Counter-Opinion: Nokia's Lumia 710 gambit, and why it's smart

In a column earlier this week, my DVICE stablemate Raymond Wong posited that the Nokia Lumia 710 running Microsoft Windows Phone 7.5 "Mango" and due to go on sale on January 11 from T-Mobile is the wrong phone with the wrong OS from the wrong carrier for Nokia and Microsoft to use as a fiundation to begin their comeback in the smartphone market.

Sorry, Ray, I beg to differ.

I think the Lumia is the right phone at the right price with the right carrier, or at least a necessary calculated risk by Microsoft and Nokia to make headway in a market dominated by iOS and Android.

Oh, and the photo of the Lumia 710 accompanying Raymond's editorial? It's not a photo of the Lumia 710 T-Mobile will sell — there won't be an all-white version. Only an all-black and black with a white frame.

But I digress.

We live in two Americas — no, not just red states and blue states, not just rich and poor, not just those who like the Real Housewives shows and those with brains, but tech savvy and, well, not tech savvy. To drill down even further, we are a country divided between those with smartphones and those without.

We who own smartphones — you DVICE readers, I assume — have already chosen Apple or Android, with a shrinking sliver clinging to BlackBerry.

As such, we are not the customers that Microsoft, Nokia and T-Mobile give a rat's ass about. We will not be interested in the Lumia 710.

Who would be? In the first paragraph of their joint press release, Nokia and T-Mobile state the Lumia 710 is "[t]argeted at the nearly 150 million Americans who haven't purchased their first smartphones."

Lumia 710 may or may not be the right phone or the right OS for non-smartphone owners. But in a smartphone world dominated by Apple and Google, and with both Nokia and Microsoft arriving as late into the smartphone market like someone showing up in February for a New Year's Eve party, the Lumia 710 may be their own only play to establish some sort of competitive beachhead.

And I got to play with the Lumia 710 a bit last week, and I found it to be a nice — and impressive, in its way — little phone.

We Are The 56 Percent

According to a recent report from Nielsen, 44 percent of Americans now own a smartphone.

That means 56 percent of the U.S. population is smartphone bereft. And these 56 percenters are likely the least tech savvy among us.

According to Nielsen, here's the smartphone ownership percentage by age group:

  • 25-34: 62%
  • 18-24: 54%
  • 35-44: 53%
  • 45-54: 39%
  • 13-17: 38%
  • 55-64: 30%
  • 65+ : 18%

As you can see, lots of younger-ish folks own smartphones. Not so much teens, or my baby boomer peeps.

This mass of non-smartphone owning, less tech savvy teens and oldsters are the folks Nokia and Microsoft have wisely decided to target.

There's one more demographic the Lumia may appeal to: Spanish-speaking men. You may have heard that "Lumia" is Spanish slang for "prostitute." Macho Latinos may like the idea of owning a phone with such a racy name.

The Right OS

While Ray and I like the Microsoft Windows Phone OS, I like it even better for the non-tech-savvy demo Nokia and Microsoft are aiming at.

iOS and Android are both app-centric OSs, which can be daunting to your mom or grandma. Those 16 icons on an iPhone or Android screen can seem like a book-length diner menu to the techphobic — they'll become petrified by too many options. And then you can have MORE screens with MORE tiny icons? Aye curamba! Give me back my simple flip phone!

Windows Phone's large colorful tiles are far more function-centric and far less intimidating for the uninitiated.

Does Micosoft and Windows Phone 7 have a perception problem? Yup, with those of us who have had the unfortunate experience of grappling with Windows Mobile and the first iteration of Windows Phone on the Kin (ugh).

But mom and pop America have no clue about Microsoft's unfortunate smartphone OS past. They do know, however, that Nokia made that lovely free flip phone they got when they first signed up for cell service.

The Right Carrier

One of Lumia's main come-ons is its price — just 50 bucks. But you can get an iPhone 3G for a dollar from AT&T, you say.

True, and that's why T-Mobile is the right carrier for the Lumia — no iPhone. And T-Mobile has traditionally had the least expensive subscription plans, not an insignificant consideration for economically challenged subscribers unable to afford iPhone's industry-high monthly fees in these recessive times.

Plus, Lumia is a 4G phone, iPhone not. Non-tech savvy consumers don't know 4G from zero G. But they'll understand speedy performance, and the little Lumia is a speedy Web-surfing sucker. It's also got a faster processor than iPhone, so it reacts quickly to touches, flicks and swipes, and scrolls nearly iPhone smooth.

The Right Handset

For us techies used to drooling over bleeding edge Android superphones (I'm currently drooling over the new Google Nexus), Lumia 710 may seem a bit spec-impaired.

But for first-time smartphone buyers, Lumia 710 is a cornucopia of wonders, especially for $50.

A 5 MP camera instead of 8 MP? BFD. 5 MP is plenty of pixels, even for a standalone digital camera. 720 HD video instead of 1080? BDF. It's still plenty of HD. And like iPhone, you just push the shutter regardless of where you are in the OS to activate the camera. While not as fast as iPhone, Lumia's shutter is quicker than many Samsung Galaxys I've used, and took sharp, colorful photos, even in dim light, thanks to a powerful flash.

No front-facing camera? BFD. I don't know ANYONE who has used the front camera for video chatting. And first-time buyers are unlikely to miss something they never had.

Lumia's 3.7-inch screen is a bit small, but larger than iPhone's, with bright colors and finely-rendered text — maybe not as finely rendered as iPhone, but spectacular compared to the flip phone being traded in.

But the small screen means a small phone no bigger than a flip phone, with a nice rubberized rear — not the smooth baby's butt behind that makes nearly all other large smartphones too slippery.

May I Recommend

Now that I've spent all this time dwelling on the prospects of the Lumia 710, I may actually recommend it to those smartphone virgins who ask me to make a recommendation.

Of course, Nokia's and Microsoft's Lumia gambit may not work. But if their carefully and effectively target the AARP crowd, Windows Phone 7 could grab a profitable portion of the smartphone market.

For the latest tech stories, follow DVICE on Twitter
at @dvice or find us on Facebook