Cutting Room: Nokia deserves credit for Lumia 1020

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Analysts are doubting whether the 41-megapixel smartphone will do enough to appeal to consumers, but Paul Withers argues it is just what the manufacturer needs to differentiate itself from its rivals

Nokia is no stranger to criticism but following the launch of its Lumia 1020 handset in New York this month, the manufacturer deserves some long overdue credit.

For those who don’t know, the device’s main feature is a 41-megapixel camera (see page 26). Yes, Nokia has tried this before – and with little success – with the 808 PureView around 18 months ago. The launch was a bit of an anticlimax and few if any retailers pushed it – if they even stocked at all. O2, Vodafone, EE and Three all rejected it.

Righting wrongs
This time around things appear different. O2 has got an exclusive variant. Phones 4U, Carphone Warehouse and Three have also got involved.

So why the change? For starters, the original ran on Symbian, an operating system which arguably played a key role in the firm’s recent downfall in the smartphone arena.

The 1020 uses Windows Phone 8, which is a vast improvement regardless of your feelings about the operating system.

Significantly, it brings something new to the market – something really useful which almost everyone with a phone today can appreciate.

Innovation
Nokia president and CEO Stephen Elop’s comments on page 2 of the latest issue of Mobile News, suggesting other manufacturers are too focused on rehashing older models, sounds like sour grapes and, when comparing sales figures, is unlikely to hurt anyone’s feelings at Samsung or HTC. But he does have a point.

The popularity of Samsung’s Galaxy S range has gone through the roof and, like Apple, it continues to bring out very similar follow-ups – a boost in speed here and an increase in megapixels there.

HTC has done the same with the equally impressive HTC One by bringing out a marginally smaller (both in size and spec) model, the HTC One Mini.

Nokia is no stranger to this, of course – in fact, back in the early noughties, it was one of the worst offenders, bringing out numerous new models that were virtually identical to their predecessors (6230-6230i, N95-N95 8GB, N97-N97 Mini).

But it appears the firm has made efforts not to fall into the same old trap again. Whether long term this has an adverse effect on its coffers we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s good to see. I’m sure Nokia’s rivals will be ready to pounce if a follow-up ‘Mini’ version of any of its devices emerges.

Excitement
For now at least, the Lumia 1020 is an exciting addition and has some great embedded technology. There are six physical lenses, the most found in any smartphone, as well as optical image stabilisation to increase picture quality in low light. It also features dual capture, enabling it to take a 38-megapixel image and create a five-megapixel picture that can be shared across social networks.

Nokia did a fine job of demonstrating the camera during the launch, with Elop comparing images of two Nokia employees jumping in the air taken with the 1020, Samsung Galaxy S4 and Apple iPhone 5. The results were eye-catching – the S4 and iPhone 5 pictures were blurred, while the Lumia 1020 snap was clear. He also showed a video close-up of some bees in a beehive. This, assuming it was 100 per cent genuine, was incredible, and it more than backed Elop’s claims of being able to see things through the 1020’s lens that your eyes cannot.

Scepticism
However, analysts threw lukewarm – rather than freezing cold – water on Nokia’s strategy. IDC research director for European mobile devices Francisco Jeronimo said the Lumia 1020 could become a niche product, while Ovum principal device analyst Tony Cripps and uSwitch.com telecoms expert Ernest Doku doubted its appeal.

Following the publication of its Q2 results one week after the launch, Elop spoke of Nokia’s need to be different and innovative and took a shot at rivals for rehashing products. The firm’s smartphone growth was also impressive – sales of its Lumia range were up by 32 per cent from Q1.

Nokia has to separate itself from its smartphone rivals in order to continue its recovery and in doing so, must have technology and devices that will make consumers sit up and take notice.

The Samsung Galaxy S4 and Sony Xperia Z, two of the most high-end smartphones, have 13-megapixel cameras. The iPhone 5 has an eight-megapixel camera and therefore doesn’t even come close to the Lumia 1020.

Camera appeal
According to smartphone owners interviewed in 25 countries as part of the IDC 2012 ConsumerScope 360 Survey, camera resolution was the 15th most important feature out of 23 they said they looked for when buying a smartphone.

I’m dubious about these results. Visit any tourist attraction or concert and the scene is dominated by people taking pictures on their phones.

Conversations overhead during Mystery Shopper demonstrate camera quality is a key selling point for a device, and for those wanting to leave their digital camera at home the Nokia 1020 is an obvious choice.

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