Nokia isn’t ready for a tablet, yet

If cell phone maker Nokia ever releases a tablet, it will be late to a game in which its competitors have a huge advantage.

Some observers think the company would be better off focusing all of its resources on a successful smartphone portfolio first, and then worrying about a tablet down the road.

Nokia boss Stephen Elop seems to be looking for the middle ground.

Speaking at the All Things Digital conference, Elop said the company will bring a cutting-edge tablet to market when conditions are right.

“Our engineers are working very hard on something that will be different from everything else that’s going on in the market,” he said. “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.”

Unless Nokia has an ace up its sleeve, “other software assets” refers to the Linux-based MeeGo operating system that Nokia has been working on in various forms for six years, though MeeGo now has the help of developers. from Intel and Novell, among others.

Although MeeGo is incompatible with the more dominant Google Android platform, Elop has ruled out any Nokia Android device, telling the Qualcomm Uplinq conference on Thursday: “Our strategic premise at Nokia is that there is an opportunity for a third competitive ecosystem to emerge. , and that is the basis on which we move forward.”

Investors have not responded in the way that Elop would have liked. Along with warnings that second-quarter sales wouldn’t be too high, there’s even talk of a collapse in Nokia shares.

The tablet ship is already out at sea, and Nokia might have a hard time hitchhiking once it’s ready. Apple, Samsung, Motorola and others are already entering the second generation of their product lines.

Still, there is a large market, and it is growing.

According to technology research and consulting firm Gartner, tablet sales could reach 295 million by 2015. Perhaps that’s what Nokia is betting on, setting up a potential future situation similar to the early days of the PC, when pioneers IBM and Compaq ceded much of the market to later arrivals like Gateway just a few years later.

Analyst Derek Kerton of The Kerton Group said any concerns about being late to the tablet market are overblown.

“Apple entered the mobile phone market about 20 years after its inception,” he said. “They seem to have done well despite that slight delay.”

Kerton said Nokia had better focus on its smartphone portfolio for now.

Although Elop is a newcomer to Nokia, the company’s hardware has experience in tablet computing.

The Nokia-powered Maemo operating system showed how Linux can be successfully adapted to mobile devices. Without it. Arguably, Android would be very different. Beginning with the N770 in 2005, the N-series internet tablets were eerily similar to Apple’s iPhone that would arrive several years later, though they relied on stylus input and, until the N900 arrived in 2009, lacked any cell phone circuit.

Why doesn’t Nokia build on this experience?

“I had an N tablet,” Kerton said. “It was horrible. Terrible user experience [user interface] that only an engineer could love. Designed by committee, disjointed, complicated: I spent a few nights in a row doing touch-ups, then gave mine away to someone I didn’t like.”

Kerton said Nokia should start over and fill a market position that has yet to be fully realized: true laptop-replacement tablets. As one of Microsoft’s largest partners for Windows 8, Nokia receives “significant weight” in this regard, he said.

“Windows 8 with some kind of wireless USB docking system could be interesting. It could function as a desktop when docked, or simply near your peripherals, while it could function as a tablet while on the go. Instead of just having a window on your work, cloud content, or apps, you could have full desktop content on the go, without the need to sync,” Kerton said.

However, that idea also faces competition.

At the All Things Digital conference earlier this week, Microsoft’s hardware partners showed off several tablet devices running full Windows 8 and even Microsoft Office, all using the same kind of ARM processor-based technology that Nokia traditionally relied on. stands out.

Nokia will have to produce something exceptional, Kerton said.

“The problem for Nokia is that the existing tablets and associated app stores cover a lot of ground. The iPad developer ecosystem can spot market opportunities and scale devices to meet them. That doesn’t leave much for Nokia unless its hardware is significantly different,” he said.

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