Nokia brings its Windows Phone to NZ; adds 2degrees to the mix

2degrees reveals zero dollars up-front plan - if you sign on for a $199 Lumia.

UPDATE March 8: 2degrees said today it is offering the Lumia 800 for zero dollars up-front. The catch: you have to sign on to a $199 a month plan.

The $199 plan includes:

  • all calls to standard New Zealand and Australian landlines (fair use policy applies)
  • all calls to New Zealand mobiles (fair use policy applies)
  • 2GB of national 3G data
  • 2500 texts

2degrees is also offering the Lumia for $899 standaone, and subsidised on $129 and $149/month plans.

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UPDATE March 8: The Lumia 800 went onsale today through Telecom, Vodafone and various retailers for $899.

Nokia said the handset would also be available through 2degrees "soon."

A step-down model, the 710 ($549) is only available through Telecom.

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Microsoft NZ boss: Nokia can lift Windows Phone beyond a cult hit

UPDATE Feb 15: Nokia has begun its fightback against the Apple iPhone and various Google Android models that have come to dominate the smartphone market.

The Finnish phone maker's Lumia series - its first handset to run on Microsoft's Windows Phone software under a major new, multi-billion dollar alliance - will be released in New Zealand during March.

Telecom will sell the Nokia Lumia 800 for $899 and the 710 for $549. There will be no data plans specific to the Lumia.

Vodafone has yet to announce any pricing or plans. 

A Nokia rep told NBR that 2degrees would also be likely to carry the Lumia range, but at a later date.

Moving beyond a cult hit
Speaking at today's Auckland launch event, Microsoft New Zealand country manager Paul Muckleston told NBR that Windows Phone handsets had gained great reviews with a niche audience. The platform - supported by HTC, Dell, LG and others - had been a cult hit, Mr Muckleston said.

But where other phone manufacturers had dipped their toes in Windows Phone software, Nokia was "betting the farm" on its partnership with Microsoft.

Beyond that deep motivation, Nokia was still the world's largest handset maker, Mr Muckleston said. The Finnish company's marketing skills in mobile, and strong relationships with carriers would help push Windows Phone into the mainstream.

Got the chops
Nokia has yet to make evaluation units available to local media. But in a quick hands-on preview, the Lumia 800 looked to have the chops in terms of hardware and software features.

A smartly-engineered unibody case holds a bright, 3.7-inch colour touchscreen (larger than the 3.5-inch iPhone, if modest compared to some of the monster-size 4-inch+ Androids). There are all the usual mod-cons, including an 8mP digital camera, A-GPS, wi-fi and a healthy 16GB of onboard memory.

The Lumia 800 tile interface is speedy (not always the case with first-generation Windows Phone devices), thanks in part to its beefy 1.4GHz processor.

There are plenty of software and service smarts for business, including a mobile edition of Office with read and edit capability.

For play, there's sleek integration with XBox Live.

And spanning work and life, there's a heavy focus on social network integration and (as is the vogue on many Android devices) aggregating each contact's feeds from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Microsoft's Sky Drive, which offers 25GB of free online storage for storing and synching files, is elegantly supported by the Lumia.

The Drive feature offers turn-by-turn navigation of New Zealand streets.

The voice-to-text feature apparently works superbly, especially when used with hands-free driving.

Windows Phone fans tell me that version 2.0 of the software (aka Mango or Windows Phone 7.5), is much better than the first. Certainly, it all seemed user-friendly during a quick play. The sliding tile paradigm takes a little getting used to after the icons favoured by iPhone and Android but it's a world away (in a good way) from the earliest Windows Mobile software, and its ham-fisted attempts to ape a PC desktop. (Now, Microsoft is heading in the other direction, with Windows Phone's tile interface a big influence on the coming Windows 8).

The cheaper Lumia 710 features almost identical specs, including the 3.7-inch display, but drops the camera resoluton to 5mP.

READY FOR THEIR CLOSE UP: Microsoft country manager Paul Muckleston (left) and Nokia Australia NZ MD Chris Carr pose with the Lumia 800. Microsoft has never had traction in the mobile phone market; Nokia is hoping Windows Phone software will fuel a comeback.

Now the fight begins
In short, it looks like the Lumia range deserves the positive reviews its garnered overseas, and the promising early sales.

Nokia says more than 1 million Lumias have been sold since the handset was released in Europe in November. That's nothing compared to the 37 million iPhones sold by Apple, or the even larger numbers shipped by the Android camp. But it's not bad from a cold start.

But of course, the smartphone wars aren't just about technical smarts.

Apple and Google have the momentum, and it's going to be hard slog for Nokia to reel them back. It was good to see Telecom and Vodafone reps supporting today's launch. Vodafone has just brought Todd Hardie - formerly Motorola's country manager - on board to manage its relationship with Nokia. Telecom business portfolio manager Matt Hampel was one of two flying the flag for Telecom.

But it remains to be seen if either will bring out the heavy artillery during the market launch next month.

You've got to wonder if Telecom and Vodafone - and other carriers around the world - are slightly wary of Microsoft to the degree it now owns Skype. And Skype, of course, is a key tool for making internet calls over wi-fi, avoiding mobile data charges.

Sky Drive and other "hub" features of the Lumia (and other Windows Phone handsets) seem really useful - particularly if you're tired of making compromises in formatting for features as you shuffle files between a Windows desktop and, say, an iPhone or Android. Yet they could also use scads of mobile data, and mobile data is expensive. What a killer play it would be if Microsoft used some of its $US50.6 billion cash mountain to subsidise Lumia owners' mobile data. Not the how shebang, but maybe thrown some money into the pot that would allow the likes of Telecom and Vodafone to unmeter data used for specific Windows Phone services.

