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Microsoft's Windows Phone dilemma: Sell cheap phones or great cameras?

Mark Hachman | July 30, 2014
The camera's the thing—or is it? Rumored 'Tesla' and 'Superman' Windows Phones show two sides to Microsoft's strategy. Cheap phones may bring in some people, but the high-megapixel cameras remain the Lumia phones' primary selling point, and Microsoft shouldn't lose sight of that.

Following the recent announcement of massive layoffs in the Nokia division, however, that get-together feels somewhat like a wake. And then there was the subsequent release of the midrange Lumia 635, whose lack of a front-facing phone now appears misplaced given Microsoft's new-found love of the selfie. 

Cameras last, CPUs don't
And this puts me, and Microsoft, in an odd position. On one hand, I'm an avowed fan of Microsoft's smartphone cameras. The combination of high resolution, color fidelity, low-light performance and manual controls provides a superior photo-taking experience--for the rear-facing camera. Will prioritizing the front-facing "selfie" camera go over as well? I'm just not sure.

What I do know, though, is this: the Lumia 1020 debuted in 2013. A year from now, I can still see Windows Phone customers pulling it out to document birthdays, vacations, and weddings. Physical features such as camera don't degrade over time. But as new apps and services debut, any phone will inevitably feel slower.

So maybe this is Microsoft's new strategy: tap-dancing between the high-end and midrange, taking the high-end camera technology it placed on the rear of the camera and migrating it to the front. Making the phone "personal" again. And tacking on a CPU that could conk out in a year or two, when a user's contract expires. 

At this point, I've become less concerned about the "app gap" between Windows Phone apps and the rest of the smartphone universe. Even though I personally find a Windows Phone's Office and Outlook integration one of its strongest assets, I find myself using Windows Phones more and more for their cameras.

It may be wishful thinking, but what I'd love is for the 41-megapixel camera on the 2013-era Lumia 1020 become a flagship feature for new generations of Lumia phones. Microsoft's Cortana constantly gains new capabilities, but so do Google Now and Siri. Apps come and go. But gaining a reputation as the "SLR of smartphones" would allow photobugs to "step up" to a Windows Phone. Cachet begets jealousy, and Windows Phone could use a bit of that right now.


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