Is Nokia bracing for a comeback with the Nokia N1 tablet?
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Is Nokia bracing for a comeback with the Nokia N1 tablet?

It dominated the world to the point that almost everyone’s first phone was a Nokia; it then staged the greatest debacle as a brand. But don’t write off Nokia just yet, the once-popular phone brand is bracing for a comeback, writes Rajiv Makhni.

brunch Updated: Nov 29, 2014 17:14 IST
Rajiv Makhni
Rajiv Makhni
Hindustan Times

It dominated the world to the point that almost everyone’s first phone was a Nokia; it then staged the greatest and most spectacular debacle as a brand and a company to the point that almost no one owns a Nokia phone today!

Microsoft bought Nokia as well as its Lumia, Asha and X series brands for a sensationally undervalued deal. After having paid all that money to buy the brands, Microsoft killed off the iconic Asha and bludgeoned the X series to death right away!

Nokia sold off its name and its brands for Microsoft to use for a certain period of time; Microsoft dropped the Nokia name even though it could have used it for a long time and rechristened this division as Microsoft Lumia!

Nokia, the brand, is effectively dead; Nokia announces its brand new tablet and calls it the Nokia N1!

Confused? Well, join the queue! For a company that has been known to be the most rock-steady in approach and manner, Nokia’s last few months have been the most turbulent, baffling and perplexing of all companies in the tech field.

Good value for money: The Nokia N1 is specced heavy and high and still the product is priced low and easy at $25 redemption strategy.

Let’s see if we can deep-dive in here and try and get some perspective.

A study in how not to do things

Nokia’s move to the Windows OS, its dizzying loss of market share in smartphones, its steady deterioration to becoming a fringe player in the mobile business, its shocking sale to Microsoft – all of these are subject to a great amount of speculative analysis and will go down in the annals of history as how to run an iconic brand to the ground.

But it is what happened after the sale to Microsoft that is by far the most perplexing.

The fine print
The brand sale deal with Microsoft is a little ambiguous, but in essence it boils down to something like this. For smartphones and for the Lumia series, Microsoft can use the Nokia brand for marketing till December 31, 2015 and for feature phones they can use the Nokia brand for 10 years.

Thus dropping Nokia off the Lumia series this quickly did come as a bit of a surprise, but what has been even more amazing has been the swiftness shown on the part of Nokia to announce their own tablet (surprisingly not covered under the branding deal for mobile devices).

Thus it seems that the speculation that has been boiling that Nokia may stage a huge comeback with smartphones in early 2016, may well be correct too.

The churning of the new Nokia mind
That might not be easy as almost everyone that mattered in Nokia’s smartphone division has moved to Microsoft. But in a world of contract manufacturing (even Apple’s iPhone and other products are more or less contract manufactured in China), this new Nokia may well be leaner, meaner and smarter.

Let us take a quick look at the Nokia N1 tablet (contract manufactured by Foxconn in China) to see what’s ticking inside Nokia’s brain right now.

The New Nokia N1
Nokia started the tease with a hashtag #thinkingahead and then revealed the tablet with a surprisingly candid comment: “The world doesn’t need yet another tablet, but the N1 is for anyone who hasn’t found the right Android tablet yet”.

The N1 is remarkably like the iPad Mini but even thinner at 6.9mm, all-aluminum single frame, 2,048x1,536 7.9 inch display screen, 8-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel on the front, 2GB RAM, 32GB of storage, a USB C Type port which basically is a reversible USB slot, a 2.4GHz Intel Atom 64 bit processor, runs the latest Lollipop edition of the Android OS with Nokia’s own Z1 launcher home screen that learns from your usage pattern and customises the look and feel.

It is specced heavy and high and the product is priced low and easy at $250. That would translate to about Rs 15,000 or so in India. That’s a fantastic product at a fantastic price and does beat the competition fair and square.

If you build it, they will come

But this is a tablet. A low number game now in a very cut -throat business. Yet, the swift move by Nokia to get this to the market fast shows that Nokia is all set to make a counter move and wants to make sure that its brand and product range is right there in front of consumers and isn’t forgotten in the next one year.

Could a Macbook Air-like Nokia laptop be around the corner too?

Nokia could even come out with a Macbook Air-like laptop with a 4G LTE built-in slot (it did have a really good one at one time called the Nokia Booklet 3G) and a few other products just to keep the brand momentum going.

And then, in early 2016, come out with a range of three smartphones that blow the whole mobile world to small bits. Imagine a phone with Nokia-level hardware and optics, its meticulous attention to design, the power of its still very recognisable brand, an ambitious new partnership with Android and a price point that makes all others look bad... really bad! That could be a true comeback.

At the launch of the N1, Nokia’s head of devices, Sebastian Nystrom, in an emotional moment commented “They said Nokia is dead, I say, they couldn’t be more wrong.” He just may well be right. That could be the real Nokia that stands up to be counted.

Rajiv Makhni is managing editor, Technology, NDTV, and the anchor of Gadget Guru, Cell Guru and Newsnet 3

From HT Brunch, November 30
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First Published: Nov 28, 2014 20:42 IST