A Nokia Windows RT tablet can be a winner, but only if Microsoft accepts that less is more

A Nokia Windows RT tablet can be a winner, but only if Microsoft accepts that less is more

Summary: Rumours are growing of the launch of a Nokia slate next month. Here's how it could revitalise Windows RT.


Nokia hasn't said it will launch a tablet. It hasn't suggested one is in the works, nor hinted at specs.

But that hasn't stopped the speculation and (maybe) leaks, and a coherent thread to the rumours is beginning to emerge: that it will be a 10.1-inch RT tablet, packing Qualcomm's Snapdragon 800 SoC, 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM.

The standard reaction so far has been: RT? Wait, what?

It's easy to see why. Hardware makers have been distancing themselves, some quite publicly, from RT. Even Microsoft has struggled to ignite consumer interest in it, and registered a massive writedown on its Surface RT in its most recent set of financial results.

So you'd be forgiven for thinking that Nokia's efforts in the RT sphere will meet the same ignominious fate.

But it doesn't have to be that way: if Microsoft set Nokia free, there is a way out of the RT valley-of-death for both companies.

No, wait — come back, let me explain.

When Nokia put its hardware eggs in Microsoft's software basket two years ago, many laughed. Since when did two wrongs will make a right?

Still, a couple of years later, Windows Phone 8 has emerged as decent platform, now cementing its position as the third smartphone ecosystem with Nokia slowly shifting more and more Lumias. Neither company is perhaps doing as well in mobile as it would like, but both are doing far better than many expected.

Nokia is pretty much the only show in town when it comes to Windows Phone, having stoked consumer interest with both shiny flagships like the 1020 as well as solid low-end offerings including the 520. It's not the most revolutionary strategy, but it's one that should work on tablets too.

The 520 of tablets

RT has attracted all sorts of gripes over the way it forces Office to operate and on the lack of backwards compatibility — all valid complaints.

So if Nokia wants to go down the RT path, it should do so with a view to making the Lumia 520 of the tablet world: stripped-back, functional, and affordable. To do that, Nokia needs to get Office out of the RT equation, shipping the tablet with just RT and no Office on top — thereby saving itself not only the awkward apologising about how clunkily it runs on RT but a fair chunk of licensing costs too.

Because cost will be where the RT tablet stands or falls: pitch it in the right price bracket — no higher than £150 — and it has a chance of success. Consumers will adopt new tablet platforms — quirks, lack of backwards compatibility and all — if the price is right.

The Nokia Booklet 3G. Image: Nokia

Nokia on the other hand will also have to restrain its impulse to introduce too many hardware bells and whistles that will make the tablet too expensive for consumers to forgive its software eccentricities.

Look at its occasional forays into non-smartphone hardware in the past: the consensus on its netbook, the 3G Booklet, was that it was a good-looking, well-engineered machine, but one that didn't justify its inflated price tag.

There are signs that Nokia hasn't quite learnt its lesson on that front, with the launch of the 1020 — priced at an I'm-sorry-did-hear-you-right $700 without contract — but when it comes to the low-end, the likes of the 625 show Nokia knows how to make compromises in order to turn out appealing smartphones at an appealing price. Now it just needs to convince Microsoft to let it do the same with tablets.

The high end

There's room for Microsoft and Nokia to indulge their extravagent side at the other end of the slate scale though. The pair could quite sensibly take a leaf out of the Ultrabook and make a high-end Windows 8 tablet that offers a premium experience for businessfolk that have cash to spare — a laptop replacement that can still double as keyboardless tablet when required.

That's where having Office onboard comes into its own, and where those hardware bells and whistles have a role to play.

The majority of Windows 8 tablets to date have been underwhelming — Nokia could score if it came out with a Pro-type device alongside the rumoured RT: something with LTE built in, a screen pretty enough to make grown men cry but which is tough to boot, with a fair chunk of onboard storage, an impressive rear camera and that industrial design we've come to expect from the company. In short, a machine that's enough to win over the BYOD crowd, but which the company purse-string-holders will happily pay for. No mean feat, but certainly within Nokia's abilities to deliver.

That's the two-device strategy I'd like to see coming out of Nokia, of course. I suspect I'll be disappointed. 

