Microsoft must now maintain the proper high-end to low-end ratios


I wrote recently that Microsoft would be wise to focus on low-end smartphones, but to not neglect flagship devices. The reasons are many, and laid out in the other article, but since I opined so profusely on “do this, don’t do that” (can’t you read the sign?), we thought it wise to examine the proper ratio of flagships-to-lower-end devices. It’s not an easy question to answer as most OEMs seem to have their own answer to that question.

Of course, one needs to define the concept of the “flagship” versus other offerings. Is a flagship phone the absolute pinnacle of technology? Is there room for multiple flagships? The HTC One is clearly HTC’s prettiest pony at the show (pre-HTC One Max release of course). But once the One Max is released in all it’s fingerprint scanning glory, which will be the flagship? What about the Galaxy S4 and the Note III?

What is this flagship of which you speak?

Another conundrum in this little brain salad comes up when you consider the Lumia 920 versus the 1020? The Lumia 920 can hardly be considered a mid-tier phone, but perhaps its age dictates otherwise. But with the Lumias 925 and 928 still bearing the flagship label for T-mobile and Verizon, the 920 is barely less than those offerings.  So it’s murky water at best.

As far as ratio is concerned, it could lie anywhere from Sony’s seemingly 1:0 flagship to low-end all the way to Samsung’s 2:infinity ratio.  The Lumias at this point are at a pretty decent rate, roughly 1:2 or even 1:3, and that’s about where we look to see if Microsoft can make a significant adjustment.


Remove the X-factor

First of all, I’d like to see less carrier involvement when it comes to phone branding. The 920/925/928 and 820/822/823.14159265359 (and yes I did that from memory. Boo-yah!) branding really has to stop. They’re all basically the same phone. Can we stop pretending otherwise? Yes, the Lumia 925 does incorporate some metal into its chassis, but the guts are still mostly the same. So therefore if the 925 and 928’s are both flagships then the Lumia 920 has to be one too. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Further, our analysis doesn’t leave room for mid-tier devices, such as the Lumia 820 or 720. It really can’t. Flagship vs. non-flagship is already a pretty subjective comparison, so adding another layer into that will really do nothing more than muck up the works. So in this case, we’re going with flagship or bust.

Flip-a-coinCurrent high-end to low-end ratios

This leaves us with the current lineup of:

  • Flagships: Lumia 1020, Lumia 928, Lumia 925, Lumia 920.
  • Low end: Lumia 822, Lumia 820, Lumia 810, Lumia 620, Lumia 521, Lumia 520, and the Lumia 720 which is curiously absent from Nokia’s website.

Our ration is 4:7, or roughly 1:2. If we can move away from carrier BS customization we have:

  • Flagships: Lumia 102x, Lumia 92x
  • Low-end: Lumia 82x, Lumia 72x, Lumia 62x, Lumia 52x

Still 1:2.

Keep it here

Microsoft would do well to maintain this ratio or even trim the low end devices a hair. Anything more on either end would inhibit the growth of the other end. Flooding the high end market would leave no room for differentiation of the flagships. More than four categories on the low end would overly complicate the matter, leaving little room for incremental improvement. And yet, there needs to be improvement from one model to the next.

It’s a slippery slope. While one wants to be able to differentiate between the lower end models, even one less model would suffice. Bringing consumers in emerging markets to your product can be extremely rough. Offering incremental steps up brings significant value-adds and more flexibility to the table. I would suggest removing one of the mid-tier models – once again, the 720’s conspicuous absence from their website even after I stayed up until three o’clock in the morning to report on the darn thing (they can be so insensitive to my needs) could be an indication that that has already been done.


Low-end variety

Overall though, in the state in which Nokiasoft and Windows Phone finds itself, more variety in the lower end spectrum spells for good things in the emerging market sector, and frankly, the not-so-emerging market sector as well. I’m not a marketing guru, especially when it comes to selling cheap phones to countries, but I’m not so sure the home shopping network broadcasts near the equator. I could be wrong.

Bottom line, the ratio going right now isn’t bad, as long as it stays at these levels. I would not want to see a reduction on either end – be it flagships or lower-tier models. They all compliment each other extremely well and benefit each other in many ways. So stay the course, Microsoft. Except for the whole “cancelling a phone some poor schlep almost went catatonic for” thing. That’s not so cool.

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About The Author
Adam Doud
Adam joined the tech world after watching Jon Rubenstein demo the most epic phone ever at CES 2009. He is webOS enthusiast, Windows Phone fan, and Android skeptic. He loves the outdoors, is an avid Geocacher, Cubs/Blackhawks fan, and family man living in Sweet Home Chicago, where he STILL hosts monthly webOS meetups (Don’t call it a comeback!). He can be found tweeting all things tech as @DeadTechnology, or chi-town sports at @oneminutecubs. Read more about Adam Doud!