A controversial report by Reuters claims that European mobile operators are not impressed with Nokia’s Windows Phone handset efforts, stating that the devices simply “aren’t good enough” to compete with the market-leaders, Android and iPhone. Unfortunately, the complaints aren’t completely baseless, though it appears that Nokia has already learned from earlier missteps.
"Nokia have given themselves a double challenge: to restore their credibility in terms of making hardware smartphones and succeed with the Microsoft Windows operating system, which lags in the market," an anonymous mobile operator executive is quoted in the report. "If the Lumia with the same hardware came with Android in it and not Windows, it would be much easier to sell."
Paradoxically, the report goes on to note that mobile operators supposedly do want a viable alternative to Apple and Android. Which makes it doubly curious that they’d dump on Nokia and Windows Phone at this time.
But let’s sift through the report and examine the actual carrier complaints against Nokia and Windows Phone.
“Skeptics among operators say the sleek, neon-colored phones are overpriced for what is not an innovative product”
I can’t speak to the prices of Nokia’s phones in Europe, but the firm just launched the flagship Lumia 900 in the US at a fire-sale price of $99, with many consumers paying just $49 or even nothing. And as for “innovative,” that’s ridiculous: The Windows Phone OS offers a deeply innovative experience that doesn’t copy other smart phone designs, as Android does in spades. And the Lumias themselves are also very innovative, with beautiful unibody designs in which the color is baked into the body, not painted on the exterior.
“[Operators] cite a lack of marketing dollars put behind the phones”
Microsoft and Nokia are in fact spending hundreds of millions of dollars marketing Lumia phones in the first half of 2012 alone. Again, I have no knowledge of plans for Europe specifically, but I’d imagine that most marketing dollars are earmarked for the US, where Nokia has much less of an established presence.
“Image problems caused by glitches in the battery and software of the early models”
Consumers in Europe have complained that updates aimed at fixing a Lumia 800 battery issue have not fully addressed the issue, but of course the newer Lumia 900 doesn’t exhibit any battery problems. In fact, battery life of the LTE-based 900 is exemplary. Also, Nokia’s handling of a minor software bug in the Lumia 900 has been amazing: The firm delivered a fix for the issue, which only affected some users, within days. This suggests that Nokia has learned from earlier missteps.
“No one comes into the store and asks for a Windows phone”
This is of course a chicken-and-the-egg problem. Marketing from Microsoft and Nokia would help, but so would marketing by the carriers, both in-store and more broadly. I don’t have personal knowledge of the efforts any of these firms have made marketing Windows Phone in Europe. Here in the US, some amazingly effective advertising—the “Really?” ads in particular—didn’t result in much buying activity. But with the Lumia 900, we’re seeing some serious interest in Windows Phone, a fact even the Reuters report acknowledges. According to AT&T, sales have been excellent, with the Lumia 900 sold out in many locations. Looks like people are asking for Windows Phone. They just need to sell the right model.
As far as I can tell, the only thing really holding Windows Phone back at this point is perception. Microsoft has created a modern, innovative, and capable mobile platform in Windows Phone 7.5 and Nokia has now created a handset, the Lumia 900, that out-designs and out-performs the Apple iPhone 4S handily while making every Android device on the market look cheap and silly by comparison. Meanwhile, many in the blogosphere simply raise faux issue—a supposed lack of apps despite a market of over 80,000 apps—in what appears to be a mad bid to keep Microsoft at bay.
Certainly, this report from Reuters doesn’t help. But unlike most of the pedantic, partisan baloney we see from blogs, this report at least contains some real feedback to which Microsoft and Nokia can and should both respond. Sooner rather than later, folks.
Not coincidentally, I’ve written about the issues, real and imagined, that Microsoft and Nokia face in recent days. Please refer to Don’t Fear the Windows Phone App Apocalypse and 8 Days of Nokia Lumia 900, Day 7: Windows Phone 7.5 for an even-headed look at what’s really going on here.