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EXCLUSIVE: Can Microsoft's Lumia smartphones defeat the NZ old guard?

EXCLUSIVE: Can Microsoft's Lumia smartphones defeat the NZ old guard?

"We’re casting the net as far and wide as possible."

Will the recent launch of the first Microsoft branded Lumias in New Zealand, the Lumia 640 and Lumia 435, help or hinder Microsoft’s plans for smartphone supremacy across the country?

“We’re casting the net as far and wide as possible,” says Steve Lewis, Director, Mobile Devices, Microsoft Australia and New Zealand.

“We are appealing to a range of different market segments through a range of different smartphones and having that choice for customers appears to be working very well for us.”

But in “casting the net as far and wide as possible”, is Redmond favouring quantity over quality?

“No,” adds Lewis, explaining the importance of capturing both ends of the smartphone market in New Zealand. “If you look at the brand names of Microsoft and Lumia, they both have strong reputations for high-quality.

“Lumia aims to bring the best of Microsoft to customers and for us, we believe Kiwis are seeking value, whether that be through the 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 series, they understand that we are bringing a more affordable choice of smartphones to the market.”

Coming in at a lowly priced RRP$89 for the Lumia 435, and RRP$299 for the Lumia 640, Lewis says Microsoft is working to the belief that “innovation is for everyone”, a move which now sees the company directly attacking the market share of low-cost Android devices in New Zealand and overseas.

Furthermore, at the premium end Microsoft hopes a range of affordable devices will help loyal Apple fans think twice about indulging in the latest iPhone product, and instead drop down a step or two on the smartphone ladder.

“Our target markets vary around the world but when looking at New Zealand, a key target is the large number of Kiwis still using a feature phone that haven’t made the first step into the smartphone market yet,” Lewis adds.

“We believe the Lumia range helps provide this first step as they are easy to use from an Operating System perspective, possess good battery life and are robust.”

In early 2014, 64 percent of Kiwis aged between 15 and 65 owned a smartphone, and the numbers are rising.

By 2018, Frost and Sullivan claim New Zealand will have 90 percent smartphone and 78 percent tablet ownership levels, representing a 36 percent increase smartphone usage, and a target market comprising of around four million consumers.

As smartphone suppliers continue to improve their functionality at cheaper price points, the analyst firm believes Apple’s market share is predicted to drop further over the next few years, with Microsoft well-positioned to capitalise.

With the Lumia 435 especially, the smartphone helps strengthen Microsoft’s product offerings for a market segment in which low-cost Android handsets are dominant.

But despite lacking in high-end specs, the device includes 30GB of OneDrive cloud storage, Skype calling straight out of the box and perhaps crucially, the full Microsoft Office suite pre-installed.

“Lumia brings the best of Microsoft to customers through numerous value points,” adds Lewis, who joined the company in April 2014 following Microsoft’s US$7.2 billion acquisition of Nokia.

On the flip side, Lewis says the Lumia 640, which was unveiled at Mobile World Congress earlier this year, offers more personal computing and increased productivity through integrated Microsoft Office experiences such as OneDrive storage and fast 4G connectivity.

A year’s subscription to Office 365 is available with any model of the Lumia 640, with both smartphones also set to upgrade to the core features of Windows 10 as it becomes available later this year.

“Looking ahead Windows 10 will prove to be a very exciting time for the company and we also realise that many of the people who would buy a Lumia 640 maybe already have a tablet, PC or Mac at home which means they can now use Office on other devices,” adds Lewis, tapping into Microsoft’s mobile first, cloud first ethos.

“Customers can now access cloud storage, music, photos, documents whether on PC, tablet or smartphone and that’s very much part of the proposition.”

Business

At present, some 97 percent of enterprises in New Zealand are small businesses, representing a staggering 459,300 companies which include those with no employees, micro (1-5 employees), and small (6-19 employees) enterprises.

And for Lewis, Microsoft’s Lumia range is well-positioned to meet their needs.

“When looking at consumer and business markets, people only have one smartphone nowadays,” Lewis adds. “They are dual users meaning the lines between work and play have been blurred significantly.

“Everybody needs to be productive and user their smartphone and we believe the Lumia 640 especially is ideally positioned for people wanting to get the most out of their day.”

According to Lewis, the Lumia 640 has garnered “tremendous traction” in the bigger end of enterprise and small businesses across the world, as well as within the consumer space as Microsoft aims for a more of the same approach to New Zealand.

Coupled with 4G connectivity, Lewis believes that while the device comes in lower than its competitors in terms of price point, it “represents value for both consumers and businesses looking to buy.”

With the devices now available on and Kiwi shelves, Microsoft will no doubt remain coy on early sales figures, but from experience Lewis expects to see a strong end of financial year push, as well as the usual spikes during the Christmas period.

“We’re of course hoping for a strong start and we’re currently working with a range of channel partners across operators and retailers to allow them to select different products depending on their needs,” he adds.

In attempting to lure Kiwis into the Windows ecosystem, whether the public opts for the low-end Lumia 435 or the business friendly Lumia 640 is almost irrelevant, providing they do opt for Microsoft, as opposed to the usual smartphone brands currently dominating the market.

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