Nokia's new Lumia 920: Nice but no game-changer

Nokia's new Lumia 920 running Windows Phone 8 looks to be an extremely well-designed phone with some notable innovations. But on its own, it won't be enough to save Nokia or make Windows Phone 8 a market leader.

Based on all accounts, the new Lumia 920 looks to be a worthy follow up to the Lumia 900. It's got a Snapdragon S4 processor and a curved, 4.5-inch screen, which Nokia claims has been designed to show up well even in direct sunlight. The phone can be charged wirelessly. You'll be able to buy your own wireless charging station, or use equipment at Virgin Atlantic and the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf chain to do it.

At the announcement, Nokia spent plenty of time bragging about the phone's camera, which includes "floating lens technology" that Nokia claims will ensure stable images even when someone's hands jitter. The company claims it also produces better pictures in low-light situations.

There are some other extras as well, such as Nokia's CityLens augmented reality app that shows you information about restaurants and other places overlaid over video footage you take of an area.

All very nice. But not enough, on its own, to save Nokia. Before the launch, Ben Wood, director of research at CCS Insight, told Computerworld that:

"The phones need to have a wow-factor, which generates the kind of buzz that Samsung, Apple and others have been able to generate with new phone launches. If it fails to get that reaction at the time of the announcement, that does not bode well for the future of the portfolio."

There's simply not enough in the new phone to generate that "wow-factor." Also, keep in mind that for all the hype about speeds and feeds, new features, and corporate partnerships, the real smartphone war is being fought in the trenches of retail stores, where individual salespeople push some phones while ignoring others. The accumulation of all the individual salespeople's work determines which phones are hits, and which aren't.

The Lumia 920's capabilities don't fit well into the two-minute pitches salespeople use to sell phones. Cameras don't sell smartphones, so as nice as the Lumia 920's camera might be, don't expect salespeople to focus on it. And explaining the augmented reality app takes up too much time. Wireless charging is a winner, but that requires extra hardware, or a willingness to visit the few public charging stations run by retail stores or an airline. So salespeople may not push that aspect as well.

Remember, there's a new iPhone coming out soon. It's pretty easy to imagine a salesperson's pitch for that one: It's an iPhone. It's new. It's cool. You want it.

All this doesn't mean that I expect Windows Phone 8 to tank. Far from it. Verizon and other carriers will be pushing Windows Phone devices heavily, and other phone makes, such as HTC, will be releasing new Windows Phone 8 devices as well.

But for Nokia, this phone simply isn't the life-saver it needs to be. Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Walkley has said:

"Nokia bet everything on Windows, and if this doesn't succeed the next step might be having to do what's best for shareholders, and that might include selling off key assets or selling the whole company."

Don't be surprised if that eventually happens -- and if the buyer is Microsoft.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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