[Update] Microsoft India Says Lumia 900 Coming To India “Soon”

Earlier today the team behind the Windows Phone account on Facebook shared the link to CNET’s article oh why Nokia’s Lumia 900 is a great phone. The device has received a lot of applaud from industry experts who got to see Nokia’s Stephen Elop unveil the device at CES earlier this month. Microsoft India sharing the link seemed a little odd to me since the device has been “designed specifically for the US” according to Microsoft and Nokia; so I asked if the Lumia 900 will be released in India. The answer was a pleasant surprise. According to the team behind the Facebook account for Windows Phone, Lumia 900 will be made available in India at some point:

I wouldn’t hold my breath though.

Update:  Not shocking but the comment is now deleted.

Nokia Windows Phone ESPN App Walkthrough

ESPN

Here is a video of the exclusive app that ESPN created for Nokia Windows Phones. The app is beautiful, no doubt. It follows all of the Metro design principles with the pivots, the in-app pinning, etc. What I found out though, as an existing Windows Phone user, is that the app left a lot to be desired. Perhaps it was my high expectation level about an exclusive Nokia app, or that ESPN would take their current ScoreCenter app and raise it a notch. Whatever the case may be, it was a little bit disappointing.

The biggest issue that I saw, and I feel it is an opportunity missed at least in this version of the app, is the lack of Live Tiles. If Nokia wants to wow the new Windows Phone users, it would be fantastic if the users could not only pin an individual sport to the Start Screen, but also get toasts or Live Tile updates for that sport. As an ESPN registered member you can choose to receive text alerts, for example, at various intervals within a game. Those alerts could easily have been implemented as toasts or Live Tiles within the app.

Video walkthrough of the ESPN app exclusive on Nokia Windows Phones:

Nokia Windows Phone ESPN App Walkthrough

In this video, the Nokia representative is talking about the app, but is also talking about the platform in general which allows you to do many things within the context of what you are doing rather than force you to open multiple apps. What you will notice is that after going two levels deep, the links end up opening the ESPN mobile web, which is not bad. However, compared to the native app, it does look quite different.

The Nokia ESPN app is a well-designed one which looks beautiful. It has pretty good functionality for “version 1”, but I hope Live Tiles and greater in-app content gets to the app soon, perhaps even before the official ship date of the Nokia Lumia 900.

For a hands on look at the Nokia Lumia 900, see my earlier post.

Nokia Lumia 900: My Hands-On from CES 2012

Nokia Lumia 900

I was at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas for the past few days and I got a chance to put my hands on the gorgeous new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone. It was announced at the Nokia CES press conference by Nokia’s CEO Stephen Elop.

The Lumia 900 is a sleek device with a ClearBlack 4.3-inch display. The 4.3-inch display may sound huge, but it really does not feel that big in the hands. I use a Samsung Focus which is a 4-inch device and the Lumia 900 is only a tad bigger. However, if you are an iPhone user, you will definitely feel that bigness. Having used a 4-inch screen for the past 14 months, I don’t think that I can go back to the 3.5-inch screen of the iPhone.

The device build is very similar to the sleek Lumia 800 but unlike the 800, which has a slightly curved (bubble) glass, the 900’s screen is flat. The reason being, for the size of the screen, the curvature would end up being too much. As a result of going with a flat screen, you can clearly see a ridge around the edges. Whether that is actually an issue or not, we will have to wait and see after we use it normally for a few days.

The Nokia Lumia 900 comes as an exclusive to AT&T and has 4G LTE support. One of the other features touted over and over again by Nokia and Microsoft executives in various interviews and presentations at CES is the fact that it comes with an 1800mAh battery. In talking with the Nokia folks who have been using this phone for a few weeks, it seemed like they were able to get through an entire day of “heavy” use and a couple of days of “normal” use. I can’t get my Focus to go an entire day of “heavy” use, so here’s hoping this is a significant upgrade over the other Windows Phones.

