The fatal flaw in Nokia's Lumia 635 Windows Phone: What was Microsoft thinking?

The new Lumia 635 should have been a killer Windows Phone: It's low-cost phone with a solid set of specs and some innovative features. But it's got a flaw that dooms it -- such an obvious one it's hard to know what Nokia was thinking when the company designed it.

Low-cost phones are clearly the future of Windows Phone, and the Lumia 635 is right in that sweet spot. It's priced at $168 without a contract. And for that money you get a good phone with solid specs: a 4.5-inch, 854x480 display with pixel density of 221 ppi, a 1.2-GHz Snapdragon 400 quad-core chip, 4G capabilities, and 8GB of storage, along with a microSD card slot for adding up to 128 GB of extra storage. It also comes with 512 MB of RAM. And it has some nifty features, such as motion-data collection that allows it to do things such as track the distance you travel.

No, it's not a high-end phone, but that's the point. Budget phones are the future of Windows Phone. Last week, a report from the Chitika online ad network said that 60% of all Windows Phone traffic came from lower-cost budget phones rather than high-end devices in the U.S. and Canada.

That information isn't lost on Microsoft. Last week, Stephen Elop, chief of Microsoft's device business, wrote in a memo to Microsoft employees:

"In the near term, we plan to drive Windows Phone volume by targeting the more affordable smartphone segments, which are the fastest growing segments of the market, with Lumia. In addition to the portfolio already planned, we plan to deliver additional lower-cost Lumia devices by shifting select future Nokia X designs and products to Windows Phone devices."

The Lumia 635 fits the bill. It's got everything a budget phone should have...well, not quite. And that's the device's fatal flaw.

The phone doesn't have a front-facing camera. That means no selfies. And no easy videochat with services such as Skype. That's more important than you might imagine. At the Google I/O conference last month, Android and Chrome chief Sundar Pichai said that an astonishing 93 million selfies are taken a day on Android phones. Whatever you might think about the practice, taking selfies is clearly extremely important to people. Any phone without a front-facing camera is doomed.

The Chitika report last week found that Windows Phone traffic accounts for only 1% of all smartphone traffic in the U.S. and Canada. Releasing a selfie-less phone won't increase that market share one bit.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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