Deals With Carriers Are Hurting Nokia’s Lumia Lineup

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Smartphone names, as a rule, are pretty awful. Some manage better than others, yet for every iPhone 5, there’s another HTC Droid Incredible 4G LTE. There a number of things a company can do to make things work, including keeping things simple, using descriptive terms where appropriate, and making it clear where devices fall as part of a larger lineup.

Nokia’s been skating around a real promising idea with its Lumia models, ditching a lot of the confusing branding we see from other manufacturers and giving each device a simple number. I’ve sure I’ve mentioned it before on a few occasions, but this always struck me as a really smart idea, akin to what BWM does with its vehicles; without needing to know much about the actual models, it’s easy to tell that a BMW 730 is going to be a higher-end car than a 316, just as the Nokia Lumia 920 is a higher-performance, more expensive model than the 520.

It’s not perfect, mind you; right now Nokia’s numbering can seem a little slapdash in places, and there’s not the strongest sense of an underlying logic behind it all. Of all the things that are threatening to make it completely nonsensical, there’s one that stands out from the rest not only for the effect it has on this numbering scheme, but also how it hurts the effectiveness of Nokia’s advertising, and correspondingly, sales figures: those carrier-exclusive models.

No Rhyme Nor Reason

Things started out so simply. In the Windows Phone 7 days, Lumia numbering largely made sense. But with the arrival of WP8, the situation started getting a little screwy. Now, the base models were easy enough to follow – where we had the 800 and 900 before, now we had the 820 and 920. Of course, by that logic the 510 and 710 should have matured into the 530 and 730, if adding 20 means becoming a WP8 phone, but that’s a complaint for another rant.

The problem was with these carrier variants. Rather than make an 820 that could work on all carriers, Nokia released an 810, just for T-Mobile. How’s the consumer supposed to interpret that? Is the 810 better or worse than the 820? Even the specs don’t have a clear answer, as the 810 loses an LTE radio but gains a larger battery. What about the 822? This one’s just a nightmare for a system that had been so content to relegate itself to multiples of ten. Does that difference of only 2 mean that the 822 is less different from the 820 than the 820 is from the 810?

The problem is only set to continue with the Lumia 928, which all signs point to Verizon launching in the coming weeks. While clearly based on the 920, it actually makes some nice updates, like to its screen technology, yet apparently that’s not worthy of a full bump up to 930?

The logic alone is enough to make you want to throw your hands up in frustration, but I could live with all that, stupid as it may be, were it not for the parasitic effect all these disparate model numbers have on advertising.

Money Talks, But How How Loud Can You Afford To Be?

I’d really like to believe that we buy smartphones based on their merits alone – that the smartphone buying public is doing their research, reading reviews, checking out specs, and buying the best phone for them. That would be more than just a little bit naïve, because the cold hard truth of the world is that advertising drives our purchasing decisions.

Samsung didn’t become king of the Android world by luck; it promoted the heck out of its phones, and is now reaping the rewards of great brand identity and product recognition.

Here’s where Nokia’s problems lie: Samsung can spend all the money it wants promoting the Galaxy S 4, and no matter which GS4 you’re interested in buying, those ads are going to be doing their work on you. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to be purchasing the international GT-I9500, the SGH-I337 on AT&T, the SGH-M919 on T-Mobile, or any of the other many carrier variants. Everything fits nice and tidy under the “Galaxy S 4” umbrella. While individual carriers can try to sway you towards their own offerings all they want, every dollar spent promoting any one of these versions is still going be driving you towards a GS4, no matter where you end up deciding to get it.

That makes for some seriously efficient marketing.

Now, Nokia doesn’t have close to Samsung’s advertising budget, so every dollar going towards promoting Lumia handsets has to be stretched that much farther. So why, then, is the company making it so difficult to group similar phones together and sell them as such?

For all the little changes, there’s not that much fundamentally different about the 810, 820, and 822 that should be stopping them from all being sold under the 820 banner. Carriers could still try and play up their own unique features in an effort to attract customers, but Nokia is doing itself a huge disservice by not being able to promote all these phones at once.

Sure, it could mention multiple models in one ad, but that gets tricky; carriers don’t want to see their competition given any help, even on a level playing field. Then if new carrier variants come out later, consumers are left scratching their heads as to if this is really anything new or not. With all 820s, everywhere, any such potential for confusion is averted – new ads and old can still refer to the same group of devices, even as that group grows.

In the end, it’s not a disaster; at worst, it comes off as sloppy. I just worry that Nokia may be trying too hard to appease carriers by trying to give everyone something “special,” when it really should be focusing on promoting awareness of its own brand and making it easier for interested customers to know what to expect from the company’s smartphones.

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About The Author
Stephen Schenck
Stephen has been writing about electronics since 2008, which only serves to frustrate him that he waited so long to combine his love of gadgets and his degree in writing. In his spare time, he collects console and arcade game hardware, is a motorcycle enthusiast, and enjoys trapping blue crabs. Stephen's first mobile device was a 624 MHz Dell Axim X30, which he's convinced is still a viable platform. Stephen longs for a market where phones are sold independently of service, and bandwidth is cheap and plentiful; he's not holding his breath. In the meantime, he devours smartphone news and tries to sort out the juicy bitsRead more about Stephen Schenck!