The Lumia 900 has a f2.4 front-facing camera which Nokia says allows as much light as many rear-facing cameras on other phones. Unfortunately, the Nokia booth representatives were told not to show much of the camera or the software since the phone has not been officially released yet. The representatives confirmed that the ESPN and CNN apps will be pre-loaded on the AT&T Lumia 900 phones and we know that Nokia is going to get exclusive games from EA (which was later revealed to be a 6-month exclusive for Nokia, see this interview of Chris Weber with The Verge where he mentions it).

This phone is clearly the flagship Windows Phone, at least in the US where it is going to be available. Among other things, Elop mentioned that they are going to “aggressively” price the phone, not just as a flagship phone but also for first-time smartphone buyers. It was an interesting quote and I look forward to seeing how it is priced, since I will not only be buying it, but doing do off-contract!

Nokia Lumia 900 Image Gallery

Nokia Lumia 900 at CES

Microsoft’s Ben Rudolph with Yet Another Cool Campaign (#smokedbywindowsphone): Smokes Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4S, Others

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At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Microsoft’s Ben Rudolph (@BenThePCGuy on twitter), the creator of several cool campaigns in the past like #DroidRage, outdid himself. This time, he first teased, and then announced a challenge where he would pay $100 to anyone whose phone could beat his Windows Phone (an HTC Titan) at common tasks. These tasks included identifying songs and downloading them from stores, updating social networks, finding a restaurant nearby with certain criteria and getting directions to it, etc.

The challenges were in fact suggested by the challengers, and mutually agreed upon. This laid rest to the speculation that the tests were rigged to help Windows Phone win (for example, uploading to Facebook which is native on Windows Phone but not anywhere else). Believe me, I was there, and I heard that allegation a lot.

The challenges were in fact suggested by the challengers, and mutually agreed upon!

Here’s Ben introducing the challenge:

 

So, how did it go? As of this morning, Ben tweeted that he had 30 wins, 3 losses and a draw. I say that is pretty fantastic considering that the challengers who lost included some of the latest and the greatest phones from competitors like the Galaxy Nexus, iPhone 4S, Galaxy S II, iPhone 4, etc. Heck, there was even a Palm Pre Plus!

 


One of Microsoft’s problems with Windows Phone has been awareness in the general market. Folks who use other smartphones have got used to those systems, and the best way to get the Windows Phone advantages across to them is for them to actually experience it. There is only so much someone can do if you walk them through the system (trust me, I have done that a lot, and it is good, but not ideal). That’s why this campaign is even more fantastic. It takes something that a person likes to do on the phone, and shows how they could do it faster on Windows Phone. 30 out of 34 challengers realized that at CES, and because they “lost” the challenge, it was a great opportunity for Ben to educate them on that specific feature and why Windows Phone is faster at it.

Some of the videos of Windows Phone “smoking” other phones out:

 

More videos are on this YouTube playlist. Check them out!

Nokia Offers Free Hotel Rides For CES Attendees In Metro Tiled Buses

Earlier today the New York Times published a two-page write up on the design brilliance of Windows Phone 7. Not appreciated for their software designs, the New York Times article tries to make the point that with Windows Phone 7, Microsoft has turned a new leaf. Within the article was information about the launch of Nokia’s flagship Windows Phone 7 device—Lumia 900. Picked up by several websites, the NYT says Nokia will unveil the Lumia 900 at CES. The phone will sport a sleek metallic body, 4.3″ screen and 8MP camera. The phone will be sold via AT&T and will be at the center of the $2 Million marketing push planned by Microsoft and Nokia. As part of the promotions planned, AT&T representatives will be given incentives for promoting the new range of Windows Phone 7 devices, something that Microsoft should’ve done at Mango’s launch.

All this brings me to Nokia’s presence at CES 2012 happening at Vegas. Microsoft’s Ben Lower who reached Vegas shared on Twitter Nokia’s early bird promotions for their announcements. Nokia is offering free bus rides to attendee hotels at the airport. The buses covered in Nokia’s Windows Phone 7 Lumia art work have some rather catchy captions. According Lower, Nokia is also demonstrating the devices to attendees. Images courtesy Ben Lower:

While I am travelling India, Keith, Parth and Romit from Techie Buzz will be at ground zero to bring us hands-on coverage of the event.

