Nokia Sees ‘New Dawn’ With ‘The First Real Windows Phone’

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) CEO Stephen Elop opened Nokia World in London with an apparent slap in the face to other Windows Phone makers like HTC, as he unveiled Nokia’s first two handsets running the operating system.

“‘Lumia’ is ‘light’, it is a new dawn for Nokia,” Elop said. “Lumia is the first real Windows phone. We believe it is the first ever instantiation of the Windows Phone platform that properly embodies, complements and amplifies the design sensibilities of Windows Phone.”

So what makes the flagship Lumia 800 and more affordable 710 different from other handsets running the same OS? Under the hood, just three free software services are exclusive to Nokia’s implementation

  • Nokia Drive: “The Lumia 800 will be the only Windows Phone that has full voice-guided turn by turn navigation,” said an over-excited executive Kevin Shields, who began his otherwise Jobsian product demo in Ballmer-esque fashion by declaring the handset “AWESOME”. (But is this a Lumia selling point or does it highlight a feature missing from vanilla Windows Phone implementations, one which Android has out of the box?
  • Nokia Music: An attempt at simplifying the mobile music experience, the app’s Mix Radio feature offers curated streaming full-length free music playlists with a single click with no sign-up and no subscription. Users can create their own mix, download them for offline playback and pin them to the home screen. There was no mention of how this works with the labels, but it likely builds on Nokia’s retired Comes With Music feature, which bundled unlimited music access with handsets.
  • ESPN (NYSE: DIS) Sports Hub: It’s an ESPN sports app designed for the Windows Phone interface, but is little different in essence to ESPN’s other offerings.

Thirty-one operators and retailers have asked to sell the Lumia, including to provide “unprecedented marketing exposure and three times the level of marketing investment than any other phone in our history“, Elop said. Nokia’s own Lumia marketing is also expected to be significant.

There is little software leverage here for Nokia there over other Windows Phone OEMs. But perhaps Windows Phone, which has received decent reviews, is itself the leverage. Nokia’s marketing will try to sell consumers on the idea that, actually, iOS and Android are pretty dumb – that Windows Phone puts notifications and friends’ activities right on the home screen, not behind an app shortcut.

“There is still room in smartphones for innovation,” Elop said. “The world is ready for something new, something more integrated, something beautiful.” The marketing slogan will be “the amazing every day”, but it might as well be “think different”.

Aside from software, Nokia’s Elop tried selling Nokia’s hardware with a Zen-like attention to “craftsmanship” that evoked Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) designer Jonathan Ive. Ticking the Finnish box by saying he draws inspiration from architect Alvar Aalto, Elop salivated when describing “the inky blackness of the glass” and “speaker holes each individually milled to they can be as small as possible” in the Lumia 800.

“Everything on the Lumia 800 has earned its place by focusing on its essential elements,” he said. “Tt is a reflection of absolutely consumer-led design thinking, where agonising over what we left out was as important as what we left in.” This is, Elop said, “extreme product making”, “form follows function”.

Clearly, Nokia, which has freed itself from having to develop a smartphone OS, is trying hard to play up its hardware credentials, which have long included some of the best cameras in the business, even through Symbian’s darkest days. “We are signifying our intent, right here today, to be today’s leaders in smartphone design and craftsmanship, no question about it,” Elop added. The 800, however, looks like Nokia’s previous, MeeGo-powered N9, just running Windows Phone.

More beautiful hardware and a quirky, different OS. Is Nokia taking on Android and iOS – or makers of less “beautiful” Windows Phone handsets?

Elop knows Nokia’s problems and potential intimately at this point. He opened his keynote not with the Lumia announcement but with a lengthy presentation on how Nokia can blur the line between feature phones and smartphones to connect “the next billion” internet users in emerging markets.

“Generally, people like Nokia,” he said. “We’re reliable, durable, trustworthy. We comb our hair each morning, we pick the kids up after school, we remember to send you a birthday card.

“But that’s not enough. We want people to feel something special when they hear the word ‘Nokia’. We’re playing to win. No holding back, no ifs, no second guessing.”