Who Wins If Nokia Outshines the iPhone?

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I bring an unaccustomed wine
To lips long parching, next to mine,
And summon them to drink.

-- "I Bring an Unaccustomed Wine" by Emily Dickinson

To Finnish phone giant Nokia (NYS: NOK) , a hero's welcome to America would be as welcome as the unaccustomed wine in today's National Poetry Month tribute. The company is orchestrating a huge launch together with two big partners that just might end Nokia's effective drought on our shores.

Have you seen the Lumia 900? If not, you will soon enough. Launch partner AT&T (NYS: T) will put its back into giving the flagship smartphone a proper launch in America.


I don't see any other way to interpret what Ma Bell's senior VP of devices, Jeff Bradley, is saying. In a recent interview with CNET, Bradley promised serious support for Nokia's big release: "At all levels, this is a notch above anything we've ever done," he said, and that includes every Apple (NAS: AAPL) iPhone launch ever. "Before you walk in to the store, you know this is our hero phone. We're going big. We're really bullish."

The launch will include a huge TV ad campaign just as broadcasters slide into the so-called sweeps season with highly anticipated season finales aplenty. AT&T and Nokia have trained store employees to push the device, most likely with direct help from platform provider Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) . And as Bradley said, you'll see a barrage of signage promoting the Lumia 900 as the official launch day comes up on April 8.

Oh, and you can get a Lumia 900 for the attractive price of free if you're new to Ma Bell. That price point could make a huge difference.

Yes, the launch it timed to hit the Easter weekend. While not exactly Black Friday, any holiday gets shoppers out to the malls.

So yeah, this is a big deal. Nokia needs a big hit after suffering through years of indifference from American networks and, hence, American consumers. Microsoft needs the Lumia 900 to succeed as an official relaunch of the Windows Phone brand. No, it's not the first Windows Phone model on the market, but it's certainly the first to get a serious retail push.

The big surprise here is, of course, AT&T's enthusiasm. The network jealously guarded its exclusive iPhone relationship with Apple for years. Android, BlackBerrys, and other smartphones always looked like second-class citizens in an AT&T store. So it's a bit jarring to see such a strong campaign for a whole 'nother smartphone brand here.

If Bradley's brash words about outdoing even the spectacular iPhone 4S launch holds true, we might finally have a third serious competitor to the cemented iPhone/Android duopoly.

And there's a surprise winner hidden inside these phones, too: The Lumia 900 sports a decently sized OLED display, and Nokia has a history of sourcing these brilliant, power-sipping panels from Samsung Display. While this hardly moves the needle for Sammy, that company in turn incorporates technology from Universal Display (NAS: PANL) , which gets paid by the pound for the needed materials. So if the Lumia 900 turns out to be a big winner with millions of units sold, Universal Display reaps some of the rewards. And for this small-cap company, that is enough to make a serious difference.

The smartphone wars are heating up as Microsoft, Apple, and the Android camp stake their claims on an exploding trillion-dollar market. Learn all about this highly investable trend in a special report, yours for the asking but only for a limited time.

At the time this article was published

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