When Nokia unveiled its colorful new Windows Phone 8 devices Wednesday — the Lumia 920 and the Lumia 820 — it generated immediate positive buzz from tech press and blogs.
But investors? They weren’t impressed, sending Nokia stock plummeting 16 percent. (Microsoft stock was flat.)
After all, Nokia and Microsoft execs spent Wednesday morning’s launch event in New York City talking up the many features of the new phones, especially highlighting the Lumia 920, seen as the flagship Windows Phone 8 device.
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From advanced camera features to wireless charging and near field communications (NFC) capabilities, Nokia and Microsoft clearly sought to differentiate the Lumias from other smartphones on the market.
“This is a very important milestone,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during the event.
Investors, however, either weren’t taken in by what they saw or, maybe more likely, what they didn’t see and hear: anything specific on pricing, date of availability and which operators will carry the devices.
“Nokia did not do itself any favors” by not disclosing that information, said John Jackson, an analyst with Boston-based market research firm CCS Insight. “That was a tactical mistake.”
Nokia — and Microsoft — can’t afford to make many of those.
Both companies need the newest Windows Phones to sell well — Nokia because it’s deeply in the red and Microsoft because, even after a couple of years offering the Windows Phone platform, still holds only a tiny fraction of the smartphone market.
Nokia “is playing a game of chicken with investor patience,” Jackson said. “And, as of today, it’s losing.”
In the company’s defense, though, Jackson added: “I think investors seemed to be expecting something more revolutionary and I think that’s an unreasonable expectation.”
Tech analysts were generally impressed with the features of the Lumia 920, which Nokia CEO Stephen Elop touted as the “world’s most innovative smartphone.”
“The technology and packaging, I think, are really, really compelling,” said Will Stofega, an analyst with research firm IDC.
The phone includes “all the items that people are talking about that are future facing that are here today,” he said, including superfast LTE connection capabilities, fast screen refreshing, NFC technology (for handling, among other things, wireless payments at checkstands), augmented reality and wireless charging.
In addition, many were impressed by the imaging and camera capabilities, such as allowing in more light in lowlight situations while offering better optical stabilization, resulting in better photos.
Also, at a time when Apple and Samsung are battling over how closely their designs and features resemble each other’s, Nokia “has shown that they can clearly be different,” said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with research firm Gartner. “But they must show consumers that different is also better.”
That’s where the hardest battle lies.
Microsoft’s smartphone platforms — which include both Windows Phone and the outdated Windows Mobile — currently hold only 3.6 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers, according to research firm comScore, and about 2.7 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, according to Gartner.
Now that Nokia has covered its hardware bases with a competitive phone, it’s up to Microsoft to lure developers to create apps for Windows Phone.
There are currently more than 100,000 apps for Windows Phone.
But Apple and Android each have more than 500,000 apps in their market places.
“The uncertainties are really about the Windows Phone ecosystem and whether consumers are willing to invest in that ecosystem: Whether they see an adequate number and diversity of applications, whether they see a rich set of content [with] magazines, movies, music, books,” said Charles Golvin, an analyst with Forrester Research.
“It’s become more of an ecosystem battle than a battle of individual devices,” he said.
That was likely the reason that Ballmer on Wednesday emphasized the opportunity for developers with both Windows Phone 8 and with Windows 8, Microsoft’s flagship operating system, which is set to launch Oct. 26. Both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 share a common core kernel, making it easier for developers to create apps for one and then transfer it to the other.
Ballmer predicted that, within a year, some 400 million devices will be running Windows 8 and Windows Phone.
“I’m quite sure that represents the largest single opportunity available for software developers today,” he said. “I’ll bet you right now that the next app developer to hit it really, really big will be a developer on Windows.”
Also a big unknown is how Nokia and Microsoft will market the devices and whether the phones will be able to stand out in a field of mobile devices being launched in the next few weeks, including the 800-pound gorilla, the iPhone 5.
In addition to Nokia, Motorola also launched phones on Wednesday: the Droid Razr M, Droid Razr HD and Droid Razr Maxx HD.
Apple is expected to announce the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12.
Amazon.com isn’t expected to launch a smartphone but is expected to announce a new Kindle Fire tablet Thursday.
“The question [for Nokia] is: Can you compete,” said Jackson, the CCI Insight analyst. “Can you cut through the noise” of all the competitors.
To do so, he said, “will require an eye watering amount of marketing spend. It’s not clear to me that Nokia has it.”
Microsoft certainly has deep pockets, but Jackson believes the company will be spending most of its money on Windows 8.
“Between what Motorola announced [Wednesday], what Amazon is announcing [Thursday], what Apple is announcing — it’s going to be a September to remember in terms of flagship devices,” he said. “There’s going to be no shortage of noise to cut through.”
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272
On Twitter @janettu.