The Lumia 950 and 950 XL are Microsoft's 'Colorful iMacs'

Microsoft's CEO Satya Nadella made the humble acknowledgment above that Microsoft, concerning phones, is in a state of regeneration.

In his candid comparison to Apple's regeneration that saw the Cupertino company rise from near ruin with the help of the bold, colorful and reimagined iMac. He communicated that Microsoft's new Lumia's were positioned as a similar stimulus for Redmond's mobile endeavors.

Much has been said, both positive and negative, about the Lumia's 950 and 950XL. In the final analysis, however, these two high-end, premium smartphones are exactly what Microsoft and Nadella positioned them to be. These competitively designed devices are for Windows Phone fans.

"For people who love Windows, we'll have a flagship device."-Nadella 7/14/15

2012 - 2015, It's been a long wait

"I want people to evaluate us on the phones that we produce,...what matters to me is what customers care…"-Nadella 7/14/15

Let's step back for a moment and take a practical look at where we are today. Three years ago Windows Phone fans purchased the Lumia 920 in droves making it arguably the most popular Windows Phone to date. My wife was chomping at the bit for one. So as one of her Christmas gifts that year I bought her a white 920, wireless charger and all. One of the things that prevented me from moving from my HTC Titan to a black Lumia 920 was the ATT contract that had me bound for several more months.

Once freed from my contract in the Summer of 2013, as some of you, I moved on to the next high-end Windows Phone. The 41 MP Lumia 1020. A few months later, via a Microsoft Store promotion, I scored the Lumia 1520. This 6" powerhouse flagship is popular among the phablet-loving Windows Phone faithful.

Lumia 1020 back

Lumia 1020 back (Image credit: Windows Central)

That same year, my sister-in-laws like many Windows Phone fans on Verizon, grabbed the Lumia 928. Early 2014 brought us the Lumia 930/Icon, which was essentially a 5" 1520. Finally, the HTC One M8 graced shelves mid-2014. And well, as far as high-end Windows Phones go, that was all she wrote.

Sadly, those six sporadically released devices were also sporadically distributed. Not a single one of those phones was released across all carriers. Furthermore, some carriers like Verizon abruptly stopped caring and stopped carrying the devices it did sell.

So it has been over a year since the last high-end Windows Phone was released. And about three years since the most patient of fans, sporting 920's, have had a flagship to brag about. In this time, we have seen flagships from Apple, Samsung, HTC, LG and others in the hands of family members, co-workers, fellow commuters, and happy looking people in TV spot after TV spot.

With Microsoft's focus on the low-end over the past year, it seemed to many that Microsoft had forgotten about its loyal fans. As a Windows Phone fan, industry watcher, writer and husband to a Windows Phone fan I have heard the cries, "When will Microsoft make another high-end Windows Phone?"

Folks, we have our answer. It's the Fall of 2015 and Microsoft's premium Lumia's 950 and 950 XL will be released this year. And again, these devices are for the fans.

Ask, and you shall receive

Windows Phone fans have asked for a high-end device with specs comparable to the latest and greatest representatives of the Apple and Android camps. Well, not only did we get one device. We got two. Now I know that different OS's run differently on different hardware. And Windows phone has a reputation of not needing the highest specs to run smoothly. But hey, as a fan I, like you, want to be able to say to the competition, my phone is every bit as powerful as your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy. And guess what. With the Lumia 950 and 950XL, we can say that.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
CategoryLumia 950 XLiPhone 6s Plus
OSWindows 10 MobileiOS 9
Screen Size5.7 inches5.5 inches
Screen Resolution1440x2560 (564ppi)1080x1920 (401ppi)
ProcessorSnapdragon 810 64-bit octa-coreApple A9 64-bit dual-core
Internal Storage32GB16GB/64GB/128GB
External StoragemicroSD
SecurityWindows Hello iris scannerTouch ID fingerprint scanner
Rear Camera20MP ƒ/1.9 PureView camera, triple-LED flash12MP ƒ/2.2 iSight camera, dual-LED flash
Front Camera5MP, wide-angle lens5MP, screen flash
Battery3340mAh removable2750mAh non-removable
ChargingQi wireless, USB Type-C port, Quick ChargeLightning port

As you can see in the table above Microsoft's premium Lumia's have comparable or superior specs compared to the rival's flagships. With Windows Hello biometrics and Continuum, the Lumia's even pioneer territory the competition has yet to adopt. Ask and it shall be given.

