Nokia introduced Wednesday its new Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 smartphones based on Microsoft's Windows Phone 8 OS, marking the latest in a series of attempts by the Finnish handset maker to stay relevant in the ultracompetitive U.S. smartphone market.
Nokia did not specify pricing or availability details for the new phones, but when they launch, both will go head-to-head against Samsung's new Ativ S smartphone based on Windows Phone 8, along with Apple's fifth-generation iPhone, which is widely expected to launch next week.
The Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 were unveiled Wednesday, as Nokia originally hinted, at a press event hosted by both Microsoft and Nokia in New York City. The higher-end Lumia 920, which dominated the bulk of the press conference, touts a 4.5-inch curved glass display, runs on a 1.5GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 processor and was dubbed by Nokia as the "flagship" Windows Phone 8 device.
A number of new features set the Lumia 920 apart from its predecessors, the Lumia 900 and Lumia 710. The smartphone comes with built-in wireless charging and near-field communication capabilities that make it easier to share content and keep a charge on-the-go. A more sophisticated PureView camera is also included, which Nokia says outperforms any other smartphone camera on the market.
Enhancements were also made to the Lumia's GPS and location technologies, including a new version of Nokia Drive, Nokia's homegrown app for voice-by-voice navigation, which lets users know exactly how long their trip will take based on local traffic reports. Offline maps -- or maps that can be pulled even when the Lumia 920 doesn't have a wireless connection -- are also included, along with a new feature called Nokia City Lens, which lets users point their Lumia 920 camera down any city street to see the names of restaurants, shops and other sites instantly laid over the images.
The new phone also sports tighter integration with Facebook and the capability for users to customize the homescreen and Metro-style "live tiles," a feature Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said yields the most personal mobile experience on the market.
"Today, with Windows Phone 8, we are creating the most personal smartphone experience," Elop told the crowd Wednesday during the launch event. "We started with the ambition that Nokia could build something beautifully different: This is Lumia, the world's most innovative smartphone."
NEXT: Lumia, Windows Phone Enough To Shake Up Smartphone Market?The Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 represent the latest and perhaps last-chance effort made by Nokia to recapture some of the market share it has lost to rivals over the past few years. In the U.S. market, particularly, the Finnish handset maker has struggled to keep up. Recent research from market analyst ComScore suggests Nokia has failed to nab a seat among the top five smartphone makers in the U.S., while Apple and Samsung account collectively for nearly 40 percent of the market.
The stakes are high for Microsoft, as well. The software giant has struggled to position Windows Phone as a serious contender to Apple's iOS and Google's Android platforms. Nearly 3.8 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers use Windows Phone OS, a number that pales in comparison to Android's 51.6 percent and iOS' 32.4 percent.
But, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the Lumia 920 and Windows Phone 8 are the culmination of the long-running Microsoft-Nokia partnership, and are poised to shake up the overall smartphone market.
"This is a very important milestone. In a sense, it is unbelievable how far we have come in just 18 months of working with Nokia," Ballmer told the crowd Wednesday during the Lumia 920 launch event in New York City. "It was a full-out sprint to deliver the first line of products, and you start to really see the incredible power of the partnership kick in at this stage."
Ballmer emphasized the ability of the new Windows Phone 8-based Lumia 920 to synch and share content with other PCs, tablets and hybrid devices set to launch running Windows 8 in October. He also positioned this capability as being a major draw for app developers, allowing them to build a piece of software once but deploy it across the nearly 400 million devices projected to run some flavor of Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 over the next year.
"Make no mistake about it -- this is the year for Windows," Ballmer said. "Those devices running Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 I am quite sure represent the largest single opportunity available for software developers today," he continued.
The ability for users to share content across the entire Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 family of devices is projected by U.K.-based analyst firm Ovum to be one of the biggest potential drivers behind adoption of the two platforms.
"The clear benefits to businesses from the ready integration possible across Microsoft’s products set will set a benchmark for BYOD strategies focused on out-of-box device capabilities once Microsoft’s full range of new platforms is available," wrote Tony Cripps, principal analyst at Ovum, in a research note.
Still, Cripps noted that both Microsoft and Nokia face an uphill battle against smartphone giants Apple and Google, especially in the U.S.
"Nokia's decision to unveil its second generation Lumia devices in the US is extremely significant for the Finnish handset manufacturer, which has always struggled to make an impact in the country, even before the advent of Apple's iPhone," he wrote. "But this is also a notable launch for Microsoft, which needs to pull out all the stops to guarantee greater awareness and demand for Windows Phone 8 devices, among consumers, business users and carriers."
PUBLISHED SEPT. 5, 2012