Nokia’s message at the Mobile World Congress this year was clear as could be: we are all about affordable phones. In Nokia’s mind, it needs to compete with the likes of Huawei to address the lower rung of the Windows Phone ladder, making the least expensive phones it can in order to reach developing markets. Just look at how many low and mid-range phones Nokia currently has in its stable, adding the Lumia 520 and 720 to the likes of the 620 and all the budget Windows Phone 7 hardware before it. The problem is, I think Nokia is perilously misreading the market here, and while there’s absolutely a place for super-cheap, lower-end smartphones, I don’t think that Windows Phone is the best platform for such hardware.
Not Cheap Enough
First off, let’s talk about prices. The Lumia 520 will sell for a little over $180, while the Lumia 720 has been given a price of about $325. That 520 price is competitive, and I’ll get back to it in a minute, but $325 is simply not going to cut it. If I’m trying to maximize my smartphone-buying dollar, I’m going to be looking at specs, and a dual-core 1GHz S4 with 512MB RAM and 4.3-inch WVGA screen sounds pretty lousy when I can pay less money and get a Nexus 4 featuring a quad-core 1.5GHz S4 with 2GB of RAM and a 4.7-inch 720p screen.
Sure, Windows Phone makes do with less a lot better than Android does, so that’s really not the fairest comparison, but it’s exactly the sort of thing someone’s going to be thinking about when $300 is a seriously substantial sum of money to them.
Even when we place less importance on specs, $180 is still just a little too much for a budget smartphone. There are any number of name brand Androids you can score for that much or substantially less, not to mention all the no-names out there. If you want a smartphone, and price is your be-all-end-all concern, you’re just not going to choose Windows Phone.
While the situation has improved with Windows Phone 8, the platform itself started out decidedly unfriendly towards users of limited means. The requirement to tether the phone to a computer in order to install updates, for example, seems of little concern to most of us, but with sales of budget-priced smartphones to developing markets, we’re looking at a whole lot people who don’t have regular access to a computer – the smartphone serves as their main computing device.
WP Apps Are a Bad Deal
And then there’s software; as a whole, Windows Phone apps are just not cut out for saving you money. Some popular apps that are free and ad-supported on Android only offer paid alternatives on Windows Phone. Other times, the Windows Phone option is just more expensive than other platforms – Plants vs. Zombies is $5 for Windows Phone and only $2 for Android. Heck, it’s even free on iOS this week.
Probably the most damning statistic for Windows Phone apps is the number available: Microsoft just announced that Windows Phone has some 130,000 apps available for it, while Android has over 700,000. If the purchase of your first smartphone is the key to unlocking access to one of those worlds of apps, you’re getting a lot less for your money with Windows Phone. I’d wager that Android has more free apps available than Windows Phone has total. When every nickel and dime matters, Windows Phone is not the platform for you.
A No-Win Situation
All of this puts Nokia in a tough spot. It’s hitched its wagon to Windows Phone, and there’s no turning back at the moment – there’s simply too much invested. At the same time, developing markets really are a gold mine for manufacturers that can create the smartphones their citizenry demands. The combination of Windows Phone being a comparatively expensive platform for its users and Nokia’s inability to undercut lower-end Android pricing means this effort was set up for failure from the beginning.
Nokia, concentrate your efforts elsewhere. Dominate the higher-end of the Windows Phone market, or just keep making truly affordable devices like your new 301. But budget-priced hardware and Windows Phone is simply a combination that doesn’t work – not now at least.