Nokia’s new Lumia 800 looks fantastic — easily one of the most impressive Windows Phone devices to date — yet the Finnish company remains mum on its plans to bring it to the U.S. market, aside from a few cryptic statements alluding to plans to “introduce a portfolio of products in early 2012.” This is a big problem, not just for Nokia, but for Windows Phone as a platform.
I get it. Nokia sees Europe as a more important market than the United States. In fact, research firm Strategy Analytics predicted that the partnership with Nokia could help Microsoft double its smartphone market share in Western Europe in 2012. Nokia has long fallen out of favor in North America, but in Europe, the brand still has strength.
Leveraging European strength certainly makes sense, but does that require ignoring America? From my perspective, it appears as if Nokia thinks that success in Europe and success in the U.S. cannot co-exist. Perhaps it’s my North American bias speaking, but I think success can take place in both markets.
It's Like the N9...But Not
The Lumia 800 is nearly identical in appearance to the N9, Nokia's first -- and last -- MeeGo handset.
Like the N9, it sports a beautiful polycarbonate body with a curved glass screen, a rear camera with LED flash and edges that feel great in the hand.
Despite once being a market leader in the U.S., Nokia fell out of favor with carriers and users as it started to transition into the smartphone market. In the pre-smartphone days, Nokia devices were popular, well-designed and ubiquitous. After 2005 or so, that stopped being true.
Of course, Nokia isn’t the only company that struggled with the transition from cellphone to smartphone. Motorola Mobility went from making the most popular non-smartphone of all time (the original Razr), to fighting for its life.
What did Motorola do? It signed a big contract with Verizon in the U.S., partnered with Google on Android and crashed onto the scene with the splashy Droid Does campaign.
Motorola, as a result, catapulted back into the spotlight and was instantly recognized as a provider of high-end smartphones. It helped kickstart widespread adoption of Android across the world.
The Nokia Lumia 800 could be the device to really give Windows Phone a face and a chance at eclipsing BlackBerry as the number three smartphone platform, but it needs to be available throughout the world — and that includes America.
The Waiting Game Doesn’t Work
When Nokia says that it is planning on bringing a “portfolio of products” to the U.S. in early 2012, that could mean January or that could mean March. Make no mistake, the longer Nokia waits, the slimmer the chances are that the phone will find success in the U.S.
To use Motorola as an example again, the company’s eagerly anticipated Droid Bionic was supposed to hit the streets this spring. Eight months after appearing at CES, it finally did.
It’s still a solid device — and a great 4G LTE handset — but the momentum built up around the phone had already disappeared. Moreover, the competitive landscape had increased, with Motorola facing competition from a fleet of new devices that appeared months after the Bionic was supposed to make its debut.
Motorola and Verizon have essentially made the device obsolete themselves, with the announcement of the Droid Razr.
Nokia can’t make the same mistake with the Lumia 800. Already users are complaining about the lack of a front-facing camera and its ability to “only” record 720p video. Other Windows Phone Mango devices from LG and HTC have faster processors.
The longer Nokia waits to make a big global splash with the Lumia 800, the more it risks losing a chance to sway the markets.
In the U.S., Carriers Matter
Microsoft has struggled to get widespread carrier support in the U.S. Walk into a T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon or Sprint store and you’ll see Windows Phone devices, but oftentimes, these devices aren’t promoted as well with signage, placement or employee training as handsets running Android or iOS. This is a problem in the U.S., where the carriers matter just as much as the phones themselves. Yes, the rare device can make or break a network, but carriers can also make or break a platform.
From a device-maker perspective, Apple, Motorola and RIM are at an advantage in that they support one platform. That makes the branding easy. Even before Google announced its intentions to acquire Motorola Mobility, Moto was synonymous with Android.
This is where Nokia could have a big opportunity in the U.S. Not only does Nokia finally have a hardware/software combination that can appeal to U.S. smartphone consumers, it can put its marketing muscle behind promoting Windows Phone as a platform.