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There was a glimmer of hope for Nokia when the phone company announced its 2012 results last month.

While the headline figure in the Nokia result – a loss of €2.3 billion – is shocking, the company made a €439 million profit in the fourth quarter. In the same quarter a year earlier the company lost €954 million.

Remember phone makers usually have a good quarter as sales take off in the run-up to Christmas. And some of the improved profit is due to the company dumping 25 percent of its staff during 2012. Nokia’s figures also include revenue from the network division, Nokia Siemens Networks, which had a strong quarter.

There’s talk that Nokia may have turned a corner. That’s premature.

Nokia result shows phones not selling enough

According to research from Canaccord Genuity, Nokia’s phone business made a loss for the 2012 year and only broke even in the fourth quarter. The same report also shows every phone maker except Apple and Samsung lost money during the year.

So can we say Nokia is on the comeback trail? Not yet. It is too soon.

The Lumia 920 is a great phone – dammit, the best phone on the market at the moment yet that’s not enough. All it has done is buy Nokia breathing room. Nokia needs to sustain the Windows Phone 8 momentum and pick up sales lower down the market with the Lumia 620.

Then we can talk about turning corners. It’s unlikely, but not impossible.

Lumia 920 business phone

Smartphones scare the pants off IT managers. Pesky employees insist on bringing their toys for work and then they have the nerve to demand access to business systems.

‘Toys’ was a deliberate word choice. Smartphone makers emphasise play in their marketing. It’s all about the audio experience, high-definition video or playing games. Work gets mentioned in the small print.

None of this sends a comforting message to IT managers.

Bring your own pain

Companies struggle with BYOD or bring-your-own-device. It means a roll call of things to keep technology professionals from sleeping at night. Security has them waking in a cold sweat while few bounce out of bed in the morning relishing the challenge of integrating devices originally designed for consumers with business technology.

Nokia’s Lumia 920 isn’t immune from this. Microsoft emphases Windows Phone 8’s social media integration, while the first screen you see firing up a new Lumia 920 has tiles for Xbox, music and Angry Birds.

Yet while there’s clearly a fun side to Nokia’s Lumia 920, it is also a first-rate business tool. It’s designed around the Microsoft operating system businesses have used for the best part of a generation.

Windows Phone 8, business pedigree

Windows Phone 8 has the same digital DNA as the kit running on company desktops and in server rooms. IT professionals may not always be deliriously happy with everything Microsoft, but they know what to expect. It’s safe. It’s predictable. It’s not risk-free, but it is lower risk. Relationships are already in place. Microsoft support is a known quantity and managers face fewer challenges integrating the phone with existing vendors and service providers.

To be fair, iPhones and Androids also do a good job integrating with business IT services. However, they often need middleware, tailored applications and kludges along the way. While you might think that’s no big deal – IT professionals often hate that stuff, it means risk. Although there’s a place for risk in business, that place is not the technology department.

Goldilocks operating system

Unlike Apple’s iOS or the soon-to-be-released Blackberry 10 software from RIM, Windows Phone 8 isn’t tied to a single hardware maker. Choice of supplier reduces risk. If Nokia falls over, changes strategy or acts weird, HTC or Samsung Windows Phone 8 devices are pretty good. They can fill the gap.

IT managers prefer it when they can buy kit from more than one company, apart from less risk, it gives them more scope to negotiate prices. It also means not being locked into a single company’s product cycle and cost structure.

Android offers business buyers enough choice, but the OS is fragmented – there are several versions in the wild. It seems a new Android OS arrives which each new wave of hardware. And many Android phones come with overlays. Individual Android owners are happy with this, but it can a nightmare from a company support point of view. And is a moving target for custom-made apps.

Security

And then there’s security. Windows Phone 8 is secure with kernel signing and applications are sandboxed – they have to win Microsoft certification before being allowed in the Windows store. That reduces choice and can slow the speed at which new apps appear, but, once again, it means less risk.