What about the app gap?

What about it? No, I'm not being cynical but let's look at this in context. First and foremost, these Lumia's are for Windows Phone fans (and enterprise). Most fans have been holding on to aging 920's, 1020's 1520's, 830's, 930's, etc. for the past one to three years.

Even considering the recent loss of some key apps, the core fan base (though we want more mainstream apps) values other aspects of the Windows Phone experience above some apps we may not have. I'm personally still disappointed with the loss of my banking app. But whether it returns or not I enjoy Windows Phone too much to switch camps. And naturally the enterprise has little use for SnapChat.

Now that is not to say that there is no concern for a more vibrant app ecosystem. This is the point where the app Bridges come in. As a reminder, these Bridges allow developers to port easily their Android (Astoria), iOS (Islandwood), web-apps (Westminster) and Win32 apps (Centennial) to Windows 10 as Universal Windows apps.

Though all of these Bridges are not yet active, I believe Nadella's strategy is that next year's devices (which will likely target a broader audience) will benefit from the work yielded from these tools.

However, the current position in Nadella's strategy is key. He recognizes that there is a large base of fans that are excited about Windows Phone. However, until now there hasn't been a device for this committed base to be excited over. For any platform to succeed the excitement of the fans, need at least one flagship device through which that excitement can be harnessed. We now have two devices.

The colorful iMac

Nadella, I believe, is expecting that the 1 to 3 year-long pent up demand Windows Phone fans have had for high-end Lumia's will result in a greater rush for these devices than that experienced when the 920 hit the shelves. As I shared in an earlier piece, this could likely generate the largest surge in Lumia sales to date. (With wider carrier support it could be epic.)

For Q4 2015, the quarter in which the devices will be released the data for Windows Phones (when released in the new year) is likely to look very positive. The surge above in Lumia's running Windows 10 Mobile will likely be accompanied by excited fans engaging the Windows Store in great numbers. Consequently, analytics will likely reveal a respectable number of app downloads to Windows 10 Mobile devices. There may also be increased revenue to developers during this quarter as a result.

Whether that pattern endures or not (which we hope it will), these will be powerful talking points to the industry, consumers, and developers for Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform. As Windows 10 on PC has yielded 6x more store visits and a 4x increase in developer's revenue, a similar ecosystem boost on mobile will validate Microsoft's strategy.

This positive messaging in Q1 2016 will likely be on the heels of the push for the Bridges. With a message of increased engagement across its ecosystem, Nadella is likely betting on developers being more inclined to invest in porting their apps to Windows 10.

Will the next Lumia's or Surface Phone be better?

I just don't want to build another phone, a copycat phone operating system...-Nadella 7/14/15

Yes, the next Lumia's or Surface Phone will be better than the 950 and 950 XL. The devices after those will be even better. So goes the cycle. The thing to remember is that Microsoft is retrenching to be more competitive in mobile.

By this time next year, we will likely see that Panos Panay's team will have honed a deep synergy between more sophisticated "phone" hardware and a more mature Windows 10 Mobile platform. We may even see practical uses for an N-trig pen on Windows phones by then. I believe that Nadella is also anticipating that by Q3 2016 the Bridges will have begun to yield a richer and growing app catalog from which the new devices will benefit.

Due to this app growth coupled with the Universal Windows Platform, Continuum and Windows Hello biometrics next years Windows "phones" (as I shared previously Nadella is positioning Microsoft devices beyond the "phone") will likely be positioned more competitively to reach the masses.