Another issue: Apple with the iTunes Appstore and Google with its Android market have a big lead in apps, and many buyers simply won't see Nokia/Micosoft has a fully fledged contender in this key area at present.

Mr Muckleston said Microsoft was working with developers locally and worldwide to expand the number of apps. Response was positive, with many developers saying the platform was easier to develop for than alternatives.

Already there were 60,000 apps. The Microsoft NZ boss said Windows Phone apps were growing in number faster than iPhone iOS or Android. 

No Lumia 900
There are no plans to release the larger screen Lumia 900 in New Zealand at this point.

Nokia Australia-New Zealand MD Chris Carr said the 900's LTE/4G feature was aimed at the US market.

The Nokia N9 - based on the Meego operating system and until recently the Finnish company's flagship model - will not be upgraded, but teh existing model will supported until 2015.

Nokia's marketing and product strategy would now be centred on the Lumia range, Mr Carr said.

Number 2 by 2015
Microsoft has never gained serious traction in the mobile phone market. And for Nokia, it will be a long way back to the top of the smartphone heap. Regardless, Mr Muckleston was bouyant. Soon people will talk in terms of the big three mobile operating systems, he said (Android, Apple iOS and Windows Phone). And both Muckleston and Carr point to IDC research from last year that predicted Windows Phone would take the global number two slot (behind Android) by 2015.

The question now: do Telecom, Vodafone and app developers share their faith?

MORE:
Hands-on review: Nokia Lumia 800 could be the best Windows Phone yet (Mashable)
A Welcome Windows Phone (New York Times)

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Nokia goes Windows. Mostly

Oct 27, 2011: When your correspondent started at NBR, in 2008, a Nokia N95 was the last word in smartphone cool.

Apple’s iPhone was still struggling to make an impression and the first phones based on Google’s Android software were months from release.

Then (or nek minnit, if you will) Nokia fell off a cliff.

Within 24 months, iPhone and Android were dominating smartphone sales, and financially struggling Nokia was undergoing waves of restructures.

Overnight, Nokia mounted its comeback bid, unveiling its first Windows Phone-based handset in London - the Lumia 800 (€420/$NZ740).

The new flagship model will be released in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and the UK in November; it will be available in Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore and Taiwan before the end of the year. No timeframe was given for the key US market.

Early 2012 release for NZ?
While Nokia NZ has yet to comment, Vodafone NZ chief executive Russell Stanners told NBR his company expects local release early next year.

A Nokia NZ spokeswoman could give no local release dates for any of the product showcased in London. "We have been working closely with our partners to bring these new products to customers in New Zealand," she said.

Mr Stanners was relatively upbeat about its prospects. But overall, telco reaction was decidedly mixed (read more here.)

The Lumia 800 is the first fruit of a multi-billion alliance between Nokia and Microsoft.

The Finnish phone maker hopes the partnership will turn its fortunes around in the smartphone market, where it has bled market share to Apple’s iPhone and a range of handsets running Google’s Android software.

Microsoft hopes to kick-start its long-stalled mobile initiative.

The Lumia's eye-catching design is similar to the recently-released Nokia N9. It will be available in three day-glo colours: cyan, magenta and black.

Hardware tech specs include a 3.7-inch touchscreen, a 1.4GHz processor that's the equal of any smartphone rival, 16GB of on-board storage and an 8 megapixel camera (full tech specs are on Nokia.com (in not-very-global-village fashion, Nokia.co.nz ignores the Lumia 800 launch).

A step-down model, the Lumia 710 (€270/$NZ477), has the same specs but drops the camera resolution to 5 megapixels.

But it’s on the software side that the Lumia 800 stands to make a difference for Nokia. The company is hoping the handset’s Windows Phone 7.5 software – with its signature “tile” interface – will help pull back buyers who’ve strayed to iPhone or Android. (Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, is an upgrade to the first generation of Windows Phone software, adding frills such as speech-to-txt and the ability to convert your spoken words into tweets).

ABOVE: Nokia's official promo clip.

Nokia is also backing the Lumia 800 with three new apps, which will come free with the phone: Nokia Music and MixRadio, Sports Hub and Nokia Drive.

Here, the omens aren’t great for NZ. Nokia has failed to release previous iterations of its all-you-can-eat music download service here. And Sports Hub is based on ESPN content.

For New Zealanders at least, they won't distract from the fact Windows Phone trails far, far behind Apple's iTunes AppStore and the Android Market for downloadable apps.

Brimful of Asha
And muddying the international situation, Nokia also used its London event to launch three handsets based on its Series 40 software and collectively marketed as the new "Asha" sub-brand. Microsoft’s Window Phone software just isn’t suitable for cheaper, smaller screen models, necessitating a dual-software strategy.

Make that triple.

In New Zealand, the flagship Nokia model remains the N9 – released earlier this month through Vodafone.

The N9 runs on “Meego” –smartphone operating system software that Nokia co-developed with Intel, and which was initially seen as replacing yet another Nokia OS, Series 60.

With so much money and R&D invested in its new Windows Phone alliance, Nokia is expected to ditch Meego (essentially, it already has, with no future models in its public pipeline). The N9 – a victim of the smartphone software war - has not even been released in the US. Here – well, for the time being, it’s all we’ve got.

Let’s hope that changes shortly. From afar, the Lumia 800 looks good.

 

But it’s on the software side that the Lumia 800 stands to make a difference for Nokia. The company is hoping the handset’s Windows Phone 7.5 software – with its signature “tile” interface – will help pull back buyers who’ve strayed to iPhone or Android. (Windows Phone 7.5, aka Mango, is an upgrade to the first generation of Windows Phone software, adding frills such as speech-to-txt and the ability to convert your spoken words into tweets).
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