Lumia Shines, If Only For the Day

As expected, today Nokia launched the next generation Lumia device, with an upgrade to Windows Phone 8. Two new devices were launched, the Lumia 820 and 920; both logical step-ups from the existing 800 and 900 that are on the market today and with relatively similar form factors. But to simply consider these devices to be “upgrades” is to miss the point of the new devices. Both support significant new innovations, including wireless charging, vastly improved camera and superior displays.

The wireless charging is a significant step forward from existing smartphones on the market (the late Palm offered this with “Touchstone”) and opens up the market to an array of accessory options, from various charging mats to speakers that support charging. The charging solution is based on the Qi standard, which means a wider variety of accessory deals are in the wings. Additionally, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf company and Virgin Atlantic have both signed up to support wireless charging at key locations, which will further drive consumer demand and motivate other OEMs to embrace the technology. By creating an initial ecosystem that includes accessory vendors and third parties (e.g., Virgin), all based around a standards-based technology, Nokia may just have solved the chicken and egg issue that has limited the success of wireless charging to date.

The camera technology advances are more significant, and lean on Nokia’s long-term strength in this area. The OEM has added “PureView” technology to the new Lumias, but not quite as it was previously positioned. When initially launched at Mobile World Congress in February, the PureView focus was on digital zoom and megapixels (the initial product offered a 41 MP camera). Fast forward seven months and Nokia has found a better way of applying the technology, based on allowing more light into the camera (wider aperture) while also reducing camera shake. The combination results in far superior low-light images that clearly differentiate the phones from alternatives (and from most point-and-shoot cameras too).

The result is a new range of Lumias that will stand out from the crowd. Or will they? Yes, the phones offer a clear, differentiated offering from the array of Android devices on the market, but so did the Lumia 800 and 900. The key, as always, will be convincing operators to put their collective weight behind the launches, and (a harder task still) convince the retail staff that this is the device to promote. It’s important to note that no launch date, pricing, or operator partners have been provided.

On the positive side, Microsoft is ramping up to promote Windows 8 on laptops, tablets, and mobile devices and this wider-ranging marketing will cast a fresh light on Windows Phone 8 and the Lumia products in particular. The anticipated marketing blast will, at the very least, raise the public conscious regarding the Android/Apple alternative. But as to how differentiated all of this is? Time will tell. The next two weeks promise announcements from Motorola, Amazon, HTC and, of course, Apple. As a result, the dust will need to settle before a true verdict can be rendered.