One of the strangest inequities of the market for Windows phones is that only Microsoft’s Lumia handsets are eligible to install a wide range of Lumia-branded apps. But that could finally be changing. Now, users of non-Lumia Windows phones can download the excellent Lumia Camera app, which offers numerous improvements over the built-in Microsoft Camera app.
The exclusivity of Lumia apps made sense when they were made by Nokia, which was obviously trying to differentiate its handsets from the competition. Nokia was hugely successful in doing so, and the combination of amazing handset hardware, superior cameras, colorful peripherals, and, yes, the Lumia apps, helped it to seized over 90 percent of the market for Windows phones.
Today, however, these apps are made by Microsoft, as they were part of the purchase of Nokia’s devices and services businesses. And that exclusivity no longer makes sense, especially in the wake of the failure of Windows phone in the marketplace and Microsoft’s decision to shift its strategy, in part to grow a stronger business for third party devices.
Those third parties—HTC, Samsung, Huawei, BLU and others—today account for less than 4 percent of all Windows Phones in use. And while opening up the stellar library of Lumia apps won’t be enough to reverse that trend, it’s a step in the right direction. And one that frankly should have started happening the moment that Microsoft acquired those apps.
What’s interesting about Lumia Camera, however, is that this is one of the apps that you could argue would be among the last to make its way to non-Lumia devices since it is so closely aligned with the superior camera hardware that is found in so many Lumias, and in virtually no third-party handsets. But here it is, making its way to non-Lumia devices.
There is, of course, a caveat. It’s not the same Lumia Camera app.
If you were to search the Windows Phone Store for Lumia Camera using a Lumia handset, you would be presented with Lumia Camera 5.0, which works particularly well when run on Windows Phone 8.1.1 and the Denim firmware update for Lumias. This version of the app—which was originally called Nokia Pro Camera when it debuted with the Lumia 1020 in 2013—includes a feature called Rich Capture that will analyze the scene each time you take a shot and then take multiple images—as per HDR on other smart phone cameras, but also optionally with Dynamic Flash and Dynamic Exposure—and merge them into one superior photo.
Those with non-Lumia handsets are not being offered Lumia Camera 5.0, however. Instead, they are being offered Lumia Camera 4.0, which is obviously the previous version of the app. That’s not so terrible, actually: it includes all of the manual and automatic controls found in 5.0, but of course doesn’t include new features like Rich Capture, noted above, and the Moment Capture video recording mode.
Anyway, my hope is that this is just the tip of the Lumia app iceberg and that more and more Lumia apps are made available on third-party Windows phones. It’s the right thing to do, and is in fact overdue.