SAN FRANCISCO — You couldn’t tell by watching Microsoft’s opening keynote at its Build conference, but something is missing from several of the new Windows Phones unveiled on stage.
Nokia’s new Lumia 630 and 635 models no longer have the physical camera button on the side of the case.
Most smartphone users may not notice the difference, but having a physical camera button on the side of the case – one that launches the camera and works as a “shutter” button – has been a trademark feature on Windows Phones since Microsoft released the operating system in 2010.
But Nokia left the button out in an effort to keep the cost down on the 600 series Lumia phones, hoping that it can continue its strong growth in the lower-end of the smartphone market. In the end it was able to produce a quad-core, 4.5-inch smartphone that will sell for under $200 outright and unlocked.
As Microsoft’s acquisition of the Finnish company’s handset business is about to close, Nokia is working to make “the most affordable smartphone possible so we look at what are the features these consumers use the most and make decisions on what do we do to make it the most affordable,” explained Jo Harlow, the London-based executive vice president of Nokia’s smart devices business.
“So anything you remove saves money. “
During an interview, Harlow said the physical camera button will continue to be used on Nokia’s higher-end phones, including the new 930, which was also announced at Build. The 930 is basically the same as the Lumia 929 Icon that Verizon released in February, but with options for colored cases. It’s going on sale in overseas markets in June for $599; in the U.S. Nokia will continue with the Icon on Verizon.
Although the 900 series has a razzle-dazzle 20 megapixel camera, the biggest hit for Nokia and Windows Phone has been the low-end 500 series, which went on sale last year for around $100 unlocked.
The arrival of Nokia’s bargain smartphone coincided with the rise of cheap monthly phone plans without hardware subsidies championed by T-Mobile US, which opened the floodgates for sales of unlocked phones in the U.S.
Nokia plans to continue selling 500-series phones for a while but its new flagship, entry-level models will be the 600 series after it launches next month.
The 630 – which has a 3G radio and the option of running dual SIM cards – goes on sale in overseas markets in May with a starting price of $159. The 635 – with 4G LTE capability – is expected to go on sale in the U.S. and other markets in the summer for $189.
Both 600 series phones have 4.5-inch displays and quad-core “Snapdragon” processors and run Windows Phone 8.1. They also have a modest 5 megapixel camera.
The updated operating system gives users two ways to launch the camera, even without a physical button, Harlow noted: either launch the camera app from the home screen of the phone or use the software’s new drop-down action menu, which includes a prominent camera button.
Here are a few edited excerpts of my interview today with Harlow:
Q: Will there be another flagship above the 930 – maybe something like the 1520 with its crazy 41 megapixel camera?
A: With the 930 and the 630 we are now renewing our portfolio with Windows Phone 8.1, so you’ll see us expand our portfolio from here – [including] phablets and other types of devices.
Q: How about tablets? Will you continue making the 2520, since Microsoft already has a tablet offering, with its Surface?
A: That’s obviously one of the things that will get decided once the deal is closed, but we’re quite pleased with the results of the 2520 so far but, as you said, Microsoft has a great Surface line as well – a lot of opportunity to grow the Windows tablet business.
Q: Can you keep growing the market with your entry-level phone going up 50 to 80 percent in price – the 635 is $180 compared with $100 for the 520?
A: I think certainly when you get consumers into the most affordable smartphones and get them used to using apps and certain experiences, there is a natural desire to trade up to have even more features. I think what LTE delivers in terms of the overall experience is phenomenal, so that’s one of the things people will want to trade up for.
Q: Where do you think you’ll be two years from now in market share?
A: Our goal is to grow significantly and faster than the market, but I don’t have a specific number to share with you. As the uptake of Windows Phone continues to increase rapidly, we’ll continue to see the kind of growth we have.
Q: Has your growth been held back by the limited capabilities of your low-end device?
A: The 520 is the best-selling smartphone in the world in its price band so I think what we deliver is great, great capability compared to the competition in those price points. In the 630 and the 635 – as well as if you update your software in the 520 – you have the very latest Windows Phone software.
You can’t say that about the Android competition in those price points. Most of them are running one or two generations behind whatever the latest Android software is. That’s part of our commitment – why updating all the Windows Phone 8 devices is very important to us.
Q: We didn’t hear anything today about Nokia’s new Android phone. Is this not the place to talk about it?
A: We have started launching the Nokia X devices so we’re right in the middle of ramping them up. The early results are promising but we’re just getting started.
Q: What will it take for you to be the No. 2 smartphone in the U.S., as you are in markets like Latin America?
A: Continue to deliver great products.
Q: Will you continue to design phones in Europe after the merger with Microsoft?
A: That will continue.
Q: They’ll still have that European flair?
A: Absolutely. They’re going to continue to be beautiful.