Smartphones Arms Race

And so we come to the most important (in terms of corporate destinies at least) phone of all. The Nokia Lumia 800.

The story of Nokia’s rise from lumber, wellington boot and lavatory paper company to world domination of the mobile phone market is the stuff of legend (and admirably told here, should you be interested. The inexorable relaxation of their grip as Apple’s iPhone reshaped the world of mobile telephony has been a sad sight to behold. Their venerable Symbian operating system was a miracle of compactness, reliability and power economy and is still in use (and will continue to be) in fantastical numbers around the world. But their share price has slipped as their market share has fallen here in the west and grim prognostications were being made about the Finnish giant.

They bit the bullet last year and realised that they were going to have to play or leave the table. An alliance with Microsoft was announced. Here were two corporations who understood all too well the pain that comes when what seems like unassailable domination turns with such dizzying speed into a humiliating downward spiral. Neither had reached anything like rock bottom and they were cash rich enough to invest in their new partnership. The hope of each CEO, Stephen Elop of Nokia and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft, is that Nokia’s brand reputation as a reliable builder of phones and Microsoft’s reach and penetration as a software provider will allow the alliance to face up to Apple and Google and carve a share in this quite unbelievably valuable market. The stakes are very very high.

I was present at the launch of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 7 last year. I liked what I saw and was happy to say so. There were many similarities with the release of the iPhone in 2007. No microSD slot, a GUI precisely governed by MS, at launch no cut and paste and naturally a very small choice in third party apps… but there was much to like. The smoothness and glide, the cleverly baked-in social networking elements, the (only to be expected) quality of MS Office and Xbox Live compatibility. LG, Samsung and HTC were the two major manufacturers for the OS then and they each did a good job.

And now Nokia has stepped in with two models, the Lumia 800 and 710. I haven’t had any experience of the latter, which is a more affordable version of the 800, with 8 GB of internal flash memory to the 800’s 16.

Now, Microsoft’s approach has been ever more “walled garden” than Apple’s, and Windows Phone devices are the least pimpable of all. You can change the colour of the signature tiles that make up the GUI, you can have a black background or a white background. You can certainly introduce wallpaper, but that is about it. Ringtone customisation has arrived and the app Marketplace is filling up with well designed version of old friends like Angry Birds and IMDB as well as the essentials like Evernote that I’ve already discussed.

So all I can do when I describe the Nokia is tell you that it is an elegant candybar (familiar to those who remember the N9) it has a very bright and likable AMOLED screen, a rear 8 megapixel camera (no front facing one) and the obligatory three touch screen buttons at the bottom: Back, Home Screen and Search.They have decided against the removable batteries found in HTC and Samsung Windows Phone devices.

Nokia have added their own goodies, Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps and Nokia Music. Nokia Drive is a turn-by-turn GPS navigation system (with selectable voices) which works extremely well and is certainly enticement enough to buy the phone, given the cost of some GPS apps. Nokia maps seems an oddly redundant replication of what MS’s Bing already offers, but it’s there, along with something called “Local Scout” which is yet another way to see where the nearest Flat White or pizza parlour might be. Nokia Music would seem to be in direct competition with the Zune based music store that’s also a de facto presence in all Windows Phone handsets. I dare say Stephen and Steve banged heads a bit over that one, but compromise seems to be the order of the day. No harm in more choice.

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This blog was posted in Techblog

One comment on “Smartphones Arms Race”

  1. LadyGirlPerson says:

    Ah, Stephen, this is where you lost me. Unlike you, I’m not phone savvy. I have never owned one.

    My friends swear they are going to buy me a IPAD? What ever that is….

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