camera is intended to be a major differentiating factor between the smartphone and the Apple iOS and Google Android worlds. Whether it achieves this or not depends on two factors: How the 920's camera works in the real world, and what Apple introduces in the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12. Right now, there's no indication that the iPhone will have such a sophisticated optical system, but as is always the case with Apple, you just never know for sure.

The other major feature Nokia introduced is location services.

Nokia built on its already excellent products such as Nokia Drive and Nokia Map to include Nokia Transport, and in the process build an integrated location system that provides input to an augmented-reality system that in the demo seemed to work very well. Unlike most competitors, Nokia includes off-line maps as part of the software, which means that the Lumia 920 will avoid a major Achilles heel for smartphone navigation-the need to be connected to a cloud-based source of maps. The Nokia 920 will always have access to its maps even if you're out of range of a cell signal.

Nokia Transport is designed to work with public transportation systems, while Nokia Drive will provide turn-by-turn navigation. Both work with information available on transit-arrival times and traffic incidents to tell you what time you need to leave for work, or how to find your way around a train station, even if you're underground without a signal.

While these features don't really have much of an effect on the Nokia 920's ability to function as a phone, some of the other features, such as the 2,000mAh battery and the cordless charging system mean that you can have the phone available when you need it.

Windows Phone 8 May Actually Be the Devices Biggest Feature


Perhaps the biggest feature of the phone is actually Windows Phone 8. Because Microsoft and Nokia worked together to the extent they did, the integration is more complete than what you usually find in smartphones. The connection between apps and hardware appears to be essentially seamless. The Windows home screen now fills the Nokia 920 screen completely and without space wasted to black borders. Perhaps more important, Windows Phone 8 comes to market with more than 100,000 apps already in the marketplace. And because you can use Windows Phone 7 apps on a Windows Phone 8, you don't have to worry about apps mysteriously disappearing when you upgrade (like what happens with BlackBerry 7.1).

The obvious question, of course, is how well will the Nokia Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8 do when it runs up against the iPhone, especially the upcoming iPhone 5?

In this case, perhaps the best thing you can say is that it's not an iPhone. But there's a difference. Because Windows Phone 8 does not try to clone anything about Apple's iOS, and because the Lumia comes with a different feature set, including little things like the ability to work while wearing gloves, to the customizable start screen, the Lumia 920 provides a clear alternative.

While the iPhone fans, who are probably already camping out at Apple stores, won't love it because it's not an iPhone, there are a lot of people who will love the Lumia 920 precisely because it's not an iPhone. In one sense, Apple can't depart too far from the iPhone paradigm, or it risks losing iPhone fans. But Nokia and Microsoft need to depart because they want to attract people for whom the iPhone isn't the answer.

Currently, the biggest choice for people who don't want an iPhone is Android, but Google's phone OS has its own risks.

Still, there are plenty of things we don't know about the Lumia 920, including which carriers will sell it, how much it will cost, and when Nokia will begin selling it. We do know that AT&T and Verizon Wireless will sell the Lumia 920, which means that there will be both GSM and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) versions of the device. T-Mobile had very good luck with the Lumia 710, so it seems like a good bet. But Sprint? Who knows?

But one thing we do know is that there's a clear choice if you don't want an iPhone or an Android clone of an iPhone. That might be everything Nokia and Microsoft need.

Rocket Fuel