There are many faithful Windows Phone fans, enthusiasts, who are quite disappointed, if you will, with the fact that Microsoft has not released a new high-end flagship smartphone to cap off 2014. Let’s be honest. The rumor mill, and some very reliable sources from the Redmond company itself fueled the flames of anticipation that had us chomping at the bit eagerly awaiting the last quarter of this year looking forward to the game-changing McLaren.
We were all pretty excited, to put it lightly, about the prospects of the McLaren. This high-end device was going to sport innovative new hardware, introduce touchless interactions that made Samsung’s similar tech look juvenile and possess all of the cutting edge software updates Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana brought to the platform. And to really hit the ball out of the park – it was to be available on all carriers. This looked to be a winner. Or at least a very powerful play by Microsoft on the smartphone front. But alas, the McLaren is dead. Or it is at least on life support until the Redmond company feels that the technology is ready for prime time. But in the absence of the McLaren, the Moses or Harriet Tubman of our beloved platform, is there really no flagship available to deliver Windows Phone from the shadow of our rivals this year.
Contrary to many claims there are flagships available, (their ability or inability to make huge marks in the market aside) that do represent the platform well. They may not be on every carrier, or be everyone’s flavor, yet the HTC M8, the Lumia 930 and the Lumia 1520 are all flagship Windows Phone devices. Yes one is a repurposed iteration of an older Android device (but that’s a win for Windows Phone nonetheless), one is approaching a year old(Apple updates it’s line-up on a yearly cadence) and the last has Nokia’s great hardware, build quality and optics in conjunction with the powerful and fluid Windows Phone OS, but has limited availability.
Is Microsoft insane! Where’s the ubiquitous high-end flagship to lead the Windows Phone charge against the iPhone 6 and 6+, Samsung’s Galaxy line of devices and every other high-end phone OEMs will be spraying across the gadget hungry consumer electronics populace this holiday shopping season? There isn’t one and there likely won’t be one. And no Microsoft is not insane. That’s why they’re doing something different. They want a different result.
Now a closer look at Microsoft’s strategy, though a bitter pill it may be to many 920 owners looking to upgrade, who don’t want the 1520 (I must say it is an awesome device-I LOVE IT) is Microsoft’s positioning of the Lumia 830. They are deliberately, confidently and unapologetically touting this device as the affordable flagship. Even during the presentation of the device it was positioned as an alternative to the iPhone and leading Android devices. Why go this route you may ask? Lets be honest. Look at Microsoft’s history. Literally every high-end flagship device they have launched has been utterly crushed by Apple and Android devices when you look at sales.
We Windows Phone fans are a dedicated, but relatively speaking, small bunch. Trust me when I say I’m all in. I carry daily both a 1520 and 1020. But the truth is, we have, despite Microsoft’s attempts always been overshadowed by the competition in the media, blogs, vlogs and the general market. This year, had the McLaren made it to market, a relatively speaking small portion of all smartphone users, would have been given a new or alternative Windows Phone upgrade path(beyond 1020, 1520, HTC M8) and the general smartphone(and potential smartphone) using population would have been presented with a device sporting groundbreaking hardware representing as yet a generally unpopular platform during a highly competitive shopping season where rivals like Apple are introducing products that are breaking all previous sales records.
If the McLaren or some other expensive high-end flagship were launched by Microsoft (priced around the same price as competing flagships), the general success of such a device would have likely, especially with (like it or not Windows Phone fans) Apple’s huge iPhone launch and the attention those devices are garnering globally, been dismally minimal just as every other Windows Phone flagship has been since 2012. General consumers presented with Microsoft’s option and the more popular comparably “speced” and comparably priced option from Apple would go with what the general populace might dub a no-brainer(though debatable it may be.) Most buyers would go for the iPhone. MS knows this. So this year, they changed their strategy from what has not really worked for them in the past few years. They need a halo effect. A device (or feature) to create mindshare of Microsoft’s Windows Phone in the general public and a device that is accessible by the masses.
Microsoft is to my delight attacking this challenge from a couple of angles. As I have expressed as a hope in a previous piece, MS is using Cortana as a hero feature, independent of a hero device, to create mindshare. The general public, especially as a result of the Cortana vs Siri ads are becoming aware of Windows Phone. This is helping to position WP at the table of the mind for buyers who may have previously only had iPhone and Android devices as options in their minds. Good news for MS. Still a looong way to go, but Cortana and Windows Phone are at least now becoming part of the conversation. That’s important.
Part two is this. The Lumia 830, the affordable flagship. The 830 is sporting, though not cutting edge specs in every category, very competitive specs,(running a light OS) when stacked against the competition. It has a respectable speedy chip, acceptable RAM, expandable storage, a nice 5″ display, an advanced purview 10 mega pixel camera running the latest in Nokia’s groundbreaking, industry leading imaging software, and everywhere its landed so far, the price is indeed that of an affordable flagship. It’s a really great looking device, with flagship aesthetics.
Microsoft, a global company, has been steadily releasing this affordable flagship around the globe. By competing against Apple and Samsung without “actually competing” with them the 830 as Microsoft’s flagship in holiday season 2014 may undercut the pricier flagships of the competition. Now ideally each of the Major US carriers would be pulled into the fray and begin carrying the 830. Note, yes, many WP fans, particularly 920 holders(and others) may be “temporary” collateral damage as a new high end flagship device is postponed as Microsoft adjusts its strategy this season in an attempt to gain mass appeal with a powerful affordable flagship device that doesn’t “look like” its going head to head with iPhone 6 and Samsung’s flagships. But I believe MS is trusting, available high end devices that launched in 2013 and this year, 1020, 1520, HTC M8 may satisfy some until MS debuts a high end flagship next year. Additionally, as WindowsCentral pointed out, the 830 does offer some upgrades 920 holders might enjoy. Who knows, maybe some users will pick up an 830 as their “upgrade” when it hits US shores. It does sport some advancements beyond the 920 after all.
One other point to consider is the cost to carriers of unsold inventory. Sadly when I have asked my local ATT store how many of a high end WP they had in stock, I believe I was told 20. When I asked how it was selling(the 1020, and in another setting I believe the 1520) the response was negative. This isn’t true only of these arguably niche devices. It has been disappointing for me over time to see the WP display at my local ATT mall location, moved waaayyy into an obscure corner with other unsold, unpopular devices. High end phones come at a cost to carriers just as they do consumers. Carriers don’t want to be left holding the bag with expensive , unsold goods. Microsoft could give greater confidence to carriers, that the 830, with it’s “flagship” feature set, yet affordable price, that they would be able to sale these appealing devices to consumers. Everybody’s happy- Microsoft , carriers and consumers.
Finally, the updates Windows Phone 8.1 Update 1 and Lumia Denim bring to the platform definitely position this well-equipped affordable device, the Lumia 830, as a strong contender on carriers shelves and bring a more robust experience not found on previous, generally unsuccessful, Windows Phones devices upon launch. At any rate I’m confident MS will bring high end devices to market next year. For now Microsoft is doing something different. Let’s all hope for insanely positive results.