For the first time, I flew to Barcelona last month to attend the Mobile World Congress. I saw the Elop keynote live and got a hands on experience with the newly announced Lumia 720 and Lumia 520. We met people from Nokia who were in charge of creating the newly announced Lumia devices and we got a lot of insight on their thought process and their vision for future. From my experience at the congress and back here in India, I believe Nokia is doing a lot of things right in the mid range segment. In this editorial I have summed up my views on Nokia’s aggressive mid range strategy for Windows Phone 8, please note that I am referring to the Indian market mostly so there’s a huge possibility that your definition of mid and low range phone may differ from mine.
Tl;dr: Nokia has the best mid range line up in ages and if this doesn’t sell, nothing else will.
At MWC, there were hoards of devices on display – mostly android. Even the mobile case company booths there rarely had any accessories for Windows Phone devices. There was no Windows Phone booth, shockingly. My favorite booth there was undoubtedly the Nokia booth – it felt like a party at all times. It still puzzles me why Microsoft became a platinum sponsor for the event but didn’t even care to put in one single booth. They could have given out goodies, had smoked by windows phone challenge but no – they didn’t bother. Oh well, you know I am not a big fan of whatever Microsoft is doing right now. So let’s avoid Microsoft in this piece and focus on what Nokia is doing.
After going through tons of devices and talking to mobile geeks and average consumer at the Congress, I personally sense a saturation point coming in at the higher end. What more can you add to a device? 100 unutilized core chipsets? Flexible 3D displays? Shape shifting structures? Unicorns? For me, the spec race, the processor race and the megapixel race that was once created by all the OEMs is slowly being rendered irrelevant. Let’s take a look at the HTC One launch, they created more jargons in one launch then they have sold HTC One + devices in India. Soon, the new iOS, Android KLP and next iteration of WP will be announced in the market and people will pick their ecosystem first and then devices. This is exactly why Microsoft needs to blow everyone away with it’s next iteration of WP. Even if Nokia builds the best phone in the world, it will get beaten by a device that’s inferior but runs Temple Run and Instagram.
However there’s a different story in the low and mid range market. Most of the people who buy low – mid range phones don’t care about the specifications. They don’t care if their screen has a retina display or some fancy image technology or why Ultrapixels is better Megapixel. Good example would be the processor core race or even the RAM race in PC industry. There was a time when everybody rushed in to double the cores of their PCs, double their RAMs, not anymore. We have reached a saturation point – well not all of us need 16 GB RAM, do we? Just like 99.9% of the people don’t require a quad core mobile to play Angry Birds. None of my friends know how many cores they have in their laptops these days. They just need a laptop that is durable, runs their applications and has proper support from the manufacturer. The spec race is going out of hands unfortunately, now there’s a screen size race going on but did you notice how most of the innovation takes place at high end? 45k Rupees is now slowly becoming a standard for high end phones in India. iPhone 5, HTC One, new Blackberry Z10 – this is a 10k hike in what the high end standard was just a month ago. This space is accessible to a very few people – low and mid range is where OEMs capture market and dominate. So why don’t we see a lot of innovation in the mid range? Worth a thought.
Let’s take a look back at Lumia 510 and 610 launch. Both the devices were launched after the disappointing launch of flagship Lumia 800 and Lumia 710 (and of course, Lumia 900 which not more than 2 people bought in India). Lumia 800 was extremely costly when it first came out, Lumia 710 wasn’t even close to mid range at first. But the moment they dropped the price – 710 picked up. Nokia knew they needed something at low- mid range because that is where Nokia has ruled the market in the past. They had their core low end market covered with Asha but the mid range market was nonexistent. This gave birth to Windows Phone Tango. Microsoft changed it’s minimum requirement specs for Nokia and allowed low RAM running devices. Nokia released 610, followed by 510 and these devices eventually became the devices that saved the company and showed some respectable sales number in their quarterly report sheets. There was no way Nokia could have survived with just high end phones because there was no proper ecosystem to back it up since even Windows Phone was at it’s infancy and majority wasn’t taking so much risk with their money.
Mid range devices are the most exciting segment right now. Unlike before, not only does one need a proper build quality at this price but now they need specifications to back it up too. Lumia 510 and 610 looked decent but they were pretty much limited by their specs and the OS. The mid range consumer requires two major things:
1) Applications like Facebook, WhatsApp, etc to just work flawlessly
2) A good looking phone that lasts them long
Mid range device segment is ruled by students here in india. It’s perfect for them and their (or their parent’s) wallets. They are connected online at all times – they are on social media channels all times, they need to send and receive mails, they need to play games, share files and that’s about it. Lumia 510, which I reviewed some time back, is one of the best mid range devices in the market today. Costing less than 10,000 rupees (some might put it in the low range phone category) and running WP7 which has most of the applications that an average consumer demands – it works great. However basic things like lack of proper Bluetooth support (Tango is still being rolled out unfortunately), low specs, no micro sd card support – became a massive hurdle in its unimaginable potential success.
