Nokia's multibillion-dollar bet on Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system is still in its early stages, but so far the bet is a financially losing one. Though, there are glimmers of hope.
The Finnish phone-maker reported a $1.38-billion loss for the fourth quarter of 2011 on Thursday, but the company also said that it has sold "well over 1 million Lumia devices to date."
While the Lumia sales so far don't come close to challenging heavyweights such as Apple's iPhone, which sold about 37 million units in the same three-month period, the consumer uptake is notable considering that the Lumias aren't sold in nearly as many markets as rival phones from Apple, Samsung and HTC.
The Lumia line is Nokia's first range of handsets running on the Windows Phone software, and since the series debut in October, Nokia has released just two phones — the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800 — to Europe, Hong Kong, India, Russia, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
Only the Lumia 710 is currently available in the U.S. The newly announced Lumia 900, a phone designed specifically for the U.S. market, is expected to hit stores as early as March. Nokia has yet to launch its Lumia phones in China or Latin America, though the company said in a statement that would happen sometime in the first six months of the year.
Overall Nokia sales fell 21% in the last three months of the year, while smartphone shipments fell 31% from a year ago. Much of Nokia's smartphone dip is attributable to the decline in popularity of phones running the company's Symbian and MeeGo operating systems as consumers have turned to Google's Android platform and the iPhone. When Nokia agreed to take on Windows Phone, it stated that it would abandon Symbian and MeeGo as well.
The company's $1.38-billion fourth quarter loss follows a profit of about $980 million a year earlier.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: A Nokia Lumia 800 smartphone sits on display inside a Nokia retail store in Helsinki, Finland. Credit: Ville Mannikko / Bloomberg
Yet, despite Microsoft buying Skype at a price of $8.5-billion in October, you still can't make a Skype call on a Windows Phone handset. However, that will change soon, Skype and Microsoft said in a YouTube video produced at the Consumer Electronics Show last week.
If you're feeling a bit skeptical, you're likely not alone. Skype has been promising a Windows Phone app since April of last year. But a higher level of integration between Skype and its new owner Microsoft is inevitable, if not late.
Rick Osterloh, Skype's vice president of product, said in the company's CES video that the online calling service is working on apps for not only Windows Phone, but also for Microsoft's Xbox gaming console and the in-development Windows 8 operating system.
Osterloh also said that Skype is on an upswing of growth with the service recently passing 200 million monthly users who use more than 1 billion minutes a day. Also on the way is group-calling with up to 10 people on a single call, he said.
Image: A screenshot of a demonstration video of Skype for Android on a Samsung Nexus S smartphone. Credit: Skype
The Lumia 710, Nokia's first Windows Phone to hit the U.S., barely went on sale on Jan. 11 and already Wal-Mart is undercutting other retailers by giving the new phone away for free on a two-year contract.
T-Mobile USA, which launched the phone, sells the Lumia 710 for $49.99 on a two-year data plan, as do other retailers such as Best Buy. The price drop by Wal-Mart is a fast one and it's unclear if other retailers or T-Mobile itself will follow suit.
But if we do see more price drops on the Lumia 710, they will probably be motivated in part by the pending arrival of the new Lumia 900 at AT&T, which is rumored for sometime in March. An official release date and price haven't yet been disclosed for the Lumia 900.
The Lumia 900, which made its debut at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week, has a 4.3-inch display and a unique polycarbonate body.
But while the 900 packs a larger screen and a bit more style, it and the 710 are very similar on the inside, with both phones running Windows Phone 7.5 Mango on a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor and 512-megabytes of RAM.
The Lumia 710 has 8 gigabytes of built-in storage, while the Lumia 900 has 16 gigabytes. And the Lumia 710 features a 5-megapixel camera with a single-LED flash, while the Lumia 900 has an 8-megapixel camera with a dual-LED flash.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 710 Windows Phone from T-Mobile USA. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles TImes
As General Motors introduced its first efforts to bring apps from your smartphone into your dashboard at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, Ford expanded its Sync AppLink system — which does just that and launched about a year ago.
When AppLink made its debut, Pandora was the only app a Sync user could operate via in-dash touch screen. Later, Stitcher radio gained Sync compatibility, which includes voice control as well.
Ford announced at CES in Las Vegas this week that apps for iPhones, BlackBerrys and phones that Google's Android would be added to the AppLink-friendly list, including NPR News, Slacker Radio, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio and Ford's own Sync Destinations turn-by-turn navigation app.
To see NPR News and Slacker Radio in action in a new Ford Mustang GT, check out our video from CES above.
Ford says that more apps that work with Sync's voice recogniton software are on the way. Oddly enough, Sync (which was developed through a partnership between Ford and Microsoft) has no AppLink compatibility with Windows Phone apps.
