Nokia’s Lumia has made me see it in a new light

Steve Dinneen
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I HAVEN’T always been Nokia’s biggest fan. Earlier this year I might have said its tie-up with Microsoft was not so much a case of rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic as sending a diving team to the bottom of the ocean to drape bunting over its rusting shell. I might have said it was duller than Canada’s vast swathes of icy tundra. I might have said that its boss, Stephen Elop, could drop his trousers in front of the world’s press and nobody would bother looking. Thankfully the latter was never tested; what Elop dropped instead was the Lumia 800 – and I looked twice.

Nokia’s latest handset is, against the odds, very good – and it hasn’t been shy about it. Earlier this month it projected a gigantic light show onto Millbank to show it off. It shipped over Canadian DJ Deadmau5 to take care of the music (the equation goes something like this: Deadmau5 is down with the kids – you can tell by the number in his name – Nokia knows who Deadmau5 is, ergo Nokia is down with the kids).

People I’ve spoken to at the major networks say that, while the Lumia is selling, it isn’t setting anything on fire. This hasn’t deterred Nokia from announcing it will make a return to the US though; a market in which it has spectacularly failed to sell any phones in the past.

It is staking a lot on this phone.

So what’s all the fuss about? The Lumia is basically a solid handset running a great (and very underrated) operating system in Microsoft’s Windows Phone Seven (WP7) Mango. The mobile market is all about what industry players insist on calling “ecosystems” – Google’s Android, Apple’s iOS and WP7 – handsets are just a way of interacting with them. And on this front, the Lumia works. It’s sleek, it’s got a great camera and a vibrant screen (although it falls down on its incredibly frustrating map software).

Nokia’s decision to jump into bed with Microsoft is looking like a smart move. At the moment Microsoft has a great product that nobody uses (somewhere between one and six per cent of the market, depending on who you ask). Almost exactly 10 years ago it was in a very similar position with its new Xbox games console. Sony’s PlayStation was flying high and Nintendo had its hardcore fan-base. So Microsoft threw money at the problem. Lots of it. It made a significant loss on each unit sold but, slowly, it chipped away at the competition. It is now the clear leader in the console space and neither Sony nor Nintendo look likely to catch up any time soon. While a repeat of the financial promiscuity demonstrated back then is unlikely, rest assured Microsoft will make WP7 work.

All of which is good news for Nokia. Its marketing boss Niels Munksgaard was ridiculed this week for saying young people are fed-up with iPhones and frustrated by Android, which is akin to the Liberal Democrats saying voters are sick of Labour and the Tories before succumbing to yet another trouncing at the polls. But there is a shade of truth behind the spin: I own phones running all three operating systems. What’s in my pocket right now? A Nokia.

Steve Dinneen is the deputy lifestyle editor for City A.M.