Despite a mountain of hype and support behind it, Nokia's Lumia 900 was no blockbuster.
Recent data and comments suggest the phone performed well, but not great. After a strong start, sales petered. While AT&T was initially enthusiastic about the Lumia 900, it isn't saying much about the phone now.
More importantly, the Lumia 900 failed to break into the minds of consumers and establish Windows Phone as a heavyweight in the smartphone industry, behind only Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Still, the phone did well enough to keep Nokia in the game, even if it remains a lesser known player. Less clear is whether it will get another shot as a headliner at a U.S. carrier now that it has lost its flagship slot at AT&T.
There was a lot riding on the success of the Lumia 900, as illustrated by a massive campaign from Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T. The blitz included a short Nikki Minaj concert in Times Square, a wave of advertising calling the Lumia 900 as the first real smartphone after years of beta testing, and AT&T promising its biggest launch ever.
For Nokia, it was its second foray into the U.S. market, having launched earlier with the Lumia 710 at T-Mobile USA. While the Lumia 710 did reasonably well, expectations for the Lumia 900 were markedly higher because of the support behind it.
The Lumia 900 was off to a good start when it launched on April 8. In the first month, it outsold all but the iPhone 4 online, and sold at the same rate as the iPhone 4S, according to Compete. On Amazon, the black and blue versions of the Lumia 900 topped the cell phone bestsellers list.
Since then, the momentum and buzz has faded. Online orders for the Lumia 900 started to deteriorate in May. While it kept pace with the iPhone in April, in May it dropped below older phones such as the Samsung Electronics Galaxy S II, which benefited from a discount, according to Compete. Its order rate actually fell below the Samsung Focus and HTC Titan, which both run on Windows Phone.
While the data is for online orders only, it often mirrors overall sales rate.
On Amazon, the Lumia 900 isn't a chart-topper anymore, but the black version has hung around in the top 10 among overall cell phone sales and is among the highest rated.
AT&T and Nokia were mum on specific details. Nokia representative Keith Nowak said the company was "pleased with the consumer reaction, as well as the support we have received from AT&T."
AT&T was reluctant to talk about how the Lumia 900 performed, but its mobility chief, Ralph de la Vega, told CNET during the CTIA conference last month that sales had exceeded expectations -- although it's unclear what those expectations are. Indications are that it was by no means a failure, but it didn't blow anyone away.
Scott Anderson, vice president of the connectivity business group for Best Buy, also said the Lumia 900 did surprisingly well. But he acknowledged that he and Best Buy had low expectations for the phone. He believes that consumers wouldn't really adopt Windows Phone as a platform until the similar looking Windows 8 comes out later this year.
"The Nokia 900 is selling pretty well, but it wasn't poised to be a blockbuster device," he said. "It's a solid seller, but that's it."
Anderson said he expects the next version of Windows Phone, which is expected to be more integrated with Windows 8, to be released in October. Customers may take the platform more seriously once it gets on multiple phones on all of the major carriers.
Anecdotally, the Lumia 900 is still trying to crack the mindset of the American consumer.
"I don't see the phone around," said Compete analyst Christopher Collins. "That's kind of the issue."
The launch, despite all the support behind it, also wasn't flawless. AT&T and Nokia inexplicably chose Easter Sunday to launch the phone, which meant many stores were closed and many potential customers were off at church or with family.
Worse off, early Lumia 900 models had issues with its data connection, a particularly embarrassing gaffe because of a marketing campaign that called every other smartphone a work-in-progress device. Nokia quickly remedied the issue with a costly -- but generous -- move to reimburse all Lumia 900 owners and future buyers for a limited time, providing a $100 credit to cover the cost of the phone.
The Lumia 900 also got a bit of breathing room at AT&T when the next hot phone, HTC's One X, was delayed by a temporary embargo as a result of the company's ongoing litigation battle with Apple. The slight delay held back shipments and let the Lumia 900 go on as the de-facto flagship phone for a bit longer. Still, it's unclear how much of a benefit it got since the delay didn't last too long.
As a result, its prominent position lasted much longer than the six to eight weeks it was promised, according to people familiar with AT&T's phone plans.
That window, however, is quickly shutting. At AT&T, the One X has arrived. In a few weeks, Samsung's Galaxy S III shows up, threatening to upstage all other phones. Anderson said the Galaxy S III was poised to break smartphone presale records for Best Buy.
Nokia's acknowledges that it will be a battle establishing a firm beachhead in the U.S. The Lumia 900 represents a modest step, and not a leap, toward that goal.