Nokia's Lumia 1520 'phablet' isn't a panacea for US struggles

The Lumia 1520 may see adoption in overseas markets such as the Asia-Pacific region, but it will struggle here where Nokia's brand remains weak.

The Lumia 1520 comes in different colors. Nokia

No, going big is not the answer to Nokia's US problem.

Its latest phone, the Lumia 1520, is the next in a growing line of phablets -- jumbo-sized phones named because they appear to be a mash-up of a phone and tablet. It features a larger 6-inch display, a faster quad-core processor, and powerful camera.

It has all the makings of a top-tier flagship smartphone, and could do well in the Asia markets where phablets have been more quickly adopted. Unfortunately, this is not the phone to finally allow Nokia to break through in the US.

By creating a super-sized smartphone, Nokia is going after a market pioneered by Samsung Electronics and its Galaxy Note franchise. It's also chasing after a number of other competitive phablets, from the recently unveiled HTC One Max to the LG Optimus G Pro.

The problem is, beyond the Galaxy Note franchise (which consumers took a while warming up to), there hasn't been a legitimate phablet success. And even Samsung would concede that the Galaxy Note fills more of a niche -- although certainly a more affluent and technologically savvy one that is quickly growing.

Just look at the alternatives: LG's Optimus G Pro quietly faded away and the One Max was recently panned because it offered little more than a bigger design and poorly placed and functioning fingerprint reader.

Ifi Majid, who runs product marketing for Nokia's North American business, believes the company has a shot at turning heads everywhere with the Lumia 1520. Unlike other phablets, which simply increase the size of each icon, the Lumia 1520 and the latest update to Windows Phone were designed to take advantage of the bigger display.

The extra screen real estate means an extra column of live tiles that can be added to the phone. Of course, it also comes with the trademark strong camera technology and splashes of colors to help set it apart from the competition.

Majid conceded that the phablet market in general was nascent, but said the Lumia 1520 was a big step towards fleshing out the segment.

"There hasn't been a credible alternative in this space (until now)," he said.

Of course, Nokia isn't focused solely on the US, and its phablet could do well elsewhere. In the second quarter, Nokia was strongest areas remained in Europe and Asia-Pacific, although both regions saw revenue fall significantly.

It suffered its biggest fall in Greater China, its weakest broken our region with sales falling 44 percent to 493 million euros ($674 million). China is an area where a phablet could help, as that country has been quicker to adopt the larger phones than Western markets.

North America, which actually grew year over year in the second quarter, was still the second weakest region. But it did see its sales rise 10 percent to 554 million euros.

Nokia reports its third-quarter results on Oct. 29.

Nokia's brand remains weak in the US, but it has made a bit of progress with a growing line-up of smartphones that have popped up at the different carriers. While Nokia still lacks that single "halo" brand smartphone, it has been able to garner the interest of consumers with unique features like its camera technology and willingness to play with more radical colors.

The US has always been less of a priority for Nokia, although that changed a bit under Stephen Elop. But with US-based Microsoft taking over Nokia's devices business, there will likely be even more pressure to perform well here.

Pinning your hopes on a niche product category isn't the way to go about it.

 

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