Unlikely though it may seem, even the kid’s corner feature makes Windows Phone 8 more attractive to IT managers. Parents can let their offspring play with phones without their little darlings hopping on the company ERP system and ordering 10 truckloads of software drinks to a dairy in Waipukurau.

Leverage Nokia Lumia 920

One of the most compelling arguments in favour of Windows Phone 8 for business users is that the smartphone operating system makes it easy to squeeze more from existing investments in Microsoft software. The Lumia 920 comes with a built-in version of Microsoft Office.

For companies using Office this means documents and templates can move seamlessly from phone to desktop with few surprises along the way. There’s no need to relearn or otherwise disrupt processes and practices. Everything is familiar – that’s not always a good thing, not everyone loves Microsoft Office – but it reduces risk. Exchange, Sharepoint and Linc are also supported out of the box.

This makes Windows Phone 8 a natural choice for any sized organisation that’s already spent money with Microsoft. But there’s more for IT professionals because you’ll find mobile device management features such as the ability to remotely check which applications are stored on a device and even remotely trigger application updates. Rolling out business apps from SharePoint servers is also a breeze.

Sound’s familiar?

If nothing in the last three paragraphs rings a bell, then the Lumia 920 probably won’t make it on the shortlist when your business picks a new fleet smartphone. But for companies already locked into Microsoft’s world, it’s an easy, low-risk choice. The biggest risk in choosing the Lumia 920 is that Windows Phone 8 flounders and you’re left down a dead-end. That’s easily fixed the next time you need to refresh mobile technology.

Levi Allan demonstrating ASB mobile banking app
Levi Allan demonstrating the ASB mobile banking app

Last week Levi Allen ASB’s digital channel manager demonstrated the latest version of the bank’s mobile app. The newest features allow you to deal with TradeMe directly from your phone, get balances from up to three accounts on the opening screen, manage Kiwisaver accounts and handle Facebook payments.

ASB wants to carve out a reputation as mobile banking leader. The new app – or more accurately apps, there are three – are a slick way of doing banking on the move and pack a lot of functionality – almost as much as you can get from doing internet banking on a device with a larger screen.

ASB has apps for the iPhone and Android. You’d expect that. It also has an app for Windows Phone. That shows commitment, Microsoft’s phone software is still something of a niche – certainly less than 5% of smartphones used in New Zealand.

Each phone’s app is fully native. ASB’s developers didn’t simply write one lot of code then port between operating systems. The Windows Phone version has that swipe left and right to get different screens approach used by all the best apps.

My bank is Westpac. I’m happy with the service and I’m in boots and all with a mortgage account, Kiwisaver and the works. Until recently I used the Westpac Android app – not often admittedly because the desktop browser software offers a better experience. So I’d only use mobile banking in an emergency.

Westpac’s Android app is at least one whole generation behind the ASB app and that’s being generous. However, I’ve recently started using a Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows Phone device. There’s no Westpac app at the moment.

Which brings me to my question: is a first-rate mobile banking app enough of a reason to switch banks? Unpicking all my existing accounts would take a lot of effort – I’ve a long history with my bank and, mobile apps aside, I’m happy with the relationship. Not having a mobile app is a disappointment, but not enough to make me switch.

On the other hand, if something happened that made me want to take another look at where I bank, I’d say the ASB apps would be a drawcard. So the app is a smart move on ASB’s part. All other things being equal, it would be the first bank I’d look to if I was about to switch my accounts.

Image taken with Lumia 920 while returning home on the Birkenhead ferry and uploaded to SkyDrive while still out on the water
Image taken with Lumia 920 while returning home on the Birkenhead ferry and uploaded to SkyDrive while still out on the water – click through to see it at full resolution

Like most modern freelance journalists, my work is about words and pictures. While getting the story is important, editors usually expect me to return from an assignment with a handful of decent images. Not disappointing them is the best way to put food on the table.

So how does the Lumia 920’s camera rate for on-the-run press photography?

The Lumia 920 certainly looks the part on paper. It has an 8 megapixel sensor with a CarlZeiss lens and Pureview technology. Those last two words may not mean much to readers, by the end of this post you’ll realise they are vital.