Lumia's illuminating the way

If my above analysis is correct aggressive consumer-focused ad campaigns for "phone" are not likely to be seen until at least Q4 2016 (if at all). Why? Because the current Lumia's are for the fans and our particular behavior keeps us informed with the latest and greatest from Microsoft. Redmond doesn't need ads to reach us.

Next year's devices may be a different story. If they are indeed going to be aimed at the masses, we may finally see the ad campaigns we've yearned to see. With the impressive install rate of Windows 10 on PC, "The phone that works like your PC" may prove to be an effective campaign slogan.

Attempting to reach the masses now with expensive ad campaigns, before the Bridges have an opportunity to address the greatest chink in Windows Phone's armor would be counterproductive. Some who convert may find that their favorite app is not available on Windows Phone and could be quite vocal with their discontent.

Now with Microsoft's Surface strategy being applied to the "phone", we may begin to see, by Q1-Q2 2017, hints of OEM's building high-end Windows "phones" inspired by what Panos Panay and team deliver in Q4 2016. If the inspiration that the Surface inspired among OEM partners is any indication of what could occur there is a reason for hope.

But this all begins with Microsoft's "colorful iMacs."

"I'm going to focus on a few phones that actually grab share that, in fact, showcase our uniqueness…We will do everything we have to do to make sure we're making progress on phones...We are committed...Nadella 7/14/15Our first-party devices will light up digital work and life. Surface Pro 3 is a great example – it is the world's best productivity tablet…we will build first-party hardware to stimulate more demand for the entire Windows ecosystem… we will responsibly make the market for Windows Phone, which is our goal with the Nokia devices and services acquisition."– Nadella 7/10/14{.nofollow}

Your Lumia 950 or 950 XL

As the colorful iMac marked a historic shift for Apple, the Lumia 950 and 950XL may mark a historic shift for Microsoft in mobile. Redmond is showing innovation and progress in all of its other business sectors. The industry for the first time in years seems galvanized by what Microsoft is bringing to the table. From the HoloLens to the Surface Book, the industry is giving Microsoft cool points normally reserved for Apple.

It is at this point in Redmond's story that they have presented fans their "colorful iMac's" - the Lumia's 950 and 950 XL. Now I know there are challenges like limited carrier support. But the question remains, "should you buy one of these Lumia's at this historic juncture?" I can't answer that for you. But if you're a fan, I'll offer Nadella's words,

"… I want to do good devices that people like, then we will go on to doing the next thing..."

These fan-focused devices are good devices. Do you like them? I do. And I plan on being a part of the beginning of what's next.

Jason L Ward is a columnist at Windows Central. He provides unique big picture analysis of the complex world of Microsoft. Jason takes the small clues and gives you an insightful big picture perspective through storytelling that you won't find *anywhere* else. Seriously, this dude thinks outside the box. Follow him on Twitter at @JLTechWord. He's doing the "write" thing!

