Nokia’s slick Lumia 900 smartphone has received rave reviews from critics and designers alike. And with a massive multi-million-dollar marketing push from AT&T, the Lumia series is arguably Microsoft’s best bet for pushing its Windows Phone operating system up against iPhones and Androids.
There’s just one problem. As was revealed just weeks ago, Nokia’s flagship phone won’t be able to upgrade to Microsoft’s flagship mobile operating system, Windows Phone 8, due out this fall. That means despite a huge branding effort by both companies, the Lumia 900–once a symbol for the partnership Microsoft and Nokia forged to keep pace with Apple and Google–will be outmoded in just a couple months time. For consumers already hesitant to make the leap to an unproven platform on a device built by a faltering hardware maker, the news will only add to their apprehensions. Nokia sold just 4 million Lumia smartphones last quarter, and posted a net loss of $1.72 billion.
Though Nokia CEO Stephen Elop recently responded to a customer’s frustrations by email, outside that one out-of-the-blue message, the company has been mostly mum on the issue. But we recently caught up with Jo Harlow, executive VP of Nokia’s of smart devices, to learn whether the phone maker sees this as a problem. “Of course, anytime there’s a binary break when the software is not upgradeable, that’s potentially a consumer problem,” she says. But Harlow promises that both Nokia and Microsoft will introduce certain software updates to existing devices running the older operating system (Windows Phone 7.5) to alleviate any concerns. She realizes why some consumers would be upset over this issue, but believes it’s no different than what other smartphone makers face.
“We’ve taken a lot of criticism for this, but I also think there’s a real reality in the market place,” she says. “There are very few Android devices that can upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean. So, it’s a reality as the capabilities move on.”
Still, it’s not exactly a good excuse for Nokia and Microsoft to compare the situation to Android. Google’s mobile OS is infamous for its extreme fragmentation, with devices running on a bakery full of dessert-titled Android iterations: Gingerbread, Honeycomb, Froyo, Ice Cream Sandwich, and so forth. Apple has never had this issue of fragmentation–more than a whopping 80% of Apple users are running iOS 5, whereas just roughly 7% of Android users have the latest version.
Windows Phone is far from facing the same fragmentation woes as Android, but with Nokia’s flagship entry into the space, the company has to be careful not to stray too far away from a tightly controlled ecosystem, as Apple has developed.
“There are a certain set of consumers for whom this is a big consideration,” Harlow acknowledges. “But I would argue that even if it were upgradeable, those consumers would still want a device that has the latest and greatest hardware that will be made available with Windows Phone 8. That’s kind of a natural transition that happens whether you look at the iPhone or other platforms.”
[Image: Flickr user Vernon Chan]