Can Microsoft capture the essence of Lumia devices without Nokia branding?

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Last week, Microsoft’s purchase of Nokia’s devices and services unit was finalized.

That means one very important thing: Nokia- and Lumia-branded smartphones will soon come to an end.

Microsoft did not purchase Nokia in full, but rather just the devices and services part of the business. Nokia will continue to exist as a separate entity, continuing in three core areas: NSN, its HERE mapping service, and Advanced Technologies. The Nokia name will live on, but Microsoft has no plans to continue licensing the Nokia brand in the future – it only has rights to the name for a short time. As such, Nokia Lumia-branded smartphones will soon disappear from the market.

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In a live Q&A on the Conversations blog, Former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop (now head of Microsoft’s devices group) answered one of the most important questions. “Nokia as a brand will not be used for long going forward for smartphones. Work is underway to select the go forward smartphone brand,” he explained.

The future branding of the phones we now commonly know as Lumia devices is in the hands of Microsoft. Oh, boy.

A lot of debate and likelihoods have been tossed around following the completion of the Nokia deal. What will Microsoft call its in-house phones? What will be the brand going forward? Xbox Phone? Microsoft Surface phones? Microsoft Mobile?

Thankfully, Elop assures us, despite being espied in a leaked memo, the latter will not be used in consumer products, but is rather a “legal construct that was created to facilitate the merger” – nothing more.

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Microsoft Surface phones would also be a rather unfortunate name. While the Surface brand has gained some notoriety in the tech space, I can’t help but imagine how sterile and boring a Surface phone would be. Take the Surface Pro 2, for example. It’s a rather cool, very capable product, but I can think of a dozen reasons I’d rather buy something else, and that’s the top-end hardware from Microsoft.

It’s cool, but not a lot of people want to buy it. An in-house, Microsoft-made smartphone could very easily become the snoozefest offspring of the Surface brand. And that’s a scary thought.

xbox-videoXbox Phone, as cheesy as it sounds, could generate some excitement. I don’t like the sound of it, but the Xbox brand has some die-hard fans and could ultimately draw new customers in, especially if Microsoft can capitalize on the gaming and entertainment side of the smartphone equation and more tightly tie the Xbox and mobile experiences together.

Whatever branding Microsoft decides on, Elop also promises the colorful and lighthearted nature of Nokia’s products and design will be manifested in Microsoft’s future products. We can assume Microsoft won’t stray too far from the hardware and design that has worked so well for Nokia, the only mobile manufacturer which managed to grow any significant amount of hype around Microsoft’s teetering platform.

The real question is, can Microsoft manage to maintain the same luster Nokia’s devices did?

Realistically, it’s easy to say yes. It’s practically all the same people working to make future devices happen, they’re simply operating under a new brand, a new name, an old company.

However, we must not ignore the elephant in the room.

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Nokia was an underdog with a broad, deep-seated, dedicated following. As a hardware maker, it had history in the mobile space – 14 years of being the largest cell phone manufacturer in the world. Once it fell from its throne, Nokia was forced to once again begin making compelling products. Those products rarely failed to turn heads. The Nokia N8, Nokia N9, Lumia 900, Lumia 920, Lumia 1020, Lumia 520, Lumia 620, Lumia Icon, and the dozens of phones in-between were all soulful and intriguing. They all were high-quality, gorgeous smartphones that broke boundaries and went against the grain.

Nokia had a penchant for sticking out, for better or for worse, and made a name for itself as an underdog willing to dig deep to earn its way back to the top.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is anything but an underdog. And it has no problem trying to buy its way to the top of the mobile space – incentivizing developers, paying hardware manufacturers (a key example being the partnership with Nokia), etc. The two companies, while deeply intertwined for the last two years, shared different core values that worked well as separate entities.

switch-for-1020-2Whether Microsoft can keep the scrappy, endearing nature of Nokia intact remains to be seen. Its #morecolorful ad campaign seems to suggest that’s exactly what’s happening, but we won’t know how well the endeavor will work until we get the hardware in our hands.

What will happen with PureView and the impressive R&D Nokia, such as the kinetic smartphone that never truly saw the light of day, is also a major unknown.

With over 80 percent of Windows Phone’s market share, the brunt of the platform’s success rides on the back of Nokia, which now is Microsoft. That means Microsoft’s success in the mobile industry is now largely self-dependent.

That could be a great – or terrible – thing. It means Microsoft now has almost complete control over the future of its platform. It also means, if it can’t manage to capture the endearing essence of Nokia’s current and past handsets, it’s market presence could begin to dwindle.

The latter seems unlikely with the new spark the Windows Phone 8.1 update created, but we also know how short the mobile industry’s attention span can be.

Either way, things are about to get very interesting (or uninteresting) in the Windows Phone space. Which side of the fence do you think Microsoft and its new hardware venture will fall? Take to the comments to share your thoughts!

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About The Author
Taylor Martin
Based out of Charlotte, NC, Taylor Martin started writing about technology in 2009 while working in wireless retail. He has used BlackBerry off and on for over seven years, Android for nearly four years, iOS for three years, and has experimented with both webOS and Windows Phone. Taylor has reviewed countless smartphones and tablets, and doesn't go anywhere without a couple gadgets in his pockets or "nerd bag." In his free time, Taylor enjoys playing disc golf with friends, rock climbing, and playing video games. He also enjoys the occasional hockey game, and would do unspeakable things for some salmon nigiri. For more on Taylor Martin, checkout his Pocketnow Insider edition.| Google+