Last week, Microsoft finally announced its first official confirmation that the ‘Mango’ update for Windows Phone would be released within a fortnight or so, ending weeks of speculation over when existing handsets would receive the greatly anticipated 7.5 release.
Of course, Mango isn’t only for current devices; the arrival of Windows Phone 7.5 will also bring with it a new wave of phone hardware. HTC has already announced its new Radar and TITAN handsets; Samsung is launching its Focus Flash and Focus S phones in the US, and has just announced its new mid-range Omnia W phone for other markets; and ZTE announced its first Windows Phone today too.
Many more Mango handsets are expected from these and other manufacturers in the weeks and months ahead, but none is so eagerly awaited as the first Windows Phone device from Nokia, codenamed ‘Sea Ray’.
In an interview with Pocket-lint, Conor Pierce – general manager for Nokia UK and Ireland – discussed the handset, and the challenges faced by the company. Perhaps the most interesting and promising insight revealed by Pierce was how positively Sea Ray has been received by Nokia’s partners – including retailers and network operators – in the UK:
"Absolutely stunning" - to the partners we have shown the device to, their words, not necessarily mine (although I agree), upon showing it to them. It’s spontaneous and unprompted. They say ‘the first Nokia Windows Phone is absolutely stunning’, and that’s die-hard gurus in this business who have thick skin. For them to say that spontaneously without any sales pitch shows what we are bringing is pretty spectacular. And that’s only the beginning.”
Sea Ray needs to be stunning. The stakes are pretty high here, both for Nokia – which has pinned all of its long-term smartphone hopes on the Windows Phone operating system – and for Microsoft, which has witnessed lackluster sales of WP7 handsets in their first year on the market, and which desperately needs to leverage Nokia’s enormous scale in order to grow the Windows Phone ecosystem.
Pierce acknowledges the challenges that lie ahead, but appears in no doubt that Nokia’s focus on Windows Phone was the way forward. He believes that “the scale and quality that [Nokia] will bring to the WP7 ecosystem is unique”, adding that the company “will deliver a very superior smartphone, a very different experience”.
Reaffirming his confidence in both Nokia’s decision to embrace Windows Phone, and in the company’s first WP7 devices, he explains that Nokia wants to build on the “unrivalled connection with consumers” that the brand has, noting that for many current smartphone buyers, a Nokia was their first phone. He believes that this will prove to be a great asset in encouraging users to buy Sea Ray and other future devices:
"We ran an independent focus group recently, and the question was asked: ‘Which manufacturer would you like to see produce the next Windows Phone?’ and the answer was Nokia. They want Nokia back, and they know we can deliver.”
Pierce also concedes that there is work to be done in improving the retail presence for Nokia and Windows Phone, but indicates that Nokia UK is investing heavily in this area, including better training for retail staff. The company is also working hard to build confidence with developers, he says, “so that they understand the scale of what we can do, not just in the UK but globally, and with the power of Microsoft and their Marketplace and their developer ecosystem… We just need to plug in the right devices and get them confident about it.”
While Nokia’s first app for Windows Phone was released today, there’s still a little while to go before the first actual handset makes its official debut. Sea Ray is expected to be announced a month from today, at the company’s Nokia World conference in London on October 26.