If the patent hawks are right, then a recent filing suggests that that overpriced RT tablet may even come with a stylus. Yes, a stylus. It harks back to the back old days of both Microsoft tablets and Nokia's 'linux tablet' range, and suggests maybe both have not moved on as much as they should.

When the tablet does debut in September my fear is that we'll see an overpriced RT and a non-existent Pro, prompting more shoulder-shrugging and head-scratching among Nokia watchers.

Still, even if the incoming tablet may not be everything we'd hope for, Nokia's brand name, supply chain know-how, and operator connections could be enough to keep RT off life support for a while yet. It pulled off the same trick with the early Windows Phones, after all.

But just surviving in tablets is not enough. Both Nokia and Microsoft need to prosper — Microsoft to keep relevant in the post-PC world, Nokia to give its financials a push back onto the right side of black. They only thing standing in their way is the companies themselves.

Further reading

Topics: Nokia, Smartphones, Tablets

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • 2 devices hurt Surface

    I still see many comments on every Surface thread complaining about low battery like of the Surface RT, or small disk space of Surface Pro. By having a single Surface product line for 2 very different products, Microsoft set itself a marketing challenge. And failed.

    I disagree with Jo's strategy. The cheap Lumias are required to get volume and mindshare. But on Windows RT a lot of volume already comes from Windows 8 sales, which are also the drivers to fill the app store. The primary advantage Nokia has over all PC vendors is that it can make a clear statement about it's tablets' capabilities that applies to all of their tablets:

    - Light
    - Long battery life
    - No malware
    - No drive-by installers
    - Fast

    By offering both RT and x86 tablets instead of RT only (a) the marketing message becomes mixed and (b) they are in direct competition with ASUS, HP, Lenovo, Acer.
    • Malware and Drive By Installers are the weakest arguments...

      that argument will not work for most. Both iPad and Android are secure enough (as most people well know). If you go to the wrong AppStore and/or WebSite anything bad can happen to any OS, but the "let's scare them with security concerns" argument isn't fooling anyone who knows how to spell "OS".
      • Nope

        The malware argument if marketed properly is pretty strong against both Android and Windows 8. iOS is disqualifying itself for informed buyers because it lacks connectivity (SD, HDMI, USB).

        The usability of Windows 8 and 8.1 absolutely destroys Android and iOS, despite what is "known" by people who never used Windows 8 or RT. So the main competitor for RT is Windows for x86 devices.
        • Malware stories are basically irrelevant

          Nothing real that is really serious happened to competition.
          Also nobody is abandoning windows because of that - history is a good source of knowledge.
        • Wishful thinking.

          Vast majority ogf users does not care about malware safety. They would not buy Windows for their PCs if they would care in the first place. Closing OS under the argument that it is done for safety is a hollow argument for most of us. Android despite being open is a clear market leader and people like it. Windows 8 RT is and will remain loser.
        • Wrong

          Surface RT, is at best a $99 tablet, and Surface Pro is an overpriced netbook. The RT version is hamstrung with it's own shackles (not running legacy software, or even WP apps), while the "Pro, at $1,000+, you can buy a better laptop for $400.
          Troll Hunter J
          • Misinformed much?

            Both of those tablets are hands down BETTER than their competition. Your bias shows with each comment. You're a joke.
    • Not applicable

      I own a RT, it's just as light as an iPad and is comfortable to hold. I have no experience with other tablets, but the RT is an all-day device (plus depending how you use it).

      There is no malware, no external installs are available

      While no i7, it's fairly fast and fluid and the screen is good and the touch responsive.

      -full function browser
      -great build quality
      -wide format is great for video and apps that take advantage of it (i.e. two columns)

      It's far from perfect, but it is definitely not the POS that some trolls (for unknown reasons why they care so much) would have you believe.

      The issue is price, it's that simple. MS has to create a unique selling proposition. Same quality, different mix of features, keyboard at a slightly lower price.

      Keep in mind too, that as Windows 8 spreads out more people will be drawn more to it (but the price needs to be right).
    • Wrong.

      Windows 8 sales do not help Windoes RT. RT is supposed to run on ARM. Windows 8 sales are for Intel CPU so any Metro app written will not run on RT. Secondly as market data indicates vast majority of users who buy Windows 8 does not uses Metro apps at all, but dekstop only. There is no incentive and reason to write anything for Metro in the first place and for Metron on ARM especially. The platform is dead.
      • Dead?

