Microsoft made a slew of announcements at its annual Build conference this week, covering everything from universal Windows apps to the ‘Internet of Things’. But the event was also used by Nokia, ahead of the expected closure of that $7 billion acquisition by Microsoft later this month, to unveil three new smartphones.

These were the high-end Lumia 930, built for the upcoming Windows Phone 8.1 and featuring a a 5-inch display, wireless charging and a 20MP camera. Then there was the budget Lumia 630 and 635 smartphones, the former coming in two 3G single-SIM/dual-SIM variants, the latter featuring 4G.

More features, more choice, more fun and games.

Choosing your choices

IMG 22531 730x486 Lumia gaga: Why Nokia must ditch its arcane numbering system

Few people question the quality of the Windows Phone-hosting devices – Nokia’s flagship Lumia handsets are solid and beautiful, offering arguably the best camera functionality of any smartphone. We called the Lumia 1020 a camera that makes calls. But the time is surely nearing for Nokia, under the stewardship of Microsoft and its new CEO, to strip things back and make the choice a lot easier for mass-market consumers. Simplification is the name of the game here.

Over the past few years we’ve seen the Nokia Lumia 800 [November ’11], Nokia Lumia 710 [January ’12] Nokia Lumia 900 [April ’12], Nokia Lumia 610 [April ’12], Nokia Lumia 510 [November ’12], Nokia Lumia 820 [November ’12], Nokia Lumia 920 [November ’12], Nokia Lumia 505 [December ’12], Nokia Lumia 620 [January ’13], Nokia Lumia 520 [April ’13], Nokia Lumia 720 [April ’13], Nokia Lumia 925 [June ’13], Nokia Lumia 1020 [July ’13], Nokia Lumia 1320 [January ’14], Nokia Lumia 1520 [December ’13], Nokia Lumia 2520 [tablet, November ’13], Nokia Lumia 625 [August ’13], and the Nokia Lumia 525 [December ’14]. And yes, there’s the just-announced Lumia 930, 630, and 635 we mentioned already.

Then there’s the numerous variants and network exclusives, such as the Nokia Lumia 822 [Verizon, November ’12], Nokia Lumia 810 [T-Mobile, November ’12], Nokia Lumia 928 [Verizon, May ’13], and Nokia Lumia Icon [Verizon, February ’14].

Lumia930feat 730x280 Lumia gaga: Why Nokia must ditch its arcane numbering system

While Nokia has a bunch of other devices under its Asha label, it’s clear Lumia has emerged as its flagship brand. But it’s a brand that spans so many different devices, features, form factors, and unmemorable version numbers that don’t make any kind of chronological sense to the general consumer. It’s become increasingly difficult for even the most watchful of technophiles to remember exactly what’s what. Sure, we know that the higher version number generally means a ‘better’ device, but it’s still not all that easy to recall the specifics of each.

Singularity

Regardless of any inherent perks and pitfalls of Apple’s iPhone, one of the key benefits from a brand perspective is its singularity.

Generally there’s one new release each year, with each iteration sporting (arguably) slightly better features than the previous. Admittedly the whole 5c/5s shenanigans muddies the water a little bit, but you get the point. Irrespective of how much better or worse the iPhone is compared to its Windows Phone and Android brethren, it’s much easier to market ‘The iPhone’ than a multitude of Lumia phones, phablets and tablets.

It’s similar to McDonald’s too – the fast food chain is the same wherever you go in the world. Consumers know what to expect, making it an infinitely easier sell.

While choice is generally a good thing, having so many different Lumia devices makes it just that little bit harder to distinguish for mass-market consumers – people who don’t have the time or inclination to sit down with spec sheets and figure out what the difference is between the 630 and 635, or why the 930 may be worth paying the extra money for, and why the 1020 may trump all of them. And what about the still fairly new Lumia 525, 625 or 1520? It’s a decision minefield.

What the future holds for the Nokia and Lumia brands still isn’t clear. Last year Nokia marketing chief Tuula Rytilä seemingly provided some clarity on this front:

Microsoft will purchase the license to use the Nokia brand on mobile phones for ten years. It will also buy the ‘Lumia’ and ‘Asha’ brands.

On smartphones, we’ll be seeking to create a unified brand across Lumia and Windows. But we understand that the Asha and feature phone range will carry on the ‘Nokia’ branding.”

On the surface, if you’ll pardon the pun, it sounded a little like Lumia as a brand would be ditched for maybe something like ‘Surface’. But then at MWC, Greg Sullivan, Director of Windows Phone, indicated that Lumia will live on. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer also hinted that the Lumia device names would likely get shorter, something that will become easier for Microsoft to enforce when Nokia’s devices division is fully under its wing.

So we should know in the not-too-distant future which direction Microsoft is taking with Windows Phone and Lumia. But whatever it does, to increase its mindshare among consumers it must simplify its device range and ditch an arcane numbering system that feels more in line with something you’d see rolling out of a Peugeot factory.