Windows Phone Executive: It’s “Business as Usual” with Windows Phone Updates

Windows Phone Blurry

In a blog post yesterday, Microsoft indicated that going forward there were two changes coming to Windows Phone updates: That they would put out an update which carriers could request, and that the weekly updates they used to post about the extent of deployment of the phone updates, were ending.

Needless to say, Windows Phone users and enthusiasts (including yours truly) did not like it. There was an uproar on twitter, as well as in the comments on the blog post, about how this was a regression. It was generally thought that Microsoft has in fact got push back from the carriers and OEMs who did not like being publicly held responsible for delayed updates to their customers.

However, Mary-Jo Foley says in a blog post today at ZDNet, that per Microsoft, it is business as usual. Greg Sullivan, Senior Product Manager with Windows Phone clarified in a phone call with Foley that nothing has changed as far as relationships with carriers is concerned. He said that carriers always had the choice of requesting an update to push to their customers’ phones. He also clarified that with the number of phones as well as carriers increasing, maintaining the detailed list of where the updates are per country, per carrier, per phone, would become unwieldy. As a result, they decided not to publish the granular updates anymore.

Personally, I understand both these points. In fact, as far as updates are concerned, we knew around the time of the initial launch that carriers had the right to skip one (and only one) update, and since all Windows Phone updates were cumulative, customers would get the older updates in the next cycle. Given that Windows Phone is going to expand in terms of markets served, carriers supporting it and OEMs building devices for it, I also completely understand that maintaining the list on a weekly basis would in fact be an extremely painful exercise.

The issue clearly then, is communication. Why were these two points not included in the original blog post? It would have helped put some color to the decision they made, rather than create unnecessary angst among the public and lead to irresponsible speculation about the actual cause of the change.

While I do understand these points, I am still absolutely not ok with the lack of understanding where my update is, and how responsible my carrier is about getting me the latest fixes. Given that the carriers have absolutely no interest in putting more time and effort in servicing customers within contract, I am going to assume they are guilty until they prove themselves innocent.

AT&T, are you listening? Man up, and send the updates out to us. Yes, that includes the earliest adopters on 1st generation phones like Samsung Focus.

Windows Phone Updates Are Now Completely Opaque

Windows Phone Opaque

Windows Phone behind a frosted glass

After the “NoDo” update mess, the Windows Phone engineering team took a major u-turn and did several things right. They became more transparent by having a blog and a site dedicated to providing the latest status of a certain update by carrier, by phone model, by country/geography. Secondly, they got together with the OEMs and the carriers to do a coordinated deployment of the first major update, Windows Phone 7.5 (codename Mango).

So, why do I say they have become opaque? This afternoon, over at the Windows Blog, Eric Hautala, General Manager of Customer Experience Engineering announced that going forward they are going to discontinue the constant, weekly updates they were putting out on the blog. Instead, they will provide news of updates on the main Windows Phone blog. Also, that this update (and presumably others, going forward) is going to be up to the carriers to request from Microsoft and provide to end users.

The update, available to all carriers that request it, is part of our ongoing maintenance of Windows Phone

What? The carriers have to request the update? Why would they? If they request the update, they’d have to run a long test cycle to validate the update. Then they’d have to roll it out to their users. It takes a lot of engineering effort on the part of the carriers to undertake these tests. Why would they, unless it is a huge issue like a major security vulnerability or if phones are becoming useless (“bricked”)? Absolutely no reason.

Microsoft has to push the carriers (and OEMs) to push the updates to the phones that are impacted. Sometimes not all phones on all carriers are impacted, but instead of relying on the carriers to request the update, Microsoft should be the one pushing the carriers to force the updates to the users. Unfortunately, unlike Apple, which treats you and I as their customers, Microsoft treats the carriers as their customers. That is not to say that the end customer is irrelevant to Microsoft, but clearly, the customers that pay Microsoft are the carriers and the OEMs.