Just as with GM's in-car-app systems — Chevrolet MyLink and Cadillac CUE — AppLink can use apps only if it’s connected to a smartphone with the app installed, and it accesses data through the phone. Ford isn't selling any AppLink data plans.
For now, AppLink is available only in Sync-equipped Fiestas, Mustangs, Fusions, F-150s and Econoline vans, but the U.S. automaker is considering pushing AppLink out to other Ford brands, such as Lincoln, as well as to vehicles running older versions of Sync.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of Ford's Sync Destinations app. Credit: Ford
Nokia and Microsoft's first flagship smartphone for the U.S., the Lumia 900, made its official debut at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The new Windows Phone handset was first unveiled Monday by Nokia, and later that night Microsoft brought the new phone on stage in what was the final CES keynote speech from the tech giant best known for the powerhouse Windows PC operating system.
The Lumia 900 so far has been confirmed as running only on AT&T's 4G LTE network and picks up stylistically where the Lumia 800 left off, with an attractive rounded polycarbonate body and a flat, sliced-off-looking top and bottom.
However, the Lumia 900 will have a larger screen than the Lumia 800 — up to 4.3 inches from 3.7 inches. The resolution of the display will remain 480 by 800 pixels, as is standard for all Windows Phone handsets.
The new Nokia will be offered from AT&T in either cyan or matte black and feature a 1.4-gigahertz Qualcomm processor, 512 megabytes of RAM, 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, an 8-megapixel rear camera that can shoot up to 720p video and a 1.3-megapixel front facing camera for video chatting.
The Lumia 900 will be thinner than T-Mobile's Lumia 710, a 0.45-inches-thick 4G phone I reviewed last weekend.
Nokia officials also told me at CES that the Lumia 800 is finally going to get a U.S. launch as well, but it will be sold only as an unlocked phone. That means the Lumia 800 will sell without part of the cost of the phone being eaten up by a wireless carrier's subsidy, which may put it in the $500-range, though Nokia declined to specify.
Microsoft and Nokia also had no details to offer on pricing or a release date for the Lumia 900. As soon as we can, we'll get the phone in our hands for a full review. In the meantime, check out our hands-on video from CES with both the Nokia Lumia 900 above; and photos and of the Lumia 900 and Lumia 800 after the jump.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Nokia Lumia 900 in the foreground, with the Lumia 800 in the middle and an Apple iPhone 4S in the rear. Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
The Nokia Lumia 710 is a small, low-cost smartphone with some big, high-cost bets riding on its success.
The Lumia 710 is Nokia's first phone to hit the U.S. running Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system — more specifically, Windows Phone 7.5 Mango. It's also the first tangible product to hit store shelves, in this case T-Mobile stores, as a result of a deal between Nokia and Microsoft announced in February and signed in April that's reportedly worth billions of dollars.
So is the Lumia 710 a good smartphone or not? Simply put, it is. It's a simple, low-end phone, but it's a solid little phone worth your consideration if you're new to smartphones or looking for an affordable Windows Phone handset. The Lumia 710 runs $49.99 on a 2-year contract with T-Mobile starting Jan. 11.
A 3.7-inch touch screen is featured on the new Nokia, which looks good but results, disappointingly, in a bit of color distortion at extreme angles. The resolution of the screen, which is responsive and very fingerprint prone in the black colorway I tested, is 800 x 480 pixels. Video playback, apps, photos and websites all looked great on the Lumia 710.
The phone is powered by a single-core 1.4-gigahertz Snapdragon processor from Qualcomm, and 512 megabytes of RAM and 8 gigabytes of built-in storage are included. There is no microSD card slot for storage expansion and there is no front-facing camera for video chatting — which falls in line with the lower-end expectations the Lumia 710's price reflects. Though it should be noted that the HTC Radar 4G, which sells for the same price from T-Mobile, does include a front-facing camera.
On the back is a 5-megapixel camera with a single LED flash, which takes clear, detailed photos and can also shoot 720p video. The camera can't match the 8-megapixel shooters found on higher end smartphones, but again, the Lumia 710 isn't a high-end $200 or $300 smartphone.
The Lumia 710 was fast and performed well. I won't go too deep into Windows Phone Mango (for more on that, check out my October review of Mango), but while it isn't the most complicated or power-demanding operating system out there, the Lumia 710 handled everything I threw at it. In about two weeks of testing, I never had an app freeze or crash on me. Call quality was good with voices sounding clear and no dropped calls experienced. T-Mobile's 4G network offered up fast downloads and uploads on the Lumia 710. Battery life was also great: I consistently got a day's worth of charge, no problem.
