On Friday April 6, 2012 Nokia threw a huge party for the official release of its new Lumia 900 smartphone. Over the weekend a check of sales in various places put the new phone in the number one position for sales, with the black version somewhat outpacing the light blue version. Rogers in Canada is about to add to the party as it launches the new phone there, but state side AT&T has certainly helped ease the way with a $99 introductory price. Whether the numbers hold or not remains to be seen, but we strongly suspect they will.
With the Lumia 900 Nokia looks to have finally tapped into a bit of cachet - something that has been missing from the company literally since the iPhone emerged in 2007. The likes of Walt Mossberg and others have already weighed in - it's a very nice phone, feels great in the hand, has a very serviceable screen. This is in line with what we felt was the case during a brief stint with the phone back during the Consumer Electronics Show. Common complaints have centered on battery life not being particularly strong and - surprising for a Nokia phone - complaints about the quality of its camera.
The Lumia 900 is of course a Windows Phone 7 (WP7) device - so it comes equipped with the Metro UI. In the past it has been a question as to whether or not sluggish sales were caused by unremarkable devices (this gets our vote based on what we've reviewed) or by a lack of enthusiasm for the Metro UI. Sales of the Lumia 900 - at least initially - suggest that it was the earlier devices rather than the UI that were responsible for the slow sales. Microsoft should be feeling a small sense of relief at this point.
Another issue that was reported was provided via a breakdown of the phone itself - one reviewer noted that the Lumia 900 is not built from the highest end parts. There appears to be little cause and effect here however, aside from probably allowing AT&T to offer an excellent price for the phone. We can anticipate a large number of 900s showing up in the office - enterprises will likely need to begin considering WP7 as a mobile device they need to now fully manage.
Nokia's Other Phone - The Really Cool One
The thing that is more interesting to hypothesize about with regard to Nokia isn't
the Lumia 900 however - it's more a case of what comes next that is more interesting. During Mobile World Congress Nokia announced the 808 PureView, a Symbian-based mobile device with an astounding camera capability. Nokia built the 808 PureView as a true leading edge device. The 808 contains a 41 MP (megapixel) sensor, which was custom designed. There is no such sensor generally available on the market. The image below shows a comparison of the new sensor in the lower right, with a typical 8 MP sensor in the middle, and a now almost antique (and cheap) 5 MP sensor.
The size difference is telling, and not easily achievable - think of it as the natural companion to the new iPad's retina quality display.
The sensor is only a part of the equation however. Nokia had to partner with Carl Zeiss (its long standing optics partner) to create special lenses for the sensor to specifically work with. Nokia claims that to do so required 10X more precision than is found in a standard digital SLR lens. The optics are the real key behind utilizing the sensor - without the optics the sensor wouldn't be of much use. The image below shows the optical cage itself.
The following image is a close up of the complete camera package.
As with the retina display, the enormous number of pixels leads to stunning image quality. For video Nokia says that it has to handle 1 billion pixels per second for HD quality. It's a lot of pixels requiring highly specialized processing algorithms - the PureView handles it all through a combination of a 1.3 GHz single core processor, a companion graphics processor, and a companion third sensor (of which not much has been said).
Nokia claims that all of this technology was born from a desire to deliver amazing zoom quality, and the Pureview accomplishes this, managing to deliver 4X lossless zoom unaffected by low light. It is, optically speaking, quite a feat. Again it is akin to the retina display of the iPad delivering sharp imaging as the screen is zoomed.
What to Make of it All?
Suffice it to say that it is entirely possible to bring all of this technology to its next generation of Windows phones, possibly also to a Nokia tablet that might be able to not only match the iPad's retina quality display, but that would also deliver photos and videos to match the display - Apple is certainly nowhere near achieving this yet, and it opens an interesting window for Nokia and Microsoft.
A new superphone coupled to a quad core processor that can bring the technology into play, along with a companion tablet with the same kinds of specs could conceivably bring Nokia (and Microsoft with it) right back into the thick of the mobile device game.
We would love to see this happen.
Competition is critical for continued innovation - we do wonder if Tim Cook is more likely to take a breather on the innovation side than Steve Jobs would have been. Very possibly. It gives Nokia's Elop a reason to drive the company hard to deliver.
It's a good time to go on the record to suggest that Nokia may finally be positioned to make a comeback. We certainly welcome it.