Microsoft keeps the playing field level as partners announce 'Tango' handsets

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If we're weren't convinced before, then the Mobile World Congress announcements make it clear. Nokia is pushing Microsoft to move into the lower cost end of the smartphone market. With the announcement of the ZTE Orbit and the Nokia Lumia 610, the battle lines are being drawn against the Android foot soldiers and the remaining special forces of Symbian. But Microsoft doesn't have all its troops to call on.

Both Samsung and HTC are noticeably absent with Windows Phone devices at Mobile World Congress this year. Both of the companies do have other devices on their plate, specifically Android devices, but it's still an interesting call on their part that shows the different plans the companies have.

HTC did have their Windows Phone moment at CES, with the Titan 2 given the nod to be the first to debut an LTE handset, so if Microsoft are being fair parents, it's only right that Nokia were given the nod to be first with these lower cost handsets. HTC are in a tricky situation where they are outmatched on Android by the Samsung Galaxy range (and soon to be flanked by Sony and Motorola Mobility), while their secondary plan of Windows Phone has had a rather large Finnish tank driven up to it, with all gunports open...

Both Samsung and HTC have said they will be around for the 'Apollo' Windows Phone 8 handsets. So why skip over Tango? I reckon that Tango is the first major impact that Nokia has made to the Windows Phone ecosystem.

Nokia Lumia 610

As a company, Nokia has many strengths, and one of them is benefiting from a huge volume of scale - it can make lots of phones, and that drives the price down. While the high end handsets get the press, it's the handsets in the middle and low ranges that have kept Nokia's bottom line relatively healthy in the last few years. It was only natural that Nokia would want to maintain that tradition and push its current choice of OS, Windows Phone, into that space as quickly as possible. It took years to get Symbian down to a sub £200 device. In the Nokia Lumia 610, it's taken them (publicly) about fifty-four weeks.

While the ultimate call on the evolution of Windows Phone will be down to Microsoft, I'm sure that there will be a lot of discussion with its partners, how this ties in with their manufacturing and retail plans, and how to keep everything in sync. It would be fair to say that diverting engineering time to the lower spec project would take away staff from the Windows Phone 8 project - and that until Nokia came on board and wanted "cheaper" there might not have been a drive for it?

It's likely a chicken/egg scenario, and I'm sure that HTC and Samsung will have a play around with Tango, but they have their established lines in Android at those price points and may not want to disturb them.

To Nokia, this is its bread and butter price point, so is it any wonder that Windows Phone has gone in that direction? And is it any wonder that Microsoft has made sure Nokia doesn't have it all its own way?

Admittedly, the Chinese manufacturer ZTE has grand ambitions (to be the number three handset maker in the world), and they are playing the field in terms of choices of mobile operating system, but I don't think that it is a co-incidence that it also has a 'Tango' handset ready to go in the same timescale. Microsoft might be happy to help its partners, but it doesn't want anyone getting ideas above their status. In committing to Windows Phone, Nokia has a very big seat at the table, but it's not the one where the buck stops.

Zte Orbit

Nokia wanted lower specs for its smartphones. Not a problem. But it was never going to get it all its own way. HTC passed, Samsung passed, but this is a space that ZTE know well, and they're up for the challenge.

The winner here is Windows Phone, because a bit of healthy rivalry between partners with different aims and goals will help everyone get the best from the platform at every stage of its development. I'm expecting all the handset manufacturers to bring something special to the table with each version of Windows Phone. That includes a return to form with Windows Phone 8 later in the year, but for now the Battle of the Budgets looks mighty interesting from the All About Windows Phone vantage point.