A window on why Nokia doesn't have a tablet... yet

A window on why Nokia doesn't have a tablet... yet

Summary: Other struggling businesses venture into new areas, but Nokia has steadfastly refused to bring a tablet to market. Why?

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Nokia's financial and market challenges are well documented. But there's one major omission from Nokia's product line-up that doesn't seem to get much airtime: a tablet.

While Nokia was busy reorganising itself around its new operating system strategy — namely, to largely go it alone with Windows Phone as its primary mobile platform — its competitors in the smartphone world were busy cranking out tablets in a bid to dent Apple's dominance with the iPad.

Nokia tablet
Why hasn't Nokia made a tablet yet?

However, until the arrival of the low-cost but big-brand Nexus 7 and Amazon Kindle Fire, many hardware makers found their tablets just weren't being received in the way they hoped. HTC is a case in point: it isn't refreshing its current line-up of tablets, but continues to watch the market for a way in. Meanwhile, Apple has continued to sell millions of iPads every quarter.

There is an argument that Nokia needs to play catch-up in this space, if it wants to return to its former glory. But if it ever does decide to launch a tablet, then the amount it needs to make up is minimal.

"All the ones that tried, failed, and it's only now we're starting to see some better results in tablet adoption beyond the iPad, which remains the dominant player," Roberta Cozza, mobile and tablet analyst for Gartner, told me.

Which OS?

If Nokia had developed a tablet before, which OS could it have used? Windows Phone 7 clearly wouldn't have done the job. Android? Not likely, given Nokia's borderline inextricable links to Microsoft. And if it had chosen Android, how would the company have differentiated its tablet from the swathe of OEM-built products using the open-source OS?

"It would have been a distraction [for Nokia]," Cozza said. "It was too early for them; if anything it would have to be a Windows 8 device."

"They had bigger priorities. I don't think they have really been affected by this [lack of a tablet]," she added.

Nokia's key strengths right now (and boy does it need more) lie in its differentiated services, such as Maps and Navigation — without a doubt, two crowd-pleasers. With an Android tablet, it would have had to choose between these or having access to the Android Play store, as it would not to able to get Google certification for a device running other services. Neither of which would have done its [fictional] tablet any favours.

This OS quandary will change after the Windows 8 RT launch, though Nokia is most likely waiting to see how the market reacts to Microsoft's tablet-optimised OS before making a move. Nonetheless, I'd be surprised not to see a Nokia tablet in the future.

Too costly

And let's not forget, while Nokia has traditionally been a huge investor in R&D, it isn't exactly swimming in cash at the moment. So any tablet venture would have been a financial and engineering distraction from the task at hand: re-aligning its entire smartphone business around Microsoft's mobile platform.

"Nokia will do better to wait and see how Windows 8 and the eco-system is developing" — Roberta Cozza, Gartner

In its first three financial quarters of 2012, Nokia posted losses totalling around €2.6bn for its existing handset business. Add in its full-year 2011 results, when it lost just under €1.4bn, and it really couldn't afford a flop in the tablet market too.

Of course, the one thing that changes this picture is the long-awaited arrival of tablet-friendly Windows 8 — even Microsoft is pitching in, with its upcoming Surface RT tablet. This, the iPad and other high-end entries on the way would go head-to-head with whatever Nokia can come up with.

"We haven't seen much of a competitor really at the high-end," Cozza said. "Nokia will do better to wait and see how Windows 8 and the eco-system is developing. I'm sure it is in its plan but it would probably make more sense later."

Topics: Nokia, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

Ben Woods

About Ben Woods

With several years' experience covering everything in the world of telecoms and mobility, Ben's your man if it involves a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or any other piece of tech small enough to carry around with you.

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10 comments
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  • A window on why Nokia doesn't have a tablet... yet

    They knew tablets were just a buzzword and there is no money to be made on them. Yes they are the hype right now but that will fade and this fad will pass. Also they are waiting for Microsoft Windows 8 to be released with its built in touch screen which is ideal for tablets. I wouldn't get the hopes up for too many more tablets to enter the market because a shake down is coming and only those that fill the business need will survive.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • Apple sold 90 million iPads.