I have mocked Android before, for being extremely slow in updating phones, but in that case at least, Google has admittedly washed their hands off the entire process by making Android free to use. Their argument could very well be that they have no control over the OEMs and therefore, it is futile to push the carriers who may have to do even longer testing because of the large variety of Android phones that are available. In Microsoft’s case though, all OEMs are known because it is a not a free license. The updates could be coordinated, as we saw in the case of “Mango”, among the various OEMs and carriers. That they have made a conscious decision not to mandate the carriers, shows that behind the scenes, something has changed politically which has led to this decision.

I am disappointed at these moves: first, the move to let the carriers request the update, but second and more importantly, the lack of the detailed communication regarding various updates, going forward. So, going forward, it will not only be unclear if you will receive the update, but also, you won’t know how far along your specific carrier is with the update deployment.

I can only imagine that the transparency did not go down well with Microsoft’s partners since it clearly exposed the OEMs (Samsung in particular) and carriers (Telefonica is an example) which were holding up the updates. However, the end user is the one who gets the short end of the stick here – not because they don’t receive the update, most normal customers don’t even care – mostly because their phone experience suffers. In the most recent update, there is an annoying, oft-occurring bug which has been fixed (“disappearing keyboard”). If AT&T does not pick it up and push the update out in the next few weeks, this Windows Phone user will definitely start watching the next iPhone rumors more closely.

My 2012 Wish List for Windows Phone

Windows Phone

I have been using Windows Phone virtually from launch day, and have been patient with the team about so many things that have been missing from the OS. Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, addressed a lot of my complaints, but now I have another, deeper set of functionality (and wishes!) I’d like to see implemented.

The following is my wish list for Windows Phone for the year 2012. Given that one of the wishes is for more frequent updates, I am hoping some of the functionality gaps are filled sooner than later.

Ecosystem

  1. Market share: First and foremost, I’d like to see Windows Phone get to a decent market share. The stars have aligned nicely with RIM dying a slow death, and webOS being killed by HP for Windows Phone to be easily positioned as the #3 platform. However, it would be a pity if the 3rd-biggest  platform is at 5% with iOS and Android making up 95% of the market. It would be better if Windows Phone could get to 10-15% or above to really make it relevant. Education at carrier stores, more incentives for carrier salespeople, Nokia’s Rolling Thunder campaign, expansion to new markets, etc. should help.
  2. More Silicon Valley startup involvement: Most startups are not going to devote time to building Windows Phone apps with its market share around 1.5%. It simply does not make financial sense. I would like to see the Microsoft developer relations/evangelism folks to embed themselves in such startups and help them build the next cool appfor Windows Phone in addition to iOS/Android. For that, this evangelist team will have to work closely in Silicon Valley (and perhaps New York) to identify the companies which are doing great things in the mobile space and help them as early as possible in their lifecycle.
  3. Get existing marquee apps at par with iOS/Android counterparts: Microsoft would like us to believe that 90% of the top iOS/Android apps are available for Windows Phone. That may be arguable, but even existing apps like Facebook and Twitter have not seen updates to bring features at par with iOS/Android versions. For example, Facebook app does not support updating Groups or Twitter app (still) does not provide notifications. Also, given that some of these apps have been built by Microsoft, or even worse, by a third party, it is hard to understand who is to blame for the lack of functionality updates.
  4. Abandon the annual minor and major update cycle: Windows Phone has settled into a cycle where they have minor releases once a year and major updates once a year, each separated by about 6 months. While this is great for larger, non-mobile programs, it is absolutely slow in the mobile industry, especially for bug fixes and security updates. Until Windows Phone is  at  par with iOS and Android in terms of overall functionality, I don’t think they should settle down into a 6-month update cycle. Till then, the updates should be rapid, incremental and extremely frequent.

Windows Phone Executive Shakeup: Andy Lees Out, Terry Myerson In

windowsphone_standard_tn

 

Ina Fried at AllThingsD reported earlier today that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had removed Andy Lees as the President of Windows Phone division. Terry Myerson, who has led the engineering effort for Windows Phone 7 and 7.5, will take over Lees’ duties. Ballmer’s memo was later posted on Microsoft’s News Center.