People who buy low-mid end devices tend to do a lot of research and get influenced by reviews and feedback from various commentaries on internet – blogs, social media, forums, etc and WP7 isn’t really popular among reviewers and forums, so people tend to see negative side of things more often than you see the positives. Couple this with the retail scene where the guy at the store will shove an Android into your face and tell people that “Windows 7 phone has virus, no Bluetooth and will never be updated” obviously it’s going to drift away any potential customers eventhough the Nokia products are far superior.
The most obvious way to combat the first gen problem: Make a device that get rids of all the complaints, push it out to the consumers and market it the way it’s meant to be. But that’s easier said than done. As I mentioned before, there’s very little innovation (of any major significance) in the mid range segment. This is where Nokia is really stepping up their game. Even in the low end range, they are innovating with their new tech (SLAM – connects with the nearest device via Bluetooth – gives it an NFC like feel) and on the software front on mid range devices – Nokia Music, Nokia mapping suite, Nokia camera applications and lot more. On hardware front they are bringing in NFC, great design and colorful, good locking and well spec’d smartphones to an audience that has no option but the plastic phones running touchwiz – completely bland and boring. Nokia is finally bringing a complete package to the market. They are filling a certain void, probably most of the consumers aren’t even aware of this void but as time passes it will be more obvious to a large audience. Nokia is putting in incredible amount of effort where other OEMs are just resizing and modifying their flagships to fit your pocket. Samsung and Nokia have different approach for this segment – Samsung floods market with similar looking devices while Nokia offers variety of devices. There’s no doubt Samsung is dominating but we know how mobile market works – the crown goes from head to head in matter of months.
At MWC, I got a chance to get a hands on experience of both Lumia 520 and 720 and I have to say, I am extremely impressed. Especially Lumia 720 – it’s an incredible phone for it’s price point.
Lumia 520 : Lumia 520 is the successor to Lumia 510. It has 8 GB storage + micro SD support, 4 inch WVGA display, dual core Snapdragon processor, 512 MB RAM, runs Windows Phone 8. This phone will cost nearly the same as Lumia 510 (slightly higher would be my guess) but the specs alone speaks volumes. It is a true successor to Lumia 510 in every way. When WP8 specs came out, nobody thought that Nokia would actually bring such a device to such low price point and this is an incredible technical achievement. I don’t think any phone comes close to the package it offers – great looking device, nokia branded – durable, WP8 ecosystem, great specs and most importantly very affordable no compromise device. They have absolutely nailed this device for it’s price point.
Lumia 620: Won’t say much about Lumia 620, check out the reviews here.
Lumia 720 : 4.3 inch WVGA display, dual core snapdragon processor, Wireless charging support, same battery as Lumia 920, Car Zeiss optics, incredible wide lens FFC performance, unibody design, 512 MB Ram and runs on Windows Phone 8. It will be priced between Lumia 620 and Lumia 820. Lumia 720 has to be my favorite Lumia phone in the entire line up, it’s a perfect value for money device. Feels great in hand, amazing front facing camera improvements and a fantastic curved display (like the lumia 800).
What we should remember is that we can all sit here and discuss tiny little details about why Nokia is still going with dual cores and not quad cores and why there is no rotation lock on WP8 but most of the consumers don’t care – they just need a phone that is affordable and works. This is how Nokia phones used to be. Lumia WP7 mid range line up was all about compromises – both on hardware and on software. But they have learned from their mistakes and with Microsoft have created a compelling device that is going to make a mark in the markets with their Windows Phone 8 line up.
You don’t see a lot of device manufacturers innovating at low and mid range. If you go into the market, you’ll be flooded with cheap plastic-y devices running Android – there is no option and there is no effort to make something different since everyone wants an Android. However I feel there’s a change now, people are buying Lumia WP8 devices because they know that it works perfectly for their use case. Nokia is innovating at an incredible pace both on hardware and software front. The only thing stopping them to make a significant impact among the influencers and mid – high end folks is Microsoft’s pace of development and Nokia’s failure to drastically change the retail scene . There’s no doubt that Microsoft is slowing Nokia’s pace of development – for eg there’s no camera UI to properly utilize the pureview glory and the most obvious one – slow iteration process that has made a lot of people, including me, very upset. The retail problem is something that even Nokia acknowledges and it’s been a problem with Windows Phone devices since day one but the situation is improving but I don’t see it drastically improve in the near future because this is something that takes extraordinary demand or marketing genius which Nokia hasn’t produced yet.