Microsoft needs to rethink its device naming strategy

Microsoft unveiled two new low-end devices, the Lumia 640 and Lumia 640 XL at Mobile World Congress last week. While most of us have been busy comparing the phones' specifications with other devices in the market, many people including myself have been wondering: Should Microsoft rethink its device naming strategy?

Numbering strategy: Bigger is better

A single glance at the naming strategy across Nokia and Microsoft's devices led many people to believe that the middle number in a phone model was linked to the OS, for example x2x was generally assigned to Windows Phone 8.0. Furthermore, if a phone had to be improved upon, it was usually assigned a variation of its predecessor, for example, the Lumia 525 was an obvious improvement to the Lumia 520 as it doubled the amount of RAM; unfortunately it didn't gain enough popularity being a niche device.

Another aspect that was clear throughout every Windows Phone naming scheme was that the 4xx, 5xx, 6xx, 7xx were meant to be low-end devices, 8xx a mid-end series, whereas 9xx and above were usually sold as high-end devices.

Throughout the Lumia naming convention, Nokia and Microsoft's strategy had almost always been "bigger is better". The Lumia 1520 was bound to be better than the Lumia 1320, similarly the Lumia 930 was meant to be superior to the Lumia 730. There were a few exceptions to this case, for example the Lumia 1320 was a low to mid-end device despite being placed higher up in the series closer to the Lumia 1520. This still causes some confusion among new customers who mistakenly believe it to be a high-end device due to its position in the series.

However, it still made some sense to name it a "1320" because it was a budget version of the flagship Lumia 1520.

x4x should have been Windows 10 for Phones

A major point of concern that still bugs me is that considering the naming scheme in the past (x00/x10 for WP7, x2x for WP8 and x3x for WP8.1), the logical way to go forward would have been to reserve the x4x series for the upcoming Lumia devices pre-loaded with Windows 10 for Phones. Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 didn't necessarily had to have a separate series. Surprisingly, Microsoft decided against this and unveiled the Lumia 640 and 640 XL at the Mobile World Congress pre-loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2.

The confusion this causes

A perplexing aspect of the new devices is the inclusion of the "XL" in the variation of the 640. Judging from the naming criteria, no phone has ever received such a variation before, which makes it all the more confusing: Which series will feature an "XL" version in the future? Does the introduction of the Lumia 640 XL phablet spell the end of the Lumia 1320? No one knows.

However, the said speculation is quite probable considering that the Lumia 1320 never was a high-end device in terms of specifications and should have been positioned in a lower range from the beginning.

The unveiling of the Lumia 640 XL as an entry-level device also causes another problem. One of my friends who bought a Lumia 1320 a couple of months ago at a price of PKR 32,000 ($~320) was infuriated that a Lumia 640 XL which will roughly be priced around $205 when it launches in Pakistan, is superior in most specifications when compared to his device. I must say, his anger is quite warranted since being a new user of Windows and unfamiliar with Microsoft's devices, he always thought that he had one of the higher end devices in the market because of the Lumia 1320 being higher up in the naming convention. Unfortunately, like many others, he has become one of the victims of Microsoft's unpredictable numbering scheme. A Lumia 640 XL which is way lower than the 1320 in terms of numbers is counted as a superior device to his phablet. Considering the unpredictability of Microsoft's move, I really don't blame him.

What should Microsoft do from this point onwards?

Now that the Lumia 640 and 640 XL have been announced as phones pre-loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 to the masses, it's quite difficult to determine what should be done to rectify the naming scheme.

One way to accomplish this would be to designate a x4x name to every Lumia powered by Windows Phone 8.1 Update 2 in the future, however with Windows 10 for Phones just around the corner, there is quite a low probability that future devices will be stocked with a relatively older OS.

Another, more plausible way to do this would be to reserve the x5x for Windows 10 Lumia handsets which will be unveiled in the near future. This would minimize customer's confusion to some extent when buying a new Windows Phone device; they would know what they want, say a 650 would be preferable to a 640.

But perhaps the most important thing that can be done is to revert to the "bigger is better" mantra to resolve the confusion that was caused by the Lumia 1320. A low-end device should be ranged between 4xx to 7xx, a mid end handset should be positioned as 8xx and higher end devices should strictly be placed above 9xx inclusive.

If Microsoft plans to unveil flagship Windows Phones which may not appear as successors to any previous high-end Windows Phones, the 11xx, 12xx and 14xx are there for the taking. Personally, I don't think Microsoft needs to expand further on its low end variety which means that I don't think another naming convention for entry-level devices is warranted. Sticking to the old naming strategy of "bigger is better" instead of forming a new one should hopefully eradicate the confusions caused by the new devices.

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