Nokia launches Lumia phones with focus on optics, wireless charging, augmented reality

Microsoft-Nokia could make a major impact on the market with new phones, analysts say

Nokia 720 colour range

Nokia 720 colour range

Nokia today announced the Windows 8 Lumia 920 and the Lumia 820 smartphones, focusing on the 920's superior camera and its map and driving features that use augmented reality, as well as the phone's built-in wireless charging.

The announcement in New York City included a brief appearance by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who called the launches "an important milestone" in Microsoft's 18-month partnership with Nokia.

"Windows Phone is unlike any other on the market," he said. "You really see it in the 820 and 920." Nokia's Lumia 920 smartphone.

The innovations in the two smartphones were praised by analysts who also said their ultimate success will depend on other factors, such as marketing and partnerships with wireless carriers. Windows Phone still has less than 5% market share, even with relative success from its Lumia 900 released earlier in 2012.

The 920 has an 8.7 megapixel camera, and a 4.5-in. display with 1280 x 768 resolution, slightly larger than the 820's 4.3-in. display. The 920 phone is .42 in. x 2.8 in. x 4.06 in. in size and weighs 7.2 ounces. It will come in a choice of three colors; yellow, red, or gray, while the 820 will also come in purple.

Pricing was not announced. A Nokia spokeswoman said the two smartphones will be available globally "later in the year."

"This is the most innovative smartphone in the world," said Jo Harlow, executive vice president of Nokia smart devices in a Webcast of the event, as she held up the canary yellow smartphone. "This is Lumia, and it's time to switch."

Analysts said Nokia and Microsoft needed to announce unusual smartphones to compete against the highly popular iPhone and a variety of Android devices.

"Both companies need to break out and prove that their phones and the Windows Phone 8 platform are viable competitors," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"The new [920] device demonstrates that, technically and in design, that they are [viable competitors], but the critical factors in proving this are operator partnerships and clear marketing. We have to wait and see if those happen."

Ovum analyst Tony Cripps said Microsoft "needs to pull out all the stops to guarantee greater awareness and demand for Windows Phone 8 devices, among consumers, business users and carriers."

Cripps said the improved image capabilities of both phones will prove to be a "reasonable strategy" for Nokia "in an age when meaningful differentiation between different makes of smartphone can be hard to identify."

Harlow demonstrated how the augmented reality feature, called CityLens, allows a user to hold the phone up to a city street and see names of restaurants and stores appear on the display hovering over images of the buildings.

"Since the 920 has the best smartphone camera, we wanted to help people find places to use it," Harlow said.

Built-in wireless charging is offered in the 920, allowing a user to lay a phone on a charging pad which charges the device. The charging process is done through inductive charging principals based on the Qi wireless charging interoperability standard. Virgin Atlantic and Coffee Bean will provide wireless charging plates for use by their customers.

Harlow defended the phones' dual-core Snapdragon S 4 processor, saying it will be 30% more battery-efficient than a quad-core processor, which is appearing on other new smartphones. The 920 has a 2000 mAh battery, the largest Nokia has offered in a Lumia design and at the upper end of what competitors are offering.

The 920's PureView camera, with PureMotion HD+, is designed to reduce blur by capturing more light -- as much as 10 times more light than any other smartphone, Harlow said. The camera uses Nokia's floating lens technology, which "will challenge conventional limits on smartphone cameras," she said.

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone, said Windows 8 will allow screen-capture technology for the first time. Uusers will also be able to take advantage of 100,000 Windows Phone apps, he said.

The 820 will allow a snap-on back cover that allows wireless charging, while the 920's wireless capability is built-in.

Nokia posted more specifications for the devices at its Web site, noting that the 920 will be LTE-ready.

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said the Lumia 920 and 820 smartphones have enough innovation to "continue to create momentum for Nokia." She noted that Nokia made the customer's experience with a smartphone a key focus of the announcement.

"People like the iPhone because it works," Milanesi said. "This is what Nokia is focusing on -- that it just works -- an experience that makes customers want more and want to stay with the Windows Phone ecosystem."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

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