Nokia Lumia 900: Everything's riding on you

The new Windows Phone has AT&T's marketing heft behind it, but the weight of the world on its shoulders. AT&T and Nokia need it to be a hit before Samsung and Apple strike again.

Nokia Lumia 900
The Nokia Lumia 900. Welcome to the real world! Bonnie Cha/CNET

AT&T, Microsoft, and Nokia are aligning their marketing dollars toward making the Lumia 900 a hero phone, a device that's coveted by the masses.

Why the big bucks? Nokia and Microsoft have a very small window of opportunity to make Windows Phone stick, as both Samsung and Apple are waiting in the wings with new devices.

One misfire, and Nokia and Microsoft's Windows Phone may not recover in the U.S. If those two companies can't generate interest with a modestly priced smart device and AT&T's biggest marketing push ever , getting positive consumer word of mouth is going to be extremely difficult.

With the Nokia Lumia 900, which goes on sale later this week , the stakes really couldn't be higher. To date, Windows Phones have been a nonevent in the U.S. AT&T is looking to diversify its smartphone base from the iPhone. And the price for the Lumia 900 -- $99.99 with a two-year contract -- is right.

The window of opportunity for this Lumia 900 marketing blitz: six to eight weeks.

That is, by eight weeks from now it'll be clear whether Nokia's Windows Phone hopes have a shot in the U.S. Guess what else becomes more clear in about eight weeks? Try the launch date of Samsung's next Galaxy phone. In addition, speculation will begin to ramp up for Apple's iPhone 5. In short order, consumers will have a bevy of reasons to refrain from Nokia's Windows Phone and wait for the next latest-and-greatest offerings.

Deutsche Bank analyst Kai Korschelt lays out the Samsung elephant in the room:

We also believe that a refresh of Samsung's current flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S2, is due in the coming months. The Galaxy S2 has sold ~20m units in the last 10 months. We expect the S3 to carry impressive hardware specs and industrial design to enable the company further share gains. We believe an S3 refresh in April or May would make Nokia's high-end share recovery with the Lumia 800&900 devices relatively more difficult.

Korschelt adds that consumer fascination with Windows Phone has been muted.

Simply put, Nokia needs to get the Lumia 900 in as many hands as possible before Apple and Samsung take the stage. What's more problematic is that Nokia's limited window to gain share isn't unique. HTC has the exact same conundrum. HTC's comeback plan relies on being the hot device in a limited window of time.

And there's more than just Lumia 900 popularity at stake. Nokia's future -- not to mention that of Windows Phone overall -- is on the line. Based on Nokia's annual report, the U.S. is like an emerging market for the smartphone maker. Strength in the U.S. can offset competition in China, Europe, and other strongholds as Nokia tries to fend off cheap Android phones and Apple's iPhone.

According to Nokia's annual report, just 4 percent of sales came from North America in 2011, down from 5 percent in 2010. What happens if Nokia can get traction in the U.S.? It's all upside. But that's also a very big "if." In Nokia's annual report, the company delivers a laundry list of risks related to Windows Phone. The biggest one: "We may not succeed in creating a high level of consumer interest for our Nokia products with Windows Phone."

Whether Nokia is successful at stoking consumer interest will be clear in just a matter of weeks. The marketing blitz from AT&T, Nokia, and Microsoft lasts six to eight weeks. The time frame to win over customers may be significantly shorter.

 

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