A big chapter - perhaps a make-or-break moment - in the struggle of Microsoft to be relevant in the world of mobility had a rather strange start over the weekend.
More than one commentator suggested it was odd that Windows Phone launched the Lumia 900 when nobody could buy it. The New York Times said that the company hired singer Nicki Minaj for a Friday appearance in Times Square, but, apparently, didn't check out the calendar. The device went on sale on April 8. That was Easter Sunday, and just about all AT&T stores - at least those in the New York City area - were closed.
The Verge reports that Microsoft and AT&T may be having troubles beyond releasing a phone while the rest of the world rolled eggs, attended parades and ate big dinners:
A number of early Lumia 900 buyers on AT&T are reporting that their HSPA and LTE data connections are dying, rendering the phone significantly disabled (voice and text appear to be unaffected). At least some of those buyers have been advised by AT&T to try a series of restarts, master resets, and SIM pulls; the technique has worked in some cases, though it appears that the fix may only be temporary.
Walt Mossberg, the influential reviewer from The Wall Street Journal, reviewed the Lumia 900 last week (here are some consumer reviews posted at CNET). Mossberg said some nice things about it, but his overall reaction was mixed to negative. Mossberg didn't like the battery life, photo quality, the browser, the size of the online store, the inability to buy television shows or movies directly from the phone and the relative dearth of LTE networks in the AT&T network. At the end, he put it plainly:
Bottom line: If you're looking for a $100, high-end smartphone, or are a Windows Phone fan who has been waiting for better hardware, the Lumia 900 is worth considering. But the phone had just too many drawbacks in my tests to best its chief competitors.
Developers are almost as important to a mobile platform as subscribers. Indeed, the two are inseparably linked. ReadWrite Mobile's Dan Rowinski suggests that the Lumia 900 is the last best chance for Microsoft to turn around the Windows Phone Marketplace, which he calls a "sad, sorry place." There are comparatively few apps available, and most are low quality, he said. He explains why this is, and points with some optimism to the new phone:
The Lumia 900 is the best Windows Phone to hit the ecosystem. It has the marketing power of AT&T, Nokia and Microsoft behind it. The top apps in the Marketplace look spectacular on the Lumia. If there is a turning point where developers start taking Windows Phone seriously, the Lumia 900 may be it.
Whether this happens or not remains to be seen. Even if it is, there is no guarantee that the devices will attract subscribers. And, so far, it hasn't: The latest comScore numbers say that Microsoft's mobile efforts actually are moving in the wrong direction. But the first step clearly is a healthy and vibrant marketplace.