This news comes as surprise to me. Microsoft just completed a successful rollout of the latest Windows Phone update, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. At the same time, Nokia just started selling their devices in Europe and Asia and are on the cusp of making their highly-anticipated return to the United States. In other words, it is a crucial time for Microsoft’s Windows Phone leadership to ensure the device sales pick up pace and that the boat is not rocked too much.

One way to look at this change is to think that Lees was relived of his duties because he was unable to get Windows Phone sales to a level that could make the platform count. Although, if that were the case, I’d argue that it would be cause for firing him than just moving him out of his leadership role. In this case though, Ballmer has revealed that he is moving Lees to a different position under him, for a time-critical opportunity focused on driving maximum impact in 2012 with Windows Phone and Windows 8. Interesting choice of words. I’ll get back to this point later.

Moving the operations of the division under an engineering person implies Microsoft is now shifting itself to be more engineering-led rather than business/marketing. Back in February 2011, Ballmer had reportedly planned to put more engineering-focused executives in a management shuffle. This move may be in fact be in line with that vision. I like that general realignment strategy because I believe Microsoft needs to get a bit more focused on delivering the vision than just painting the broad strokes.

Verizon Wireless, Windows Phone, LTE and Microsoft’s Mobile Strategy Problem

verizon_4g_lte

Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer, Marni Walden,  while speaking to CNET, said that Windows Phone needs to support LTE in order to compete. She said that they have communicated to Microsoft that LTE is critical for Verizon Wireless and that they need to see a timeline, if Microsoft expects them to continue to represent Windows Phone.

Ouch! This is the first time Verizon Wireless has come out and pointed at a specific problem they have in carrying more Windows Phone devices. Currently, the only Windows Phone they carry is the HTC Trophy, which is a first generation device, released a few months after the OS supported CDMA. There have been no announcements about a Mango device coming to Verizon Wireless.

The stakes are high for Microsoft (and related, for Nokia especially, in its return to the US market). Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile network in the US at 107.7 million subscribers. At the same time, due to AT&T’s initial exclusivity on the iPhone in the US, Verizon ended up becoming an Android champion. They started a huge marketing campaign around their trademark Droidand became a close partner of Google. Meanwhile, iPhone is now also available on Verizon network and as a result they now have arguably the best portfolio of smartphones in the US. Windows Phone clearly has an uphill battle to get the carrier’s attention. Getting cut out of Verizon Wireless will take half the addressable US market away from Microsoft.

In a lot of ways, what Verizon Wireless is asking makes sense. On one hand, they carry the juggernaut that is the iPhone, and on the other hand, they have a slew of Android devices which come in various form factors, with a variety of hardware differentiators and at all kinds of price points. Their marketing message for some time and definitely for the holiday season is their network which is the only one with real4G (LTE). For the typical (high-end) smartphone price of $200 with a 2-year contract, they cannot offer a 3G Windows Phone when most Android devices are 4G-enabled. Also of course, 4G data plans do offer additional revenue to Verizon Wireless.

Like it or not, Microsoft is going to have to compete with Android from a sales and marketing strategy perspective, rather than the iPhone. There is no single Windows Phonelike the iPhone or even the Nexus line of Android phones. Windows Phone is a licensed OS and as a result, there are going to be multiple OEMs making similar phones and multiple carriers carrying them. In order to differentiate, and in this case in order to even participate, Microsoft and its partners will be forced to play the speeds-and-feeds game and keep bumping up the phone features. This is somewhat the opposite of how Microsoft has set up Windows Phone with its strict chassis specification and also how they have set their update schedule to be one big update a year interspersed with smaller updates in between.

Instead of having customers focus on the elegance of the OS and its ability to run well even on previous generation hardware, Microsoft is being forced by Verizon Wireless to play the Android game and keep focusing on specification numbers. Something will have to give because Microsoft simply cannot afford to get left out of the Verizon Wireless footprint. Perhaps more chassis specifications? More aggressive updates to the OS? Maybe we will see a more aggressive schedule after the first round of Nokia devices come into the market and the platform gains a reasonable installed base? Any/all of this better happen because Verizon Wireless customers deserve the choice of Windows Phone Smile