  • Thanks for reading! Don't miss Highs and Lows Parts 1 through 6. This series brings us to the point we are today! All of the Windows Central links to that series are collected here in this Sway: Enjoy!!!:-)
  • Good article, I enjoyed
  • Very well put and this sums up a lot of our thoughts (at least mine) as true fans of WP. Realistic without being nihilistic.
  • @mihnat. Thanks for the positive input!
  • Very very glass half full
  • @someguy11 I'm a glass half full kind of guy! :-)
  • @wpmaniac thanks so much.:-)
  • I don't recall reading much from you here in the past (maybe I've just not paid attention). But here's a fact: As one of the aging 920 users (who had to downgrade to earlier this year when my 920 died) I was not really excited for the 950 series and have gone back and forth. This morning, after reading your piece here, you somehow got me excited again? How'd you do that? Well done.
  • @scumdogmillionaire Thank you for reading. And I'm so glad that this piece was a positive influence on you and others. Thank you for sharing those words. As an aside. I'm one of the newest writers for Windows Central. I began writing with the team several months ago. Here are the links to the articles I've written for the site. I've seen you around.:-) You may remember a few of these. lol Feel free to revisit some of these and share if you'd like, to let others see some of Windows Central content! :
  • This article is calling to me... Patiently holding on to my 920 and definitely getting a 950 next month!
  • +920
  • @Chris Trotman Carry it with pride my man! Looking forward to these devices myself. They look awesome!
  • You should be their marketing chief. "Ask and you shall receive"? Sure, after two years and at least one (some say there were actually two) cancelled flagship later. :) Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Hey, good article. For "lumia's" though I dont think you need the apostrophe. If it's making it plural, you just add an "s". (will the next lumia's...and lumia's illuminating the way) unless you mean Lumia IS illuminating the way, then that's fine.
  • Good article, but Nadella is wrong, at least four me. I just ordered a new LG flex 2 to replace my Lumia. I'm done, Microsoft. Giving us February specs in a November phone is too little, too late.
  • Lol LG Flex 2? Are you serious? You must be joking? An over heating 11 month old peace of crap! I hope you ment LG Flex 3 witch coming January. Snapdragon 820 at least. But trying to compare Flex 2 vs 950 XL......there no competition! 950 XL wins hands down!
  • Does your LG Flex 2 do Continuum?  Would it ever do?   All non-Continuum phones are obsolete.
  • All Android phones are compatible with keyboards, mice and external displays. Unlike Windows mobile, there are apps available to use with them. Continuum isn't special or new. Maybe when they get x86 support, but even then an actual laptop is cheaper and easier to use while the cloud keeps your data ubiquitous. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • Continuum is not mirroring.  It is running desktop apps as a desktop.  Laptop in your pocket?  lol.
  • Yet you bought February specs in late October...
  • Bye! Lol. You'll be back. I use both Android(galaxy S6 Edge) and several wp's and I hate using androids OS. Android just dnt feel good using. Posted via the Windows Central App for Android
  • @jasongw Thanks for the compliment. Actually when you look at this in context, the best specs from the most recent offerings, even the one month old iPhone 6S Plus, compared to Microsoft's most recent Lumia, the Lumia is either better or on par in most categories. I think the specs are pretty respectable.:-)
  • As a 1520 holder...Yo, how 'bout pass me whatever you are smoking...even Danny boy ain't that optimistic!
  • This!
  • @Habibul lol...just looking at things objectively. If you did a blind test and just laid the spec sheet of these devices next to the spec sheets of the competition these Lumia's would really stand out in the pack. Windows Phone users have wanted a device that stands out in the pack for 1-3 years now. Here they are:-)
  • It's always a pleasure to read your articles; This one included. And, yes, after moving from the HTC Titan to the Lumia 1020 too, I will get a Lumia 950.
  • @deMaelsrom Thanks for the support and enjoy your 950!:-)
