As expected, Nokia has unveiled its new Windows Phone devices, powered by the next generation of the Microsoft platform, Windows Phone 8. Samsung has also announced a planned device powered by the OS. Motorola has unveiled some new Android-powered handsets.
As my esteemed colleague has already pointed out, we are in the midst of a flurry of smartphone announcements, which will include the new iPhone, and these will shape the lucrative Christmas holiday sales period.
What all these devices have in common – or will have in common – is that by any measure, they are very good.
The Nokia Lumia presentation was the umpteenth device launch I have seen (the first was the GSM version of Motorola’s StarTac, complete with credit-card sized SIM). But in recent years, things have changed.
The emphasis now has largely changed from hardware, to software. Certainly there have still been advancements on the hardware side – just look at the spec sheet for a high-end smartphone for evidence – but the focus now is on what you can use a device for.
During the Nokia event, there was a long presentation on its camera, complete with a now-discredited video. There was a long presentation on its location-based service platform, which genuinely looks impressive. In both cases, the operative word is “long”.
At the Galaxy SIII launch earlier this year, Samsung spent a lot of time stating that the device was “designed for humans” – the target market for the SII and its siblings was never clarified. And many of the new features trumpeted are intended to subtly improve the user experience, to make it more intuitive.
Which is all well and good.
But unlike an improvement in the megapixel count or high-performance processor, which can be highlighted on a point-of-sale display, these features take time to experience and appreciate. To see the benefits, a user needs to live with a device, to appreciate the subtle improvements.
I’ve not used a Windows Phone as my primary device, but I know a few people who have, and they all think the platform has a lot going for it. Android, too, has improved to the point where I for one prefer it to iOS. And iOS is still a fine operating system.
The real issue is how to communicate this to customers.
The thing about the iPhone was that it was launched with a buzz, with users rapidly (and vocally) praising what was then a step-change in user experience. Android was able to capitalise on demand for the new user experience among a wider range of price points, as the then market-leading smartphone platform Symbian OS was unable to keep pace.
Nokia now needs to communicate benefits that are strong enough to lure customers away from the rival platforms and devices, when these benefits are best communicated through first-hand experience. Certainly an expensive marketing campaign will do its bit to help brand awareness, and operators can play a significant role in supporting product launches, but this still does not guarantee success.
As a UK resident, I saw a lot of advertising and marketing efforts to support Nokia’s first Lumia devices. But this was not supported by the kind of “buzz” that surrounded, for example, the Galaxy SIII introduction or an iPhone unveiling. And this kind of buzz is extraordinarily difficult to manufacture.
There are things Nokia can do, of course, and that effort is likely to begin soon. Reviews and blogger engagement can help create excitement, as can training and incentivising staff to do the best job in selling your smartphones – rather than a rival’s products. And the key to success here may be providing these gatekeepers with long-term access to devices, to live with the platform and explore the features which take time to discover.
But it doesn’t take a genius to see that this is both costly and time consuming, when the smartphone market is already fiercely competitive.
I’ve focused on Nokia, primarily because it is the most high-profile of the struggling smartphone makers, once dominated the market, and is in the midst of a broad turnaround strategy. But Motorola, HTC and others will face similar challenges.
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members