This time of the year is always a bit boring when it comes to new technology announcements. Especially this year when Apple has decided to postpone the introduction of the new iPhone all the way to autumn. This of course is not hugely surprising considering that iPhone 4 is selling very well and the white “face lift” model has just been introduced. Strategically Apple can now fully concentrate on promoting the new iPad as there is no new iPhone to steal its thunder.
Google seems to be doing much the same. They are improving their Android Operating System with neat little improvements and add-ons, but without any radical changes. Android on smartphones is overall doing very well. This has given Google time to concentrate on another project – Android for tablets. Motorola’s Xoom tablet was the first device to sport Google’s brand new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system, which is available only for tablets. Although Xoom has been a huge flop Honeycomb has received a lot of positive feedback. Still it’s no iPad killer, at least not yet.
Everyone seems to be making tablets. Whether it’s running on their own platform (e.g. Apple iPad, RIM Playbook) or Android. The only big manufacturer who has not entered the party is Nokia. Which, if you think of it, is interesting as Nokia is one of the companies who pioneered Internet connected mobile tablet computers already over half decade ago. It seems that Nokia was ahead of its time in 2005 with the Nokia 770.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop put it well in an interview when he said:
There are now over 200 different tablets on the marketplace. Only one of them is doing really well. And my challenge to the team is: I don’t want to be the 201st tablet on the market that you can’t tell from all of the others.
Although the market is flooded with tablets only Apple’s iPad is selling very well. Why? It’s clearly not because of the hardware as e.g. Xoom is a lot more powerful. Or because of the openness or versatility of the OS as Android offers much more. And it’s not just about the apps either because Android has mostly the same apps. What it is about is simplicity.
The iPad is aesthetically pleasing to pick up and use. Xoom is not. Where iOS is elegant, fun and easy to operate Honeycomb isn’t. Apple has a strong and inspiring brand, RIM does not. These are all factors that are very hard for any competitor to replicate and exactly why the iPad is so great.
So, what can Nokia do? We all know that Nokia’s current situation in smartphones is not exactly rosy. However, this does not mean that the situation in tablet market could not be. In many ways Nokia has what it takes to challenge the iPad. Nokia knows how to make beautiful devices. Nokia has probably the best engineers in the business so things like hardware design and battery life are always top notch. And at the end of the day Nokia is still one of the biggest brands in the world. The really big question however is what operating system would Nokia choose to use for its forthcoming tablet.
According to Elop Nokia has a number of options in the tablet computing space given their changing strategy.
For example, we could take advantage of Microsoft technology and software and build a Windows-oriented tablet, or we could do things with some of the other software assets that we have.
Our team right now is assessing what’s the right tablet strategy for Nokia—how does that fit in? …
We have to take a uniquely Nokia perspective, and so the teams are working very hard on something that would be differentiating relative to everything else that’s going on in the market.
What could the uniquely Nokia perspective be? To start shipping six months after the announcement? I think Nokia should concentrate on few key points.
- Navigation. This device should offer the best outdoor/indoor navigation available. Especially for pedestrians.
- Connectivity. It should be possible to connect the device with anything without additional software.
- Mobility. The device has to be small enough to carry along.
- Cloud computing. Key information should be stored in a cloud that would sync with anything. Not just Nokia devices.
- Battery life. Exceptional battery life that keeps the device always ready for action.
- Full Internet. No more mobile websites or useless apps but full web (Flash, HTML5, etc), at full speed always with you.
Overall this device should not be so much about entertainment but rather about connectivity. A new style of device that in a way would merge smartphones and tablets and create something completely new. I think this is the “future eruption” that Elop has been talking about. Nokia has the key elements to create the next eruption. Therefore I think they should go this one alone and not bother with Microsoft, that still hasn’t realized that Windows is not for tablets.
Nokia is all about Connecting People and in my opinion that’s what they should concentrate on.
EDIT 5/5/2010: And here is a concept image of what a device like this could look like.
There are 8 comments on this post
The tablet definitely needs to develop on Nokia’s strongpoints to stand out, but I think the question is which ones.
Nokia has good batterylife in Symbian based devices, so I naturally feel this could be one point to build on as well. However, the batterylife on the iPads are so good, that I think this won’t be easy even for Nokia to topple.
Nokia is known for stylish and robust physical design, and this is the point they must really build on.
Nokia is also the leader in camera phones, but what could that mean when talking about a tablet? I don’t think anyone (really) wants a great camera on their tablets and I think just having one for video conference is enough. Maybe the tablet could be for multimedia editing purposes then? This would seem logical, and make it pair up with Nokia’s previous and future devices seamlessly, but I’m affraid this will require too much software work. I’ve still no trust for Nokia’s (or Microsoft’s) engineers in developing usable software in the timeframe I see the tablet possibly coming out (1-2 yrs.).
