Nokia's Lumia 1020 camera outshines its own Windows Phone 8

Microsoft scrambled to make its OS work with 41-megapixel sensor in new Lumia smartphone

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41-megapixel camera.

The Nokia Lumia 1020 has a 41-megapixel camera.

Nokia has launched its Lumia 1020 with a raft of high-end camera features, including a 41-megapixel optical sensor.

With that megapixel count, the Lumia 1020 sensor is substantially larger than the iPhone 5's at 8 megapixels and the Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom's at 16 megapixels.

At a New York event, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop touted the 1020's 6x zoom and other camera features for shooting with greater clarity in many situations, including darker light.

But Elop gave less attention to the fact that the hot new device also runs the Windows Phone 8 operating system, which has so far garnered just 3% of the smartphone market.

Elop mentioned late in his presentation that the Windows Phone Store has 160,000 apps, a number regarded by most analysts as still far too few to make the platform shine.

The focus on Nokia's camera hardware instead of the Windows Phone 8 OS seemed ironic: In 2011, Elop reached out to Microsoft and Windows Phone to help save an ailing Nokia.

Now, armed with the 1020's camera superiority in a crowded smartphone market dominated by Android and iOS, it appears that Nokia is helping Windows Phone instead of the other way around, said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

"When Nokia picked Windows Phone in 2011, Elop said he was like a man on a burning oil platform and Microsoft was throwing Nokia the life rope," Golvin said in an interview. "But it's the other way now. Now, Microsoft needs Nokia as much or more to help Windows Phone. The relationship and alliance has changed."

Just after the phone was announced on Thursday, Microsoft released a blog saying that the 1020 was the result of a tight-knit collaboration between Nokia and Microsoft's Windows Phone team. To some analysts, it seemed almost as if Microsoft's blog was crying for attention for the operating system.

Kevin Shields, a corporate vice president for Lumia at Nokia who previously worked at Microsoft, is quoted in the blog saying: "There was a lot of unseen work on the Windows Phone side that went into [the 1020]: plumbing and user interface changes to bring out the best of that [41-megapixel] component and make the camera experience possible. Our collaboration with Microsoft was super important to making the Lumia 1020 the great product that it is."

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Windows Phone, adds in the blog that the Windows Phone 8 architecture had to be adapted to allow the 1020's camera to capture two images at once -- a super high-resolution shot and a lower 5-megapixel version for easier sharing.

New features were added to Windows Phone code,such as improving the zoom in the platform's photo viewer, Belfiore added. He said other improvements were made, but did not elaborate.

The blog also claims that the 1020 can outshine a digital camera, even though it's a smartphone.

Shields contends in the blog that the 1020 is "both a phone camera and a camera phone," with the processing power of Windows Phone software that's unavailable for a DSLR camera. He notes that the Nokia PureView 808 smartphone running the Symbian OS also had a 41-megapixel sensor when released a year ago, but it didn't have the low-light capabilities of the Lumia 920 that are also in the 1020.

Shields also said the optical stabilization capability of the 920, carried to the 1020, represents a "really deep collaboration" with Microsoft.

Nokia would have put the 41-megapixel sensor used in the PureView 808 on a Windows Phone platform, but the OS wasn't ready at the time, Golvin said.

"Microsoft had to scramble to get Windows Phone ready for [41 megapixels], which says something about Microsoft's ability to respond to manufacturer innovation and to make sure the software platform can provide support for hardware innovation," Golvin said. "Nokia would have been much happier to originally release 41 megapixels as a Windows device instead of Symbian, but I don't think the Windows Phone software at the time could support it."

Golvin and other analysts laughed at the notion suggested by some on Twitter that the Lumia 1020 hardware would be great to have but running instead on Android. Nokia is already so closely linked to Windows Phone 8 that turning to Android would be complex and time consuming, they said.

"Nokia is really the only true success story that Microsoft has for Windows Phone, as much as the current position of Nokia can be called a success," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"It's becoming clear that the leverage Nokia hoped for by using Windows Phone never really came about, at least, not very much. Nokia doesn't really need to promote its Windows Phone roots since it doesn't offer that much leverage anymore," Gold added. "On the other hand, Microsoft really needs Nokia to succeed to prove that Windows Phone is a contender. Nokia can certainly get leverage out of Microsoft's marketing dollars, which is where they are going with joint campaigns."

This article, Nokia's Lumia 1020 camera outshines its own Windows Phone 8, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

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