Nokia’s annual development showcase is taking place this week in Stuttgart, conveniently placed, for the 2000+ international visitors, adjacent to Stuttgart airport, which is not nearly as bad as it sounds. After a day of analyst meetings we spent today listening to senior executives outline the company’s future plans and examining its latest device and service offerings.
A major highlight was the unveiling of the recently announced Booklet 3G, Nokia’s first foray into non-handheld devices. Actually that’s not quite true, but you have to be an industry veteran of at least 20 years’ standing to remember when Nokia last manufactured PCs, or indeed the myriad of other products it used to be known for. It abandoned most of its traditional businesses as part of its rationalisation response to the Russian economic crisis of the early 1990s, and after it identifed mobile phones as the next technology wave the company has never looked back.
Nokia’s explanation for (re)entering the PC space is that convergence is happening and is here to stay. In other words, it sees computing competitors (read Apple, Google) eating into its phone business, as phone handsets take on more and more of the capabilities associated with the PC. The logic is that Nokia can counter these threats by bringing its communications expertise to the PC space.
The Booklet 3G is Nokia’s first response. I hope it is not their last. We could waste many hours discussing the finer points of English vocabulary, but this is indeed a “netbook”, at least as far as anyone can point to a clear definition of that word, and that may not be very far. It could also be a “laptop”, which is how John Hwang, who heads this new Nokia business, described it yesterday. Or to be precise, “a high end mini laptop”. So take your pick. It is, without doubt, a computer.
From the various videos and demonstrations it seems that Nokia is trying to position the Booklet as a handheld device aimed clearly at portable applications. Promotional videos featured young, attractive (inevitably) people holding their Booklets in one hand while walking along streets, chatting idly with friends and surfing the web in attractive (inevitably) locations like ski resorts and wine bars. Actually I made that up, but you get the picture.
For the record, the key features are Windows 7, 1.6GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor, 1GB RAM, 120GB HDD, claimed 12 hours battery life, 10.1” display, HDMI, GPS, accelerometer, Bluetooth, webcam. You may have spotted a couple of items which mark the device out from the usual netbook crowd. With GPS, accelerometer and 3G the Booklet is clearly designed to further strengthen Nokia’s position in the navigation and mobility applications segment.
Retail price will be €575 plus tax. Nokia is confident (you can assume the deals are more or less done) that the Booklet will be heavily subsidised by mobile operators in return for the user’s long-term commitment to big fat monthly mobile data fees.
The booklet is a nice-looking, well designed and high quality device. The to-ing and fro-ing around its categorisation is not coincidental, since its specification probably comes close to some low end notebooks/laptops. But prices for those start at €300 or less, while top end netbooks struggle to reach Nokia’s price point. As with Nokia’s phone business, it seems that close cooperation with operators will be necessary to ensure that Nokia’s return to the PC business is not a short-lived affair.
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