Exclusive Deals Could Scupper Microsoft’s ‘Killer’ Windows Phone 8 Hardware

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined
as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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If Microsoft is so keen to convert users to Windows Phone 8, Steve McCaskill says, why is it restricting choice?

Steve Ballmer was quite keen to make sure that everyone present at Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8 launch was aware that the company was “all in”. Microsoft threw in everything but the kitchen sink during its presentation, eager to stress the benefits of the latest version of an operating system that has been well-received by critics, but unloved by consumers.

Having ruthlessly decided that all current generation smartphones would be incompatible with Windows Phone 8, Microsoft needed some new handsets. HTC, Samsung and Nokia have all obliged and there will be a range of devices available at launch, something which Microsoft believes will be an advantage over Apple’s “one-size fits all” philosophy but it has imposed a unity with which it hopes to avoid the fragmentation issues of Android.

Ballmer seems convinced that the platform’s “killer hardware” will set it apart from the competition and, based on TechWeekEurope’s first impressions, he could be onto something. But if Microsoft is trying to sell a new operating system to sceptical consumers, why isn’t it doing more to ensure that they are as widely available as possible?

Windows Phone 8 handsets

HTC is offering two smartphones on launch day – the HTC Windows Phone 8X and the lower-end HTC Windows Phone 8S. The 8X is everything you’d expect from a high-end smartphone, boasting a 1.5GHz dual-core processor, 16GB of storage and an 8 megapixel camera as well as a 2.1 megapixel front facing camera, which is no doubt designed to take advantage of the integrated Skype application.

The HTC 8S is less impressive, with less power, a smaller screen and inferior camera, but is indicative of Microsoft’s hopes for Windows Phone 8 to appeal to all demographics.

Over in the Android camp, Samsung is currently leading the charge with the Samsung Galaxy S III –  but it is hedging its Windows Phone 8 bets. It is providing the Samsung Galaxy Ativ S, which looks like a Galaxy S III from afar, but appears to lack some of the bells and whistles of its Android brother.

Nokia offerings

Nokia has two handsets prepared, the Nokia Lumia 820 and the Nokia Lumia 920, but it’s the Lumia 920 that is being positioned as Windows Phone 8’s flagship.

Ever since Nokia and Microsoft signed a strategic partnership last year, it has become increasingly apparent that the two companies’ fates and ambitions are intertwined, so it’s just as well they’ve released what appears to be an impressive piece of kit.

The Lumia 920 is similar in appearance to its predecessors and is certainly more bulky than any of the other Windows Phone 8 launch devices. A number of features, such as wireless charging, PureView imaging and even the ability to use the phone with gloves were shown to TechWeekEurope  at the launch, and the phone easily handled everything we wanted to do with Windows Phone 8.

It feels as though it’s a device that could go toe-to-toe with the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S III, but there’s just one major problem – it’s only available on EE in the UK.

Brand Exclusivity

It had been rumoured that Nokia had been keen to “replicate the excitement” created by Apple’s decision in 2007 to restrict the iPhone to only one network (O2). But this seems a misguided approach in 2012, when the iPhone  is your competitor, and you are trying to convince consumers to switch to an alien operating system.

Not only that, the network Nokia has chosen for its exclusive UK partner is not the most popular. Launching your fast phone with the UK’s only 4G network might have seemed a good idea, but it’s not quite so clever when that network attracts a considerable amount of negative publicity for the pricing and low data limits on that 4G service.

Despite its problems, people still hold some affection for Nokia and it does make you wonder how many  Lumia 920s it would sell if it ran Android. However its current strategy goes against its previous priority of getting as many handsets out there as possible through as many channels as it can.

While Apple can make thousands of people queue in freezing cold temperatures to pay over the top for its products at an instant, Nokia can’t do this.

It’s hard to fathom the other exclusivity deals and the limitation of choice for Windows Phone 8 devices. The Samsung Galaxy Ativ S is only available on O2, while Three users can only select from the HTC Windows Phone 8X and 8S.

Microsoft believes that the quality and range of its “killer hardware” will help it win market share, but It seems as though Microsoft has forgot to find a “killer strategy” to let users choose the killer hardware they want.

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