Windows Phone Earns CES Buzz, But Can It Succeed?

Windows Phone got a lot of attention coming out of CES, largely on the strength of Nokia devices running the OS. But can it translate that attention into success?

Microsoft's Windows Phone platform managed to gather some buzz coming out of this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, largely on the strength of Nokia's Lumia 900, which made its debut in the context of the event.

According to a document posted on the Nokia Developer Website, the Lumia 900 will appear in the United States in March. It features a 4.3-inch display and a 1.4GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and runs Windows Phone's latest software update ("Mango"). Some analysts regard it as a flagship device for the newly minted Nokia Windows Phone brand.

HTC also announced its own new Windows Phone device at CES, the Titan II. It features a 4.7-inch WVGA screen, a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and a 16-megapixel rear camera.

Those devices will obviously target the higher end of the smartphone market. In addition, Nokia is marketing a midmarket smartphone, the Lumia 710, which T-Mobile prices at $49 with a two-year contract. Samsung's Focus Flash on AT&T also costs $49 with a two-year contract, and makes a similar claim for more budget-conscious consumers.

Can Microsoft succeed with this new generation of Windows Phone devices? Reports suggest that a massive marketing campaign is in the works for 2012. In a Jan. 10 interview with eWEEK, Greg Sullivan, senior product manager for Windows Phone, suggested that the Mango upgrade made Windows Phone "an incrementally more appealing sale" for both carriers and manufacturers.

Throughout the next year, he added, Microsoft will work on developing new market segments. "We're going to continue to have that range," he said, referring to both the high-end and more midmarket price points. "Top to bottom, we'll have the best story."

Microsoft faces something of an uphill battle if it wants to wrest large portions of the market away from the likes of Apple's iPhone and Google Android. Sullivan suggested that Microsoft's dip in market share throughout 2011 had been anticipated by the company, a consequence both of the antiquated Windows Mobile platform falling from favor and Windows Phone ramping up only gradually. "We knew this was not a one-year plan," he said.

Throughout its history, Microsoft has demonstrated an ability to play for the longer term. Its Xbox initiative, for example, took years to become a viable, profitable enterprise. If it treats Windows Phone the same way, given the turbulence and shifting fortunes of the smartphone market, then in theory there's no reason why Microsoft can't eventually rise to far greater prominence. But as with any initiative, it's all in the execution: Microsoft will need its partners (and retailers) onboard with its strategy, its Windows Phone devices to review well, and maybe even a little luck.

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