It was a good CES for windows phone. Yes, the Samsung galaxy note, Lenovo k800 and Sony Xperia Ion all grabbed some column inches, and excitement for the green robot, but there was a buzz around the Lumia 900 and HTC titan 2. On the Microsoft booth, the windows phone section was consistently packed, as was Nokia’s booth.
It was also encouraging to hear that Skype is on it’s way within the first half of the year, and might be more integrated by the end of the year with Apollo. Also, Microsoft reps on the Windows phone booth saying they are listening to developers about their desires to hook their services into Windows Phone, and fix other developer irritations, and so there is hope that some things will change this year, probably with Apollo.
Lastly, many people got “Smoked by windows phone”, which I’m sure makes them feel good, but also shows how far they have to go to convince people it’s a worthy competitor.
That’s one reason it wasn’t amazing for Windows Phone. Largely, this is because although we have new devices, the platform is relatively unchanged so there were no real platform development to announce, and neither handsets had any customizations to the OS that were new, except for support for LTE networks. Also for me, I picked up a feeling the Microsoft internally is a disjointed company and the Windows Phone team is a bit disconnected from everyone else. Requests from other departments may be met with a “we will get back to you” kind of attitude that puts the other departments a fraction higher than external 3rd party developers, but just a fraction. Hence the first release of Skype on Windows Phone more than likely won’t be the amazing integrated solution we saw on the N9 or N900.
Finally, at some point the customization issue may have to develop some more. I heard from a Samsung rep that Samsung doesn’t like the fact they can’t make Windows Phone more Samsung-ish, and the rep couldn’t tell me a good reason to buy the Samsung over another Windows Phone because they are all pretty much the same. If feelings like that are shared higher up the Samsung chain of command, it doesn’t bode well for their long term involvement, but it does reflect the feeling a lot of people have.
Nokia also had a good CES, but with a few caveats which concerned me. But first the good – The buzz for Windows Phone was most evident in their booth which was constantly packed. People flooded there to see the Lumia 900 as well as the 710, 800, Nokia Maps improvements and the new accessories. The team can be pleased about that and everyone there seemed informed enough to answer most questions about things at the booth.
However, it could have been better in some ways. The Lumia 900 was the big story, and for operation “rolling thunder” it sets a pace that says we will see one device in January (710), Febuary (800 unlocked and in canada) and March (900 on AT&T). However, that still doesn’t feel like a lot, and that’s partly because each of these devices (except the 710) will only work with one provider in the US/canada. No news on any CDMA device which makes up the majority of US phones, and although the 710 is here, now, I had hoped to hear something more than this, or that the unlocked 800 would work on both T-Mobile and AT&T, giving consumers a real choice if they buy it.
In addition, both the Lumia 900 and 710 will face immediate competition from similarly specked handsets, and there isn’t that one thing about either (at least not in functionality) that stands out as a compelling reason to choose that over the competition. A good case could be made for the HTC Radar, Samsung Focus S and HTC Titan 2 against the Nokia’s, and the same the other way too.
Another cause for concern is the attitude of Microsoft towards Nokia in some cases. The evidence for my concern is in the following:
- Key Nokia differentiating apps subject to the same restrictive rules as I would be. I’m talking about filesystem here. Each Windows Phone app can access files it creates when running, but there is no sharing of local files (except those in hubs like photo’s for example) between apps. So Maps downloaded in Nokia Drive can’t be used in Nokia Maps, making for a disjointed experience. Also, maps won’t work when sleeping – so if your phone goes to sleep while Maps is up, when you resume it, you better hope you resume it early enough before you need to make a decision so it has time to figure out where you are and what the next turn is. Not a smooth experience at all. Yes, Nokia Maps will likely replace Bing maps in Apollo, but until then, Nokia’s flagship apps will not reach the potential they have on Symbian and MeeGo due to restrictions like these.
- Camera – and this may be true for every hardware maker, but still. Nokia gets a Carl Zeiss lens on a Windows Phone and tries their best to optimize the software for good performance. However, Microsoft won’t let the default Focus Mode be “Normal”, but instead it defaults to “Macro” so that Bing Vision performance is good. Are you kidding me – seriously? Which one is going to get used more often?
- Microsoft booth, both the least and most worrying – the guys there saying that Nokia is just a OEM and treated the same as Samsung, HTC etc. Yes, an important OEM but no preferential treatment. I hope this attitude was only among guys at the booth, and the internal relationship between Nokia and Microsoft is one of equal partners. If not, what do Nokia get out of the deal ( except payments to use the platform). The deal between Nokia and MS is vastly different to anything done between Microsoft and it’s other hardware partners the role they will likely play in Windows Phones future success (or failures) and deserves more respect from MS than this. In addition, as they are wholly backing Windows Phone, they have a lot more to loose if their customers don’t like the product than Samsung or HTC do.
Indecently, I did try and find out if there was any developer.nokia.com presence at CES. Sadly not, and I wasn’t able to speak to anyone about the future of QT, the uptake of Nokia developers of Windows Phone and Visual studio and other things which I was hoping to.
Mobile in general
In general, mobile tech had a significant footprint at CES although I was dissapointed by the absence of some big players – most notably HTC and AT&T who had their press conference for the HTC Titan 2 but had no presence on the show floor. This left Nokia to steal the show with the devices at their booth.
Lenovo, Sony and Samsung had new android phones which were each unique ion their own way, but the Samsung Galaxy note probably provided the biggest sense of excitement. I’m personally in the cam of people saying “too big for a phone, too small for a tablet” but maybe customers willl prove me wrong once it’s for sale on AT&T.
It was great to see devices from Huawei, ZTE, Toshiba and Fujitsu there too, not something we in the USA usually get to see. Huawei having their Ice Cream sandwhich phones and the 13.1MP camera/32Gb storage Windows Phone from Toshiba were intersting to see and we will see if either ever make it to retail here. Both companies face big challenges in doing so.
In terms of carriers, Verizon focused on their FIOS and corporate solutions at their booth with mobile pushed to one side. T-Mobile’s booth could have been a shop but for lacking price stickers and was tucked away at the venetian. But the real winner at CES didn’t have a booth. Even more so than Microsoft, Nokia, Samsung or Android, the real winners are AT&T, who had their own separate event. But they now have announced the Samsung Galaxy Note, Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan 2. Plus the Xperia Ion and Lumia 800 will likely only work on AT&T’s network too.