Today Samsung and AT&T announced the Samsung Focus 2 would be coming to AT&T in a couple of weeks. While the phone itself is interesting, what it really important here are the messages that both AT&T and Samsung are trying to send. First the phone, then the messages.
I carried an original Focus around as my primary phone for nearly 18 months. It was a great phone. Great screen. Fit in my pocket amazingly well for something with a 4″ screen. Took pictures that blew away my wife’s iPhone 3GS to the extent that she would borrow my phone to snap a shot rather than use her own. The Focus became the most popular Windows Phone 7 sold in the U.S. despite only being available on a single carrier. Now AT&T and Samsung are resurrecting the name, and some of the specs, to create a low-end Generation 2.5 device called the Focus 2. It is priced at $49, and for a limited time AT&T is offering it for $39. I’m sure Amazon, Wal-Mart, and many others will offer it for free. The only reason I gave up my Focus was because I wanted a front-facing camera, which the Focus 2 has. It also supports LTE, so no compromise on network speed, and has a 4″ Super AMOLED screen, which is more high-end than one would expect on a device at this price point. So, without ever seeing one, it seems like the Focus 2 is going to be a great option for those entering the smartphone market and others who care more about getting a good device at a low price than about having high-end specs. Actually, with the exception of limited storage the Focus 2 has mid-range specs. Those who aren’t planning to keep much in the way of music or videos on their phone might even happily choose the Focus 2 over the Lumia 900. Enough about the camera.
The real surprise here is that Samsung is delivering a Generation 2.5 device at all! I think most observers had expected that Samsung, like many other OEMs, had decided to wait for Windows Phone 8 before introducing new Windows Phone devices. Some had even worried that Samsung might just cede the Windows Phone market to Nokia and focus exclusively on Android. So for me this announcement is really Samsung’s way of confirming that not only are they staying in the Windows Phone business, but that they aren’t going to let Nokia win the Windows Phone mind share battle. I’m sure we’ll see comparisons between the Lumia 710 (Nokia’s most comparable current device) and Focus 2 soon, and the Focus 2 is very likely to win all of them. Samsung wants us to know that when Windows Phone 8 hits this fall they will be there with a lineup that can beat Nokia.
AT&T is also doing this as much for the message as for the sales. No doubt the Lumia 710 is losing its exclusivity at T-Mobile and AT&T could pick up a variant, but that wouldn’t be a device they could trumpet. By complementing the higher-end Nokia Lumia 900 with the lower-end Samsung Focus 2 they get to send a number of messages. First, they want to gain as much mind share around Windows Phone as possible before Verizon re-enters this space with Windows Phone 8 devices this fall. Just as their association with the iPhone lingers despite it now being available on Verizon and Sprint, they want a residual association with Windows Phone as it (presumably) climbs to success. Second, AT&T wants to keep Samsung in the Windows Phone business so they have at least three (Nokia, HTC, Samsung) good sources for devices. They also don’t, for example, want to become primarily the channel for Nokia while Samsung aligns with Verizon. Third, they want to offer a distinctive premium device in each segment (low, medium, high) of the market. So it appears AT&T is really serious about Windows Phone, as opposed to the lip service I sometimes worried they were giving it.
The bottom line here is that the Focus 2 is really good for Microsoft’s Windows Phone prospects. It keeps the new-found momentum going, and confirms that two partners who are important to Windows Phone’s eventual success are still on board and committed to the platform. It should also raise the excitement level about Windows Phone 8 another notch as the number of new or re-established commitments to the platform is expected to grow dramatically.