Monday, 2 March 2015

Is this Microsoft's real way back into mobile?

I've been watching Microsoft win real interest in 2015. They've got tech journos salivating with clever augmented reality technology, made Windows free, brought office to iOS and Android and launched a major ad campaign based on the superiority of the Cortana virtual assistant. 

But one thing that's gone under the radar is the launch of the Lumia 435, a new smartphone targeting first time smartphone users and upgraders in less wealthy segments. In the UK is retails at just £70 without a contract. I spent some time with the device at MWC and was very impressed with the experience. 

Physically the demo units all sported rather garish luminous plastic backs and have a screen about the size of that in the original iPhone. It's thick and rather sharp edged next to the zeitgeist devices of today, but is still a fun, coherent package. The OS is Windows - for those of you haven't used the mobile version of this OS, that means scrolling down through tiles of various sizes rather than clicking icons and navigating between pages filled with them. I like it. It's simple and intuitive in a way that Android isn't.

So despite the price point, the 435 is very slick to use. There was no spec sheet to compare with the Asian horsepower brutes elsewhere, however you still wouldn't need to worry about speed if you were using this, unlike any other device I've ever used at the price point. There's a camera with lots of complicated settings too. It takes average photos and struggled with lens flare in the bright lights of the event... But at this price point it was still better than decent. Fiddling with settings would probably help fix some of the issues.

Bundled with ONE TERABYTE of cloud storage (seriously, is any user of a £70 ever going to need that much right now?) and a year of Office 365, this is an amazing value package for domestic and business users... With the slight challenge of a still weak app environment.

But there's so much in the package that I am beginning to see what Microsoft saw in Nokia, long masters of the high quality budget device. This has the potential to be a seriously disruptive product in the sense that it undercuts and outclasses the generic Android clones in the market, particularly in terms of core software bundle. I even wonder whether this joyful, cheap little phone will be more important than all the high technology MS are pushing at the top end. Win a generation of kids and emerging middle class and the chances of long term victory are good for resurgent Microsoft. 

If you think this unlikely, remember that in the late '90's we bought Apple would never be cool again...

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