      Stop abusing the word fad.
      spinit
  • The low cost of tablets only work under certain condions

    1) Subsidize the low price of the hardware with sales of apps in an app store; this allows both MS and Apple to sell the tablet hardware at low costs.
    2) Create the hardware and only modify the OS with added value features and pre-installed exlusive apps. This is where Android / Kindle fit in.

    How could Nokia compete? It would take some combination of the 1) and 2) which they might be able to do, but it will be hard.
    rmark@...
    • Google and Amazon, perhaps. Apple, no

      Apple's actually selling a pricey tablet. Sure, they are half the price of their cheapest laptop. Then again, the iPad entry level of $499 is actually higher than the average selling price of a full PC in the USA. Yes, Apple is "only" making 25-30% profit margins on the iPad 3, before your first trip to the iTunes store. That's weak by Apple's usual 40%+ markups, but any other company in the business would be happy at about half of that. It's not a shock that Google can sell a more powerful tablet at 2/5th the price, at a small profit.

      There's a mistake in here somewhere over what a tablet ought to cost. You're basically starting at the price of a netbook and tossing things out, out replacing them with cheaper things. Out goes a $40-$60 Intel chipset, in goes a $15 ARM. Cut RAM by 1/2 and storage by 3/4, remove keyboard and ports. Cut the battery in half (except iPad 3), replace Windows with something free or nearly so (yeah, Windows RT tablets that aren't Surface will have a $75 or so handicap here).
      Hazydave
  • Nokia could make premium Windows RT tablets

    No RT tablet announced so far has a digitizer, so you can use only a stubby capacitive touchscreen stylus with them which limits what you can do with graphics apps and especially OneNote. Nokia uses a super sensitive touchscreen tech in Lumia 920 which allows using any simple pointy metal object as a stylus.

    If you built an RT tablet with that, right now it would be a major selling point and if you styled it like the 920, it would sell like hot cakes ...so of course Nokia won't do it, or if they do, it will be an AT$T exclusive. Somebody at Nokia wants the company to go bankrupt.
    Joe Acerbic
  • Pre-paid WP first, please.

    Nokia has no business trying to jump into the tablet race until they've gotten their smartphone cost structure down to where they can viably put $150-250 off-contract / pre-paid Windows Phone smartphones in the hands of consumers. This is a critical part of both the U.S. and non-U.S. markets that they are not addressing with WP. Their Asha lines need to be updated to few mid-range devices that squarely put them into this markets, so that they are not conceding it to Android. Again, forget about tablets and get into pre-paid BIG, Nokia!
    jjworleyeoe
  • rushing to market worked so well for RIM

    It may be that Nokia doesn't want to repeat the disaster that was the RIM playbook. Not only was the Playbook an epic fail as a product, it damaged the entire BlackBerry brand (which was already suffering).
    Instead of rushing to market, it is necessary to lay the groundwork that is needed to succeed. That means having a solid product, support from the telco's, and a strong ecosystem that provides content, products, and services customers want and revenue Nokia needs.
    krossbow
  • When will Google or Microsoft wake up to User Preference

    Users prefer devices that respect the man/machine interface. By a process of eliminating one hand at a time, they are bound to stumble upon the fact the people don't like being data entry clerks for lazy secretaries. Ever since the IBM punched card, computer systems have treated us part of their system. We're not the machine's servant! Given that Apple has shown the way to less obnoxious machines, the company to make a Chrome Book, PC Laptop or Mac that will edit text, spread sheets and presentations with forcing me to type will win a huge market share.
    jnffarrell
  • Uh Oh

    The tablet is rectangle and white and thin. They better watch out or Apple may sue them claiming they copied the iPad design.
    bobiroc
    • It was only a matter of time before the trolls arrived.

      Being that that was not the basis of the Apple trade dress suit, what is your point?
      .DeusExMachina.