Stylistically, the Lumia 710 is a bit plain, though not at all unattractive. The curved back plate on the phone is coated in a rubberized plastic that is grippy and comfortable to hold in the hand no matter what you're doing on the phone. The back plate is removable and Nokia is selling different colors — cyan, magenta, yellow, black and white — which thankfully can help add a bit of style.
Below the phone's display is a single piece of plastic which rises out of the face of the Lumia 710 to house three buttons: back, home and search. Many Windows Phone handsets have opted for touch-capacitive buttons and not a large physical button, but that's the way Nokia went this time around and it's unique. You may or may not like the large button, but it is an original look and one I didn't mind at all. The right side of the Lumia 710 is a volume rocker above a dedicated camera button, which responded fast when clicked. Up top is the phone's power button, headphone jack and, in another departure, USB port.
The top of the phone is a bit of a strange place for a USB port, but I actually liked this decision simply because I hadn't really seen it before. Nokia's phones will need to stand out and feel genuinely different from Samsung, HTC and others that make Windows Phone handsets.
This phone, while overall a standard and not at all groundbreaking phone, still feels different than others I've seen at this price range and I think that's a good thing. It's small choices, like the removable colored back plates, the large button on the front, and the USB port up top that give the Lumia 710 some personality.
Build quality is solid and the Lumia 710 feels like it could take some abuse and survive over the life of a two-year contract with no problems.
The Lumia 710 also has a couple of unique features on the software side, with a different color option for Windows Phone's app tiles called Nokia Blue, which looks a bit more royal than the standard blue like the Tar Heel blue worn by the University of North Carolina. Nokia apps are also another differentiator for the Lumia 710 and future Nokia Windows Phones.
The best of the included Noika apps was Nokia Drive, a turn-by-turn voice navigation app that delivered GPS directions in a clear, understandable manner. Nokia Drive also re-calibrated quickly when I went against its suggested routes.
All in all, the Nokia Lumia 710 was a phone I enjoyed using. It didn't make me want to give up my Apple iPhone 4S or the Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But unlike the Nokia Lumia 800 on sale in Europe and Asia, the Lumia 710 wasn't designed to do that. Nokia will need to release such a phone in the U.S. to justify its multibillion-dollar partnership with Microsoft.
But while there aren't a ton of bells and whistles here, this straightforward, well-built, speedy little smartphone looks like a good starting point for Nokia and Microsoft.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photos: The Nokia Lumia 710. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh/Los Angeles Times
Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system has reportedly passed 50,000 published apps, hitting the milestone just 14 months after its launch.
The 14-month time frame for 50,000 apps is second only to Apple's iOS, which hit 50,000 published apps in 12 months, according to a report from All About Windows Phone, a website that tracks Windows Phone apps and hosts a Windows Phone app directory as well.
Google's Android reached 50,000 apps published in its Anroid Market in 19 months, the report said.
For its part, Microsoft declined to comment on the report, neither confirming nor denying that it has passed the 50,000 mark. All About Windows Phone, a site not affiliated with Microsoft, said it compiled its data "from our own tracking system," which is also used to power its directory of Windows Phone apps.
"It took just over a year to get to 40,000 apps, but just 40 days to add the next 10,000 apps," showing increased growth for the Windows Phone operating system, Rafe Blandford, who runs the All About Windows Phone site, wrote in the site's report.
But just because more than 50,000 apps published doesn't mean that every Windows Phone user has access to all of those apps, Blandford said.
"Of the 50,126 items published to the Marketplace, just under 6,000 are no longer available," meaning they were removed by Microsoft or withdrawn by the publisher, he said. "In addition, some apps are only available in select markets. This means the number of available items to a consumer, in a given market, is lower than the number of published items."
In the U.S., about 42,655 apps are available for download, the report said.
Of the apps published to the Windows Phone Marketplace storefront, about 58% are free, compared with about 69% of apps being free in Google's Android Market and about 43% free in Apple's iOS App Store, Blandford said.
Both Android and iOS have published about 10 times more apps than Windows Phone so far, he said, though the two rivals have been offering downloadable apps since 2008.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Photo: The Foursquare app running on a Windows Phone handset. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times
T-Mobile and Nokia are expected to announce next week that the Lumia 710 Windows Phone, and possibly the Lumia 800 as well, is headed to the U.S.
Nokia's Lumia phones are the handset maker's first devices to run Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system, the product of a deal between Nokia and Microsoft announced in February and signed in April that's reportedly worth billions of dollars.
The colorful new handsets are already available in Europe, but so far Nokia hasn't announced a U.S. carrier for the Lumia, despite saying that its intent is to have at least the Lumia 710 available in America by sometime next year.
