Nokia either did Microsoft a big favor, or screwed Windows Phone entirely

The initial rush of the Nokia Lumia 1020 launch may be gone, but as you may have noticed from our ongoing coverage, the afterglow continues to keep us captivated. We’ve got our opinions about the phone, sure, and also about what its arrival will mean for Microsoft’s ongoing struggles to build out its platform. I’ve been wondering not only about what effect the 1020’s launch will have on user attitudes towards Windows Phone, but how it might effect other manufacturers, as well.

After all, the Lumia 1020 sets a pretty darn high bar for the sort of hardware quality Windows Phone can offer. That could either be a blessing or a curse, and just how it’s going to play out depends on a number of factors.

The 1020 Is An Inspiration

Let’s take a look at the best-case scenario. Windows Phone has never been a platform much concerned with hardware, yet Nokia’s really been pushing the envelope over the course of the past year: optical stabilization, wide-range audio capture, and now this 41-megapixel PureView business.

1020-smallAs for the rest of the Windows Phone OEMs… well, HTC had that wide-angle lens on the 8X… but overall, it’s been pretty cookie-cutter stuff. Now we have the 1020, which is getting more people thinking about the possibilities for innovation that still remain within the confines of Windows Phone.

What could be next? We could be talking about another high-end camera, but it needn’t be specifically something imaging-related – my point is that another OEM or two might see what the 1020’s able to accomplish with such attention-getting hardware and decide that it wants some of that action for itself.

Clearly, we already have advancements like 1080p coming up, but I’m talking more OEMs making singular advancements like Nokia did with the 1020 – I hesitate to use the word “gimmick,” but maybe “hook” would be appropriate. In a perfect world, we’d see an LG or a Samsung developing their own stand-out WP8 phones. Maybe one with a crazy big 3000mAh+ battery or waterproofing – though honestly, I’d like to see them aim even higher than that.

The 1020 Isn’t Worth Competing Against

Flip side: what’s the worst effect the Lumia 1020’s launch could have on the Windows Phone landscape? Even with that premium price tag, I still believe the 1020 is the most attractive WP8 handset out there, and by a decently sized margin. I just talked about what other OEMs would need to do in order to match Nokia’s impressive hardware advancement, but maybe they’ll take one look at how the 1020 outshines what they’ve been working on, consider the effort it would take to compete with a manufacturer that gets so much support from Microsoft, and just decide, “forget it; I’m out.”

1020-gripBecause when you look at the numbers, all those other non-Nokia guys aren’t seeing very serious Windows Phone sales to begin with. Now that Nokia has placed the 1020 up on a very visible pedestal, everyone else is going to have to redouble their efforts just to keep competing at the same level, let alone actually gain some ground on Nokia.

For companies like Samsung, that already seem like they’re on the fringe of packing up from Windows Phone altogether, the 1020 might be just the push they need to send them walking.

When all Windows Phone models were essentially variations on the same pattern, an OEM could be moderately successful just by presenting options that no one else was providing – different screen sizes, storage capacities, or even a hardware keyboard, back when those still existed on Windows Phone.

With the 1020, we’re entering a landscape that could be dominated by big, stand-out features. Who would care if HTC made a WP8 phone, largely similar to what it’s done so far, but with a 4.5-inch display? No one I know, that’s for sure.

What’s Next

Frankly, these are both some pretty extreme viewpoints. The reality of the situation could end up much more nuanced, with manufacturers continuing to churn out more run-of-the-mill WP phones while also taking the odd stab now and then at some sort of 1020 of their own.

But that’s not to say that either couldn’t happen. Windows Phone is a platform with an enormous amount of potential – but that means potential to fail, as well as succeed. The 1020 may be a high point, but the question now will be if this will come to be known as the apex, or if we’re still going up from here.

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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 bits Read more about Stephen Schenck!