For me then, the only way for Nokia’s device to stand out, would be that the platform it runs on is completely open to modification, so that the user can decide what is the form of the device. It needs to me multimedia-centric, meaning that listening to music, wathcing videos etc. must be a stylish part of it. But in the end it should cator to the needs of a business orientated customer, but also a general multimedia & internet fiend. No mobile pages, no YouTube apps, but everything running in the browser.
For me this sounds like MeeGo.
P.S. Oh, and Nokia, make the tablet usable without any additional (bought) stands. A kickstand should do!
Thank you Chris for your comment!
I think good multimedia (i.e. movies, music, photos) function should already be a standard in all devices. And therefore not something you can really use to differentiate yourself. But I agree, it should be made very stylish and hassle-free.
I completely agree with you on the apps thing! In general I don’t like the concept of “web content apps”. Web content should be consumed via a browser and the web pages should be designed so that this is easy to do regardless of the device.
Right after posting I found the MeegoExperts story on Elop reporting that MeeGo will not be the tablet platform. :)
What I meant to say with multimedia capabilities was that perhaps it should focus on editing video and audio, in addition to playing it smoothly. The tablet would also need to be über connected, meaning that almost every sharing service would be supported.
It seems that the N9/N950 is a phone, not a tablet. However, I don’t see him saying that it could not be the case in the future. I for one am more inclined to believe that the future tablet is going to sport something else than Windows, mainly Android. Of course this might change if MS gets their tablet act together.
I personally feel that editing anything in a pocketable device is a pain. Even Apple has not managed to make this a pleasant experience.
I will make a small addition to the article later today to clarify my idea. ;)
What I see is that Elop wants to let MS come up with Windows 8, the supposed ‘tablet friendly’ version of the windows OS then slap it on the nokia tablet. In my opinion, that would be wrong because it would just come in and blunder like all the android tablets now. I don’t mean it would not be a good OS but it would come out new, and most certainly with a huge set of drawbacks that would ironically make it the 201th tablet. The fact that windows phone might be the way forward for nokia on smartphones doesn’t mean every single bit of software nokia uses must come from MS. I think they should try meego on this one as it would be much easier for them to impute the ‘unique nokia perspective’ on the tablet than if it were Windows 8 because MS is developing its tablet OS with all manufacturers in consideration and not only Nokia, thus adopting that OS would make Nokia just another OEM.
Thanks for the comment!
I agree. If Nokia were to choose a Microsoft product also for the tablets they would be too much dependent on MS. Even choosing Android over MeeGo would be a safer route in my mind. However, I think the best alternative would be to go with MeeGo and get Google/Android to support Qt.
I’d say that Nokia need to ensure they hold on to the mid to low range before attempting to conquer the high end of the market, especially with a new technology. Personally I think Nokia are in the best position to bring something new to the market – the Dumb Tablet. Before the stones start flying, hear me out.
Tablets at the moment are selling at a certain level and are regarded as a luxury item, a “little bit of wankery” to quote Girl On The Bus With Terrifying Hair, bought mainly by people simply for the fact that it’s new. People who buy them and are happy with them do so mainly because they’re a fashion item and they didn’t really care what they were getting from it (there are of course exceptions to the rule). Sure there will always be the people who have never had a smartphone before and who get a tablet only to be absolutely wowed (hate that word) by an operating system they could have seen before, but a majority are seeing them advertised as a replacement to a PC and being sorely disappointed when they get one that is basically a larger mobile phone. That leaves the fashion item buyers as the main satisfied consumers in this sector.
As Chris said earlier on, Nokia are known for great battery life and robust design. What they’re also known for is identifying market needs across the low to mid range and exploiting those places that other manufacturers don’t touch. It’s the reason why, with so many people calling out their death, they’re still the best selling manufacturer in the world. I think that a tablet device could be developed quite cheaply to run Nokia’s Series 40 feature phone OS and be advertised mainly on the Nokia service layer which includes such staples as Instant Messaging, Mapping, eMail, Music, etc. This could be a starter tablet at sub £100 prices for emerging markets or those who simply don’t want all that much extra from their device. A cheap tablet running series 40, with a redesigned homescreen, and with some of the worldwide innovations Nokia has been behind that are targetted at emerging markets (multiple contact lists so families can use one device, on device e-mail for countries with no consistent desktop access, e-textbooks for students to read on their devices for free) could bring tablets to the low end of the market currently dominated by Chinese rip-offs.
Add in the fact that Qt is on its way to Series 40, offering applications that are comparable to mid-level applications on Android and iOS, and this could be a great time for this hypothetical Dumb Tablet to be a little smarter than expected on release.
Great comment, thank you! I think you’re definitely onto something here.