Is there really nothing more to Nokia’s Lumia 900 than Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt?

I guess Nokia got even more than it could’ve hoped for after making its $1bn deal with Microsoft last year. On top of an epic decline in smartphone market share, and an even epic-er implosion of its share value, Nokia looks to have gained some awesome viral marketing tips from its Microsoft buddies (who could forget this campaign?).

In a particularly bold ignorant and aggressive misguided series of YouTube videos, Nokia takes the fight to smartphone rivals, labelling the competition as “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]” (though, judging by the videos, they’re mainly criticising handsets built circa 2007 & 2010 – yes, that’s Nokia squaring their flagship saviour-of-a-mobile against 2/5 year old handset-shaped strawmen).

It’s all very odd. The three videos, the first shot in a massively expensive marketing drive to push the Nokia Lumia 900, are titled ‘death grip’, ‘outside’ and ‘fragile’. The ‘Beta Phone’ flaws they’re mocking are, respectively, dropped signal when the phone is held a certain way (i.e. anntenagate), low-quality screens that make viewing in direct sunlight difficult, and glass screens that break when dropped.

If you haven’t seen the videos yet, here’s a taste (keep a bottle of mouthwash handy):

The whole concept is absurd. For one thing, consumers aren’t really faced with a choice between a Lumia 900 and hypothetical phones with dull screens, dodgy antennas and cases made of snowflakes, launched back when Charlie Sheen still retained a slither of dignity. I’m sure there are some clumsy, gorilla-handed, half-blind wannabe-smartphone owners out there whose sausage-sized fingers are positively twitching from Nokia’s promise of an unbreakable, interference-free phone with a screen that throbs with the power of ten suns, but there’s got to be more to the 900 than FUD. Right?

These videos are awful. How cheap do you have to go to find a smartphone with a display that can’t be viewed on a sunny day? Is that what Nokia is pitching itself against? And is the ‘death grip’ something that only affects iPhones?

Actually, that last question isn’t even rhetorical. I checked the online user guides for Lumias 710 and 800:

You’re holding it wrong!

I guess these smartphones were prototypes too.

To be fair, maybe the iPhone 4’s antenna problems were so much worse than any other handsets – but considering it had a return rate of only 1.7% it couldn’t have been that bad (in comparison, Nokia’s N97 Mini was reported to have a return rate of 20%).

And what makes the Lumia 900 so much less breakable than the villainous, inferior ‘prototypes’ that came before it? It’s all to do with something called Gorilla Glass. You may have heard of it; as this article from PC World says:

Five years ago, the Apple iPhone launched the Gorilla Glass renaissance. There is some debate as to whether or not current iPhone models still use it or not. The Corning site lists devices that use Gorilla Glass, but states up front that there are non-disclosure agreements in place with some vendors that prohibit it from naming them. That sounds like something Apple would do. All I know is that I’ve dropped my iPhone 4S four times in the past week, and it doesn’t have a scratch.

Corning claims the super-strong glass is used in nearly 600 different products, and it expects 2011 revenue from Gorilla Glass to top $700 million.

Corning (the creators of Gorilla Glass) list 12 smartphone manufacturers as users of their product. What was Nokia’s point again?

But the thrust of these videos isn’t to highlight the 900’s superiority in terms of these aspects (I wouldn’t go so far as to call them ‘features’). The impression viewers are supposed to get when viewing these videos is that all the other smartphone manufacturers are out to dick over their customers in silly, petty ways. Now, I don’t think that Nokia’s ever been a nasty company; they used to have something of a reputation for quality. But they’re now partners with Microsoft: a company whose entire business strategy is based around fucking over their customers. Spare a thought for the poor souls who found themselves stricken, abandoned after buying into one of their many feeble attempts to penetrate the consumer market (e.g. Zune and all previous iterations of Windows mobile), or those who bought a barely operational Vista PC before quickly having to invest in another upgrade just to make it work.

The version of Windows 7 pre-installed on my parent’s laptop doesn’t even allow you to change the desktop background unless you pay for a £70 upgrade!

I expect that from Microsoft, but I’m disappointed in Nokia. However, having thought about it and with Redmond alumni Stephen Elop steering the Finnish company, I can see why they went for this type of negative campaign. The 900’s a huge deal for both Nokia and Microsoft – make or break, possibly. When needing to resuscitate Nokia’s smartphone sales and rescue Microsoft’s mobile OS from obscurity, they only had two options. One, they could genuinely produce a game-changing device with a user experience that makes other smartphones look dumb in comparison. Or two, they could spend a lot of money trying to convince people they’re doing option one. Which did they choose..? (Hint: Microsoft has no idea how to do option one).

In terms of specs, in direct comparison with the iPhone 4S, the Lumia 900 unambiguously arrives at a fairly decent second place (it may be out-muscled into third or fourth if some available Android handsets were thrown into the comparison). And in terms of user experience, the Windows Phone 7 operating system is nothing new. It was launched over a year ago and hardly anybody gives a shit.

This isn’t some revolutionary new device that is going to change the smartphone industry as we know it. This is a slightly improved version of the already available Lumia 800 running the same version of an operating system that very few people seem to want.

To be clear, I don’t think it’s a bad phone. For the price they’re flogging it, it’s probably a good bargain and, who knows, it may be entirely perfect for you in every conceivable way. I’m just saying it’s not objectively better than all other available smartphones and it is objectively inferior to the leading smartphones in several key ways. The Nokia campaign is predicated on the entirely false notion that the best-selling (and best-loved) smartphones of the past five years are (this quote again) “borderline defective, glorified prototype[s]”. Insanity.

More importantly, we don’t know if other smartphone manufacturers have been sitting in meetings, making bad decisions to wilfully and enthusiastically screw their customers. But we do know that some agency got the green light from Nokia (and possibly Microsoft) to make a series of videos that aim to deceive, frighten and confuse consumers into buying a product that can not live up to the hype.