Monday, March 18, 2013

Imagining the Nokia tablet Revamped

Credit for image goes to Jonas Daehnert

The original article grew to near mammoth proportions in length in terms of usual Internet standards. Here's my revamped take on the subject, but the original blog post can be read beneath this one for those interested in the details behind my ideas.

Nokia faces notable challenges in introducing a tablet of its own. One of these challenges is Samsung's and Apple's dominance in the tablet market. In this relatively flooded market of tablets, Nokia has to design a tablet that stands out in form factor and design, hardware and software, but also in use purpose as well, I argue. Nokia has to innovate and bring a new spin to how we use tablets.

The operating system

Nokia's only real option is Windows RT. As much as I'd like to fantasize about a MeeGo powered tablet, if Nokia wouldn't perfect their awesome MeeGo-Harmattan platform for their iconic N9, they haven't perfected it for tablet use either. Full Windows 8 poses technical problems that could resemble the disaster Nokia had with the Booklet 3G. To cut the Booklet 3G story short, let's just say that at the end of the day, Nokia has only shown leadership and expertise in designing, manufacturing and selling mobile devices, not computers.

Windows RT also faces its own problems, that Microsoft hasn't been able to fix, barely even address. People don't really know what WindowsRT is for, and so people haven't but a choice to think its full Windows on a tablet. This couldn't be farther from the truth. It's a completely new tablet platform that only borrows branding and design elements from its half-sister Windows 8. The misconception around what WinRT is has spawned some gloomy scenarios for the platform at the fingers of bloggers, but the truth remains that nobody is quite sure what to think about WinRT tablets.

Tapping into Nokia’s strengths 

Nokia's strengths at the moment lie in design, quality hardware and innovative technologies and premium exclusive software on their Lumia phones.  In addition to this Nokia tends to bring unsurpassed price to quality ratio to their devices.

In practice this means state of the art imaging technology, world class location services and a huge variety of apps wrapped in gorgeous but affordable packages. These are all strengths that must make it onto Nokia's tablet. This isn't enough, though if you ask me. Following the mentioned recipe in a tablet will only result in a Lumia-looking tablet. For the user it feels like a huge Lumia phone, just possibly without telephony functions.

I'm certain Nokia has had some elaborate plans for the form factor, such as wrap-cover keyboards etc., but with the launch of Surface I think a slew of those ideas might've gone to the bin. This is the most fuzzy part of the Nokia tablet for me though I must admit, as for the life of me I can't imagine what Nokia will come up with on this front. I bet a lot of people over at Nokia sighed a "geez thanks" at the Surface launch event!

The answer lies in... specialization! 

So here's my horse I'm going to be betting on: an array of tablets designed at doing only a few things (not everything), but doing them well.

One example of this might be a music centric tablet, that has great built-in speakers and connectivity to media devices you might already have in your house. It would have a premium and a little-sister version with a more compact form factor and cheaper price.

The second type of tablet could be one aimed at business use. It would come with an accessory of an attachable keyboard and perhaps a wireless option too. It would have a high-quality webcam for conference Skype calls in mind, and probably a kick-stand type solution to help positioning for its use case scenario.

All tablets would naturally benefit from Nokia's deep and wide ecosystem of accessories.


These two examples aren't imperatives to Nokia or ready product concepts, but I hope they present the core of my idea. Having the tablets concentrate on a clear function will make it easier to market, and will make it harder to get misconceptions about. Marketing can concentrate on touting what the device does well, instead of thinking of a way to talk about what it can't do. Specialisation is an idea that hasn't been ventured into yet, at least not fully so this could be a way to enter the market with something fresh.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Imagining the Nokia tablet

Mobile World Congress 2013 has come and gone, and we didn't see a Nokia tablