Nokia might have lagged as a significant smartphone competitor in the U.S., and internationally Google Android was chewing into its market share, but Microsoft nonetheless sees the Finnish phone maker as a vital part of its Windows Phone strategy.
"Other handset vendors, in general, are looking at us as part of a portfolio that focuses on Android," Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Windows Phone program, told The Telegraph Oct. 27. "What Nokia is doing is very specific to Windows Phone."
In fact, Windows Phone is really Nokia's only route forward, considering how the company has abandoned both Symbian and MeeGo as operating systems for its devices. Driven by that need to survive, Nokia will almost certainly devote significant marketing resources to its Windows Phones, including the newly announced Lumia 710 and 800.
But can that marketing muscle help turn Windows Phone into a viable third alternative to iOS and Google Android? Research firm IDC suggested earlier this year that Nokia will help drive Microsoft's software platform to a second-place position by 2015. Other analysts, including Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley, also hinted that Windows Phone could eventually battle toe-to-toe with Android and iOS, instead of lagging far behind in market share.
However, that outcome depends on several factors. First, Nokia will need to establish more of a presence in the United States-something that won't begin to happen until early 2012, when the Lumia 710 and 800 make their debut here. Second, Nokia has to reclaim those customers who abandoned the company in the wake of its abandoning Symbian-and who, in the meantime, may have migrated to Android or iOS. Third, Nokia must target both the high-end and midrange markets.
The Lumia 710 and 800 should help with that third point. At the high end of the market is the latter, a smartphone packed with some powerful hardware: a 1.4GHz processor, hardware acceleration and graphics processor, an 8-megapixel camera that utilizes Carl Zeiss optics, 16GB of internal user memory (along with 25GB of free SkyDrive storage for music and images) and a 3.7-inch active-matrix organic LED (AMOLED) ClearBlack curved display integrated into a body rendered from a single piece of polycarbonate.
In a play toward the midmarket, stands the cheaper Lumia 710, also with a 1.4GHz processor, and a 5-megapixel camera.
Nokia will install both devices with some exclusive applications, including Nokia Drive (with turn-by-turn navigation and voice-activated control) and Nokia Maps, which offers up points of interest around the user's location.
In his interview with The Telegraph, Belfiore suggested that Nokia could produce "visually distinctive" hardware, an aesthetic counterpoint to rival devices on the market. Both devices certainly fulfill that goal. But they're also canaries in coal mines, a first test of whether Nokia's big bet can succeed.