Nokia hasn't yet said whether the Lumia 800 will also be available stateside. Nokia also hasn't introduced any other planned Windows Phone devices outside of the Lumia 710 and Lumia 800.
On Friday, T-Mobile sent an invitation to the press for an event in New York on Wednesday, Dec. 14, that reads "T-Mobile and Nokia have something exciting in the works. Be amongst the first to experience it."
For details on the Lumia 710 and the Lumia 800, check out our previous coverage of the handsets here.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: The Nokia Lumia 800, running Microsoft's Windows Phone 7.5 Mango operating system. Credit: Nokia
If you're familiar with ZTE in the U.S., then you're familiar with low-cost or free phones from prepaid or contract carriers such as Boost Mobile, Cricket Wireless and MetroPCS, and from major carriers such as AT&T.
And you'd also know that ZTE's phones are nowhere near challenging top-tier handsets such as the Apple iPhone, or Androids such as the Samsung Galaxy S II and the Motorola Droid Razr. Like HTC used to do, ZTE often makes products devoid of their own brand for carriers looking for entry-level devices.
But next year, the Chinese company is looking to change things up and launch a high-end smartphone in the U.S., according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
A high-end ZTE handset, running on speedy 4G LTE networks, could arrive toward the middle of next year and "by 2015, we expect the U.S. to be the largest market for handsets for ZTE," said Lixin Cheng, ZTE's North American president, in a Hong Kong interview with the Journal.
Such a smartphone would offer iPhone-like features at a price still somewhat lower than Apple's handset, Cheng told the Journal, declining to go into specifics about price.
The newest version of the iPhone, the iPhone 4S, starts at $199 for a unit with 16 gigabytes of built-in storage, increasing to $299 for 32 gigabytes and $399 for 64 gigabytes.
The idea may seem a bit far-fetched if you've never heard of ZTE before, but the company's growth is very real. As noted by the Journal, ZTE grew to a 5% share of global cellphone shipments in the third quarter of the year.
That recent push propelled ZTE to pass Apple as the No. 4 shipper of cellphones (not just smartphones) in the world, according to the research firm Strategy Analytics. Aside from phones, ZTE also makes mobile hotspot and USB-wireless dongles for carriers such as T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon.
ZTE is "in talks" with U.S. carriers about selling its high-end phones, which may run either Google's Android operating system or Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 software, Cheng said in the report.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of ZTEusa.com, ZTE's website for the U.S. market, which displays the AT&T Avail, an Android smartphone ZTE builds for AT&T. Credit: ZTE
Microsoft has released new details on its Windows Store for Windows 8 — no it's not called App Store a la Apple — which will be its online storefront selling applications to run on Windows 8 laptops, desktops and tablets.
The Windows Store will sell "Metro-style" apps. Microsoft Metro is the design language of flat, actively updating "live tile" icons for apps that debuted last year on the Windows Phone 7 operating system, and is making its way over to the Xbox 360 video game system this week in a software update.
Most Windows 8 Metro apps available in the Windows Store should adhere to touch, stylus or keyboard and mouse input, since they'll have to run on traditional PCs and tablets as well.
Microsoft will also have a tiered system of what its cut of an apps revenue will be. Apple famously takes a 30% cut of revenue for all apps sold in its iOS App Store (for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) and Mac App Store (for Mac computers).
Microsoft will take a similar 30% share of revenue for each app sold in its Windows Store, but once an app passes $25,000 in total revenue, the tech giant will drop its share down to 20% for the remainder of time that the app is sold, the company said in a statement.
To access the new Windows Store, the masses will have to wait until Windows 8 officially launches sometime next year. But developers will be able to access the Windows Store, in a beta release, if they've installed the Windows 8 Developer Preview version of the new OS, which is a free download available to all.
Microsoft is now taking Windows 8 app submissions and has launched a "First Apps Contest," which the tech giant will use to choose the first eight apps available in the Windows Store when it officially opens.
The new Windows Store isn't the first time that Microsoft is taking a stab at replicating the success Apple has had with its App Stores. The much-maligned Windows Vista had an app store called the Windows Marketplace, though both the operating system and the Marketplace never found much popularity.
Still, Windows is the most widely used PC operating system in the world. Microsoft says it has sold more than 500 million Windows 7 licenses worldwide to date and the company is hoping that Windows 8 will continue dominating PCs as well as give the company a significant stake in the growing tablet market that it lacks.
Microsoft also said that the Windows Store will launch globally in 231 markets and more than 100 languages, with the ability to accept payments in 58 currencies.
Follow the jump to see screen shots of the Windows Store in action.
– Nathan Olivarez-Giles
Image: A screen shot of the Windows Store in Windows 8. Credit: Microsoft