  • 1st, i wish no one would ever compare ANY of Microsoft products(or other brands) to any of CrApple overrated garbage prods, even as an example. iMac junk is so far behind Windows prods is not even funny. I say EVERYTHING CrApple sells, is about 4+ years BEHIND all other brand's technologies they use. All CrApple does is MARKETING and overprice their garbage just to make them look so special to those who think, everything with HUGE price tag, is so much better. Well that is true in many cases, however, NOT in CrApple prods. CrApple prods are cheaply made with cheap parts. For exp: iJUNK 6 cost $80 to $100(depending on storage size) to manufacture at Foxconn factory in China, and that's all they worth. But, CrApple sells them from $800 to $1200+ so iSHEEP think they are luxury and such a special items/phns(fashion piece), to carry around. Just look at the """""""SPECS""""""" listed on your article. In addition to those awesome specs, these 950/950XL have "Continuum", Liquid Cooling, FULL NFC(not limited like iJUNK phns), Gorilla Glass 4 which does not break,.............that iJUNK does NOT have. so why iSHEEP pays so much more money for those iJUNK, when they are so many better phns with MUCH better SPECS??????? BRAINWASHED, FOOLED, MISLED, LIED, PRETENDED,...................... to them, by CrApple. Keep in mind, they have pretty much COPIED EVERYTHING from others Like SONY, NOKIA, MICROSOFT,.........and now even Google, but people think they invented the universe. Just search, """"""""""""appple COPIED SONY"""""""""""", and click on the images, and take a look at SONY's device, they had way before 2007 iJUNK came out. Has anyone looked at SONY's watch they have been making for past 6 years, to iJUNK Watch??????? HUUUUUMMMMMM need i say more????? I really wish someone at WC, would show how many things CrApple has COPIED from other brands. I know it would take a long time and would be a huge article, but it will worth it for iSHEEP to see with their own eyes. I do know comp do copy from each other all over the world. However, none of them, after copying, tell the world it was all their own idea, and turn around sue them.     
  • Because all the iPhone fans come to this site to read articles.....mmmmm
  • Grow up. You sound like a jealous toddler. Not as intelligent as the average toddler, but emotionally stuck at that level.
  • This article completely contradicts what Dan has been saying. The 950/XL are the 'Enterprise' phones, not the 'Enthusiast' phones that us aging 920 users (and beyond) have been waiting for.
    While watching Microsoft's conference I did initially get excited for these phones, but after Dan put them into perspective, it looks like I'll still be waiting yet another year.
    Unless my 920 doesn't survive until then of course.
  • I actually believe Jason is correct on this, not sure if Dan's view is any different though. Nadella has alluded to providing three categories of phones: budget, enterprise, and flagship. Though I can't quote specific articles from memory, I do have the strong impression that Microsoft looks at the 950/950XL as the "flagships" in this strategy built for the fans. I would expect the much rumored Surface Phone to be part of the "enterprise" category. That would make perfect sense to me. In other words, the 950/950XL is the flagship for the fans. The Surface Phone I would expect to have more modest specs when it comes to media capabilities: lower MP camera, 1080P screen instead of 1440P, etc. However, I would expect additional enterprise features such as stylus support, faster Iris Scanner or fingerprint sensor, sturdy metal build like Surface tablets, bundled cloud storage, and ideally an x86 Intel chipset. I would then expect them to use the same screen and camera in their budget phones for next year, without all of the enterprise features and Surface build. My interpretation of the statements and information we have received thus far about Microsoft's current strategy.
  • Truly enjoyed your analysis. Thanks for bringing us back around to Nadella's words regarding the phones. Your outlook is refreshing and quite logical!
  • "Colorful"?!
  • Yeah, I did a bit of a double take when I saw that headline.
  • Exactly. Where are the colours, Nadella?
  • In the analogy.
  • Sometimes I think people forget that Microsoft did a pretty good job getting 3rd parties the rights to make a swath of new backs that are easily replacable. How about you just buy the one that suits you best, and be glad you can get a red leather backing with metal sides for your phone if YOU want that one. Am I missing something? Sure, an extra fee, but an extra fee to customize your phone much more than most other phones allow (ignoring a straight-out case). Sorry if I'm missing the point, I just don't see it.
  • Im guessing you guys somehow didnt understand the parrell he was drawing between these phones and Apples Color Macs and how they were the begining of a turning point for each company. Read the Article
  • *parallel It just seems strange (even ironic) to draw a parallel to the colourful iMacs (making them stand out of the beige-PC crowd) when the MS "turning point" removes the very colours that made the Lumia line stand out. Perhaps it's a hipster move - where going back to boring colours is retro and cool :P  
  • It's not the colours (or lack of colours) that makes the devices similar.  It's the fact that these phones may prove to be the beginning of a great run of consumer products for Microsoft, just as the colourful iMacs were for Apple.
  • Yeah, I know that and had read the article before commenting. Was just being casual.
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