Nokia's Lumia 900 smartphones will reach AT&T stores on Sunday for $99.99, and one analyst said it could be the start of something big: Windows Phone as a market disrupter between the successful iPhone and Android phones.
Windows Phone, Microsoft's mobile operating system that's used by Nokia in its Lumia line of smartphones, is so far a small portion of the smartphone market, less than 3%. Still, Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps said in a blog Thursday that the smartphone market is "ripe for disruption ... and every player in the ecosystem (other than Google and Apple) wants a third player to wedge between Google and Apple."
Epps went on to argue that Nokia and Microsoft should try to convert every BlackBerry user to Windows Phone within two years. BlackBerry usage is declining and today makes up 8% of the global smartphone market. Grabbing those customers "would be a modest but achievable gain for Windows Phone," she said.
Attracting former BlackBerry users and a portion of Nokia's Symbian users in China and India to Windows Phone "positions Nokia and Microsoft as a viable third platform and foil for Google-Apple hegemony," Epps said. "In the dog-eat-dog smartphone market, viability in itself can be disruptive."
Epps admitted that she is a strong supporter of Windows Phone and has used the OS on the HTC Trophy and Samsung Focus Flash as her personal phones. "I will say it loud and say it proud: I love my Windows Phone," she wrote.
The coming Lumia 900, which she now uses as a review unit, is priced right at $99.99 to attract new smartphone users and to lure BlackBerry customers who are already paying their carriers for data plans. Since BlackBerry maker Research In Motion said it won't have new smartphones soon, BlackBerry customers should be a prime target, she added.
Nokia and Microsoft have "built a great product," Epps contended. In an interview, she said she likes the Lumia 900's industrial design, including the slim form factor and a body that has a "satisfying tactile feel." She said the screen resolution is better than the Trophy and has a front-facing camera that the Trophy lacks.
Epps said the Windows Phone interface uses live tiles that can keep her husband's contact information and status right on the home screen, an example of how the OS lives up to its brand promise of "putting people first." "I personally do feel a strong emotional connection with Windows Phone, and before that I had BlackBerry, so it's the first phone I've ever really loved," she said.
Some reviewers, including Walt Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, pointed out a weak Web browser on the Lumia 900 among other concerns. "Overall, I consider the Lumia 900 a mixed bag," Mossberg wrote. "Unless you are a big Windows Phone fan, or don't want to spend more than $100 upfront, I can't recommend the Lumia 900 over the iPhone 4S or a first-rate Android phone like Samsung's Galaxy S II series."
Epps agreed that Nokia, Microsoft and AT&T are not going to persuade an iPhone user to use Windows Phone, but maintained the Lumia 900 could attract BlackBerry and first-time smartphone buyers.
Nokia and AT&T have said they will promote the Lumia 900 in AT&T stores with more floor space and promotional signs than other phones and by training sales reps to show it off. To Epps, AT&T's support is the biggest key to Lumia 900's success, and Nokia has offered AT&T an attractive-enough profit margin on sales of the phones to promote it well.
"Carriers sell the phones they can make the most money on," she said. "He who pays the operator sells the phone."
The Lumia 900 smartphone from Nokia.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is email@example.com.