Nokia and Motorola and the failed art of the soft launch

Yesterday Nokia and Motorola created a stir with new smartphone announcements. Nokia showed off its latest Lumia phones and Motorola the latest in the Droid family of Android smartphones. They may have gotten you excited but you can't buy any of them yet.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

The soft launch has become all too common in the mobile tech arena. A company hosts a flashy press event to get consumers heated up about the latest product. Features are detailed, demos are given and prospective buyers reach for their wallets. Then the company shares that the hot new product won't be available until "later this year" and at a price "to be determined later".

Nokia Lumia 820 and 920

Nokia was the first to throw a soft launch this week for its flashy new Lumia 920. This is the latest entry in the company's Windows Phone line, and it looks like a beauty. Nokia stuck with its innovative industrial design for the handset and poured a lot of effort under the hood of the 920.

Nokia 920 wireless charging
Image credit: Nokia -- Nokia Lumia 920 with wireless charging

The Lumia 920 will be packing Windows Phone 8 when it ships and Microsoft shared the stage with Nokia to show off the main features of this new version. The live tiles and People hub were demonstrated, along with some cool new camera functionality called "lenses".

Lenses are essentially camera extensions, apps if you will, that can be invoked to interact directly with the phone camera. One of the coolest lenses has the ability to sense when people are moving in the background of photos taken, and let you remove them with a simple tap.

These extensions go hand-in-hand with the camera in the Lumia 920, no doubt one of the best on any camera to date. Nokia has long been producing good cameras on its phones, and the one on the 920 is the best of the lot. It's clear Nokia's focus was to set the Lumia 920 apart from the crowded smartphone field with this camera.

Wireless charging first to market with the failed Palm Pre is making a comeback with the Lumia 920. Nokia showed off several chargers including the "FatBoy" which makes it easy to just set the phone on the mat and charge away.

Also on the hardware front Nokia is pushing NFC to use it for things others than paying for stuff. The Lumia 920 will have accessories available that are activated by simply tapping the phone on the accessory. A cool boom box was demonstrated that is turned on by NFC with a tap and then music is streamed from the phone to the boom box over Bluetooth.

nokia-lumia-820 CNET
Image credit: CNET

Nokia also showed off a Lumia with less features than the flagship 920. The Lumia 820 will obviously carry a lower price tag than the 920, aiming it at the cost-conscious smartphone buyer. While the hardware features of the 820 are limited compared to the 920, the Windows Phone software will go a long way to level the two handsets. The 820 also has interchangable back shells for those who like to change the color of the phone to match their mood (or outfits).

Nokia is also pushing its range of location-based services to set the Lumias apart from the competition. The demos given of the augmented reality features of the mappping and navigation apps were really good.

Both the Lumia 820 and 920 are solid entrants in Nokia's Windows Phone line, but the excitement generated at the soft launch was dampered by the lack of availability for them. That's the downside of the soft launch, you make people want your product and then snatch it away from them.

Colleague Mary Jo Foley has details about both Nokia Lumia phones.

Motorola Droid RAZRs

Shortly after the Nokia event both Google and Motorola took the stage to showcase the new handsets coming. The first part of the event was intended to show that Google has taken over Motorola since the purchase, and let folks know they were in charge.

Eric Schmidt of Google shared the latest distribution figures for Android. A whopping 1.3 million Android devices are activated every day. Android is still dominating the smartphone space, but only 70,000 of those daily activations are tablets. That number should go up with the Nexus 7 on the market.

Motorola and Google chose to stick with the popular Droid RAZR branding, and three new handsets were launched at the event.

Image credit: Verizon

The Droid RAZR HD has a 4.7-inch display housed in a thin handset that looks similar to earlier Motorola handsets. It packs a 2,530mAh battery to help owners get through a whole day of heavy data usage with the 4G LTE connectivity.

Droid RAZR Maxx HD
Image credit: Verizon

Battery life with LTE is always an issue, and Motorola has perfected the technology to cram ever larger batteries in thin phones. The Droid RAZR Maxx HD sports a whopping 3,300mAh battery in the phone to provide an estimated 32 hours of normal use per charge.

Droid RAZR M
Image credit: Verizon

On the economy front, the smaller Droid RAZR M will be available (yes, actually available) in white and black for Verizon customers in September for $99.99 with a new contract.

No availability nor pricing was confirmed by Motorola for either the Droid RAZR HD nor the Droid RAZR Maxx HD. The soft launch effect raises its ugly head yet again.

Strangely, none of these three new phones from Motorola/ Google will ship with the latest version of Android, Jelly Bean. Motorola proudly announced at the launch that they would ship with Ice Cream Sandwich but receive a Jelly Bean update "before the end of the year".

The fact that not even Google can get its own phones shipping with Jelly Bean out of the box indicates there is something inherently wrong with the Android update process.

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