For Nokia, it's do or die time with the Lumia 900

There are no second chances for the Finnish handset company, a former titan in the industry now seeking a comeback.

Nokia's Lumia 900
Bonnie Cha/CNET

commentary Nokia got its wish and has its best shot to break back into the U.S. market.

So here's some friendly advice to a company that likely won't get another opportunity as good as this: don't blow it.

Not to pile on with more pressure, but the fate of Nokia's future, and possibly that of Windows Phone and Microsoft's ability to remain relevant in the mobile world, rests largely on how successful the Lumia 900 performs.

There are no excuses this time. Nokia has a large U.S. carrier partner in AT&T, which has promised to give the phone a major push, even more so than HTC, which is launching its 4G LTE-enabled Titan II on the same day. At $99.99 with a contract, the phone is among the best deals out there.

The phone launches on April 8, CNET reported earlier today.

If a blockbuster doesn't emerge, Nokia and Microsoft has got some serious problems. A failure could have some lasting consequences.

AT&T has been a strong supporter of Windows Phone, with more products than any other carrier. But its dedication to the platform won't last forever, and if the phone stumbles out of the gate, look for AT&T to offer discounts to dump its inventory.

Likewise, a poor-selling phone isn't going to endear Nokia or Microsoft to Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel, which have only half-heartedly sold Windows Phone devices and aren't in any rush to add new products. With AT&T making such a big deal of the Lumia 900 and its 4G LTE capabilities, rival Verizon Wireless is likely reluctant to jump on to a me-too device, effectively keeping Nokia out of the largest U.S. player.

Sure, Nokia is already at T-Mobile USA, and its Lumia 710 is doing well. But the Lumia 710 is a mass-market device for the budget friendly crowd, and not something you aspire to buy. T-Mobile is no kingmaker as a distant fourth-place carrier, and offers no must-have devices.

While Nokia's brand around the world is strong, its presence here has fallen dramatically over the past few years, to the point where it's virtually meaningless to normal consumers -- at best a remnant of an older era of basic handsets. Yes, Nokia's name still adorns concerts and other buildings, but it barely registers with the consumer.

As a result, the Lumia 900 falling flat on its face would leave Nokia's brand synonymous with failure. Look at Palm. Despite enjoying a reputation for cutting edge smartphones, the last run of its aging Palm OS devices and its new WebOS saw nothing but disappointment, and its brand likewise took a major hit. Remember the Palm Pre? Few do.

Palm never recovered from its initial WebOS stumble, and didn't fare any better when scooped up by Hewlett-Packard.

Still, Lumia 900 definitely has a better chance than Palm ever did. For one, it's got the support of AT&T, one of the two biggest carriers in the U.S. Unlike previous claims that Nokia was "taking the U.S. market seriously," this time it appears to mean business.

The Lumia 900, unlike previous Nokia phones that have made their way here, is actually a good product. The trick is to get people to notice amid a sea of iPhones and Android smartphones.

Because if it doesn't, Nokia can say goodbye to its chances of being a major player in the U.S.