        Apple is rotten to the core and you call Surface dead? Cell phone = Android; Desktops = Windows; Notebooks = Windows. Now, where is Apple, falling as the rotten fruit it is~!
        • How is your comment relevant?

          No one is asking you to buy an Apple, though mine has been a warhorse. This is actually a discussion about Windows RT, or did you sleep thru the article?

          The iPad is vulnerable at this point for sure because it's priced at the high end and it's no longer the only game in town.

          Many of us are rooting for Windows devices to get into the mix. The more competition the better for all of us because competition keeps everyone honest. That won't happen because Apple haters bloviate. It will happen because hardware mfrs like Nokia release Windows mobile products at the right price with the right sex appeal and hopefully with sufficient content for their intended audience.

          So far I'm not getting the sense that Microsoft or Nokia gets who that audience is, but one can hope. . .
      • Marchel

        I am a windows 8 user and your statement does not hit any sidelines, I Own the pro and the RT and both devices give me exactly what I expect from them. I love my PRO because it does EVERYTHING and I love my RT because it gives me EVERYTHING.

        Both devices do exactly what they promise to do and I am sold
    • that's where i stopped reading you comment

      2 devices hurt Surface

      "I still see many comments on every Surface thread complaining about low battery like of the Surface RT"

      The RT has a very decent battery live (10+ hours on a full charge)

      You never used an RT, sure about that
      • Maybe you should have read

        Reading comprehension is hard.

        Because there are 2 devices paid trolls or just not very smart people make comments confusing the 2. That was the point. My statement was I see these comments.

        These comments are clearly wrong, but they exist because they have 2 Surfaces, which are very different machines, and market them as the same brand.
  • A couple of thoughts:

    "now cementing its position as the third smartphone ecosystem with Nokia slowly shifting more and more Lumias." Not so much cementing, but kind of "Sticky Paste" you give kids so they can attach one piece of paper to another in Kindergarden ;-)
    If the R/T product doesn't come WITH MS Office, then what is the reason to get it again ? I agree getting the price lower is important (I can purchase a full laptop for about $350 with an i3 processor). While it is bigger than the RT tablet, I know I won't have ANY compatibility issues with software I may want to run on Windows 8 Pro (althought I do have to suffer through Metro Interface, at least until Windows 8.1 comes out).
    The thing looming on the horizon for Microsoft with RT is how well they support the devices they are currently selling over the next 2 years or so. If they abandone the first generation of RT devices like they did with original Windows Phone 7.x devices, they will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the few buyers they are getting (Education Purchases going on right now). MS (and because they are along for the ride Nokia ) is not in an enviable position right now. How they treat their current customers (few though they may be) will decide their future fate with RT (and to a larger degree Windows 8 across the board in general).
    • Ever notice . . .

      . . . that it is people who clearly never owned a Windows Phone 7.x device who are the ones constantly bringing up what Microsoft did to Windows Phone 7.x device owners? I *was* a Windows Phone 7.x owner, and I'm quite glad that Microsoft focused on the future at that point. It definitely helped that I was smart enough not to buy my Windows Phone 7.x device on contract. But the steady increase in Windows Phone market share since that point makes it clear that Microsoft made the right choice.
      • smart enough

        Now, imagine some were not as lucky as you and we're tricked by Microsoft and Nokia to buy that obsolete platform. Would these same people want to be abused again?
        • I dont know - you seem to like being abused

          you come here with your typical ABMer attitute, spin mode on, only to be ignored, or ridiculed.

          You tell us.

          William Farrel
        • Tricked?

          You are the one that has been fooled. Apple will fall as the fruit it is.
          I love my Surface Pro 128 GB with 28" Touchscreen and Logictech wireless keyboard with built-in touchpad. I love my i7core, 16GB RAM, 1.5GB video, 256 SSD hard drive Desktop. I love my Nokia Luima 920 with Windows Phone 8! I like using Office and Lync 2013.
        • Windows phone 7.x still works fine...

          I just upgraded my HTC Surround because I dropped it and broke the screen... then jumped in a lake with it about 1 month later. I had all the apps I needed, and the OS was smooth as silk. Not sure what someone would be upset about. I bought the phone for what it was... not what it might be.