Oh the pain
Getting pictures used to be a royal pain. Before smartphones it meant lugging digital cameras to jobs, remembering to take pictures as well as getting a story, worrying about picture quality and then quickly uploading images so designers can get to work.

Smartphones packing decent cameras mean there’s less to carry. Until recently that convenience came at a price: the results were often disappointing and early phone cameras were fiddly to use. Juggling note-taking and picture-taking with complicated tools could mean neither job was done well.

While it is unlikely Nokia designed the Lumia 920’s camera especially for freelance journalists, it ticks the boxes.

No panic
First, there’s a physical camera button on the case that takes you straight to photography. There’s no need to panic racing through menus and the like when a photo-opportunity arises – just depress the camera button for a few seconds and you’re immediately in shooting mode. This feature alone lightens my burden. It gets better, much better.

The camera has a two-LED flash, which comes in useful indoors or at night. This is not always necessary because Pureview technology means there’s an optical image stabilisation system that helps you get sharper pictures even when there’s not much light.

In practice, the Lumia 920 takes dramatically better quality pictures than any other smartphone I’ve used to date. It’s possible to tinker with the settings, but that’s the last thing I want to do when I’m on a job. I simply point and click the shutter button three or four times – one of the images will be useful. The camera does all the hard work.

8 megapixels
Having 8 megapixels to play with helps. This is higher resolution than any of the publishers I work for can use – although it may be different if I ever get asked to take a fashion shoot for Vogue. Capturing higher resolution pictures gives me or a picture editor more scope to crop out the interesting parts. While I understand it’s possible to do basic editing on the phone – the big 4.5 inch 1,280 by 768 pixel display certainly helps – I prefer to wait until I’m in front of a large desktop screen before this kind of tinkering.

I’ve only briefly tested shooting video, but that image stabilisation appears to deliver surprisingly good results there as well. The Lumia 920 also does a fine job capturing audio. One day soon I’ll try videoing a media event instead of taking notes – that’ll be interesting.

Most of the images I’ve shot with the phone use 3552 x 2000 pixel resolution – they weigh in at around 1.8MB to 2.6MB. Emailing them from the phone takes around 20 seconds on the XT network. For some reason it takes far longer to load pictures to Twitter or Facebook.

While I could send them automatically to SkyDrive, I’ve switched that off because the journalist’s trade secret for picture-taking is to get a lot of shots – that’s dozens. It’s not difficult to chew through 100MB of data on a single assignment. If I’m in a hurry I pick the best ones and send them, otherwise I wait until I get home or to a free public Wi-Fi hotspot.

This story also appears at Scoop Techlab.

Content Note: This post has been enabled by Telecom NZ , but the thoughts are the blogger’s own. Find out more about the Nokia Lumia 920 here you can find our more about Windows 8 on the Telecom Network here. Scoop TechLab is a project of Scoop Independent Media www.scoop.co.nz. It is edited by Scoop Editor Alastair Thompson.

iphone 5s, 6 and 6 Plus

Phones are developing fast.

Apple updates its iPhone about once a year, but Android phone makers offer new models every three to four months. Admittedly each cycle may only mean small improvements, that still makes for a rapidly changing market.

There’s plenty of innovation. In some cases this leads to dead-ends: does anyone who didn’t buy one remember 3D smartphones?

I was in technology journalism throughout the entire PC industry boom and for much of the 8-bit microcomputer wave that went before. I simply don’t remember there being such a dramatic refresh cycle with those computers.

Makers would update models roughly twice a year.

Frustration

This makes reviewing phones difficult, because you’re dealing with a moving target. Nokia’s Lumia 800 looks at least as good to me as last season’s Android phones and the most recent Apple iPhone. But a new model from another phone maker could surpassed it any day now.

If reviewers find it hard, phone buyers find it harder. Plonking down the thick end of NZ$1000 on Friday to find your shiny new tool is outdated on Monday is an exercise in frustration.