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Nokia's Lumia range needs Microsoft to limit restrictions

Analysis Ballmer needs to cut Elop free
Thu Sep 06 2012, 12:36
Nokia Lumia 920 Windows Phone 8

FINNISH PHONE MAKER Nokia has done a good job of working around Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 with its Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 handsets, despite Microsoft's self-imposed restrictions on the mobile operating system.

It is easy to beat up on Nokia and in particular its CEO Stephen Elop for going with Windows Phone over Android, but the truth is that the phone maker did a good job of designing and building the Lumia 800 and the specifications sheet suggests that the Lumia 920 is no different.

Nokia's problem isn't its hardware but the restrictions placed on it by Microsoft, something most people thought wouldn't exist given Elop's personal connection with his previous employer and the fact that Microsoft is paying Nokia millions to use its operating system exclusively on smartphones.

Nokia's first shot at a Windows Phone, the Lumia 800, came within eight months of the two firms announcing their partnership and flattered to decieve. On the outside, Nokia's design was unique and felt good in the hand, but despite the high quality packaging and Nokia's reputation for quality, the company simply wasn't able to integrate its own software such as Nokia Maps tightly enough with the operating system in order to make it seem less a Microsoft product and more in keeping with Nokia reputation, and it seems the Lumia 920 is going to be the same again.

As for Nokia's hardware choices, the firm did a good, if unspectacular job with the Lumia 920 specifications. Some will complain about the choice of a dual-core processor and the massive megapixel drop in the Lumia 920 camera from the Nokia Pureview 808, the other Nokia smartphone to feature the firm's Pureview technology, but for the majority of smartphone punters these features are more than enough.

Due to Nokia's insistance to play up its Pureview imaging technology, the megapixel count is perhaps the biggest target for those wanting to knock the Lumia 920. Nokia's decision to reduce the sensor's resolution from 41MP in the Pureview 808 to 8.7MP in the Lumia 920 is a brave one, but ask any photographer working in the field and they will tell you it is the right choice.

As a reference, Nikon's D3S, still one of the best low-light DSLR cameras, has a 12.1MP image sensor, yet it is used by many professional sports photographers and journalists and even on the International Space Station.

The truth is that the megapixel count simply doesn't matter unless the photographs are being printed on billboards, but using a lower resolution sensor also allows for something photographers yearn for, lower noise and in turn better performance in low light conditions. Whether Nokia has used the cut in sensor resolution to help low-light performance won't really be known until customers try it out in the field, but the steep reduction in image resolution is certainly not a reason to berate the firm.

Then comes Nokia's decision to bung a 1.5GHz dual-core Qualcomm Snapdragon chip into its flagship smartphone. LG kicked the dual-core smartphone circus off back in 2011 with the Optimus 2X but Apple has shown with the Iphone 4S that an optimised operating system can work will with a dual-core chip that runs at about half the speed of the Lumia 920's chip.

While Microsoft's desktop operating systems can generously be described as resource heavy, its Windows Phone operating system has been shown to work well with modest hardware, something that might have endeared it to device makers if Microsoft had eased up on its hardware and software design specifications. And Microsoft's restrictions are once again hurting Nokia's chances as it tries to make a go of Windows Phone.

Looking at Nokia's Lumia 920, Lumia 820 or any Lumia device, it is extremely hard to differentiate models and certainly not from a software aspect. Nokia hasn't even been able to customise the tile screen to make it look any different from its rival Windows Phone handset makers. Compared to other smartphones, Nokia's unique selling point is its imaging technology, which on its own is no where near enough to rake in big bucks.

Nokia's Navteq division has long maintained one of the best reasons to purchase a Nokia device, Nokia Maps and now the augmented reality application Nokia City Lens takes mapping to the next level and looks mighty impressive. But once again, despite having a direct line to Redmond, Nokia hasn't been able to integrate City Lens into Windows Phone in the way that Google integrated its Google Now service into Android 4.1.

Nokia has shown with the Lumia 920 that its hardware business is still able to churn out decent kit, certainly better than its current share price and bottom line deserves. But as Apple showed with every iteration of the Iphone, cutting-edge hardware is not required for high volume sales.

Nokia has done all it can with the Windows Phone operating system. The firm's Lumia 920 is a clearly a good phone, whether it is the best phone when sat alongside headline handsets from Apple, HTC, Motorola and Samsung is another matter and the worry for Nokia is that all firms with the exception of Apple trickle the technology in its flagship handsets down to mid-range units very quickly.

What Nokia really needs is Microsoft not to pay it a billion dollars but to give it unrestricted access to the operating system, in the same way that HTC and Samsung take Google's Android and produce an operating system that at times can bare little relation to the vanilla Android found on Nexus-branded devices.

If Microsoft allows Nokia the chance to take Windows Phone and run with it, then it could see its market share increase from a few percent to something a little more tanigble and ultimately profitable.


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