Where Can Nokia Go After Its Massive 41-Megapixel Lumia 1020?

The new Nokia Lumia 1020 is more of the same: a Windows Phone 8-based smartphone that features mostly the same hardware, save for an almost preposterously powerful 41-megapixel camera.

Earlier this month, Stephen Elop, CEO of struggling Finnish phone maker Nokia, took to the stage in New York City to unveil the Lumia 1020, a Pop-Tart-size smartphone strapped with an almost preposterously powerful 41-megapixel camera. Even though specs of the 1020 had already leaked, Elop and his team spent the company’s entire announcement–roughly 60 minutes–exclusively bragging about the phone’s camera, praising its features and capabilities throughout countless demos. Apparently the crowd of tech reporters wasn’t completely sold, as during a Q&A session following the event, Elop was inevitably asked what would set the Lumia 1020 apart–beside the camera–from competing devices made by Apple and Samsung.


“Other than the camera?!” Elop responded, feigning a dumbfounded look, as if to say, That wasn’t enough? He then let loose a full-belly chuckle.

For Nokia shareholders, however, it’s no laughing matter. The company has been getting hammered in the mobile market, with sales down 24% in the second quarter of this year, and the company has posted a net loss eight out of the last 10 quarters. While Lumia sales did double during that time–and are considered one of the few bright spots in the company’s product portfolio–the company has only shipped about 27 million Lumias since 2011. By comparison, Apple sold 31 million iPhones last quarter alone. The question now isn’t so much what sets Lumia apart from similar devices from Apple and Samsung–given its market share, apparently not a whole lot–but what sets it apart from previous iterations of Nokia Lumias. After all, if the Nokia Lumia 500, 600, 700, 800, and 900 series failed to capture consumer attention, why should we expect the 1020 to be any different?

The device, for one, costs $300 (with a two-year contract from AT&T), and while it has 1GB more RAM than the Lumia 925, it still runs on the same processor with the same 4.5-inch display. The camera itself makes the Lumia 1020 bulkier in weight, and it feels a bit top-heavy in your hand, like the phone comes wearing a backpack. What’s more, the camera juts out from the device, a beveled circle that makes it feel like the Lumia 1020 has contracted ringworm. Unless you’re a serious shutterbug, I can’t see the 41-megapixel camera as being the deciding factor when considering a switch from a competing device. (I personally would settle for a less expensive Nokia device, with a less advanced camera, if it only had Instagram, the photo-sharing app which remains absent from the Windows Phone catalog.)

The larger concern is that not much has changed in Nokia’s mobile strategy: It’s the same story for the Lumia 1020 as it was for the Lumia 920 last year. Indeed, when Elop was asked the above question–about what beside the camera sets the Lumia 1020 apart?–he immediately fell back on the company’s past product features. “Many of the other capabilities that we celebrated with the Lumia 920 are here as well,” Elop explained, before ticking off a set of them. (Elop even confused the two phones at one point, saying this “will look great on the Lumia 920–er, 1020.”) Imagine if Apple, when introducing the iPhone 5, began referencing iPhone 4 features as a reason to purchase the device.

The Lumia 920 unveiling, in fact, was remarkably similar to that of the Lumia 1020’s. On both occasions, Nokia boasted of the hardware, its color story, its expansive display, and the advantages of Windows Phone 8–before talking up the company’s PureView camera technology. “The Nokia Lumia 920 captures pictures and video better than any competitor–it takes the best pictures and video of any smartphone,” a Nokia executive boasted on stage last year, echoing sentiments expressed on stage by Elop again this month.

So what’s changed this time around, other than Nokia creating an even better (best-er?) camera? Not much. Photogs will rejoice, but for those of us who can’t tell the difference between Nokia’s 41-megapixel camera and Samsung’s 13-megapixel one, we’re not likely to be intrigued enough to learn the difference for ourselves.


That is, until Nokia’s 100-megapixel camera next year, right?

[Photos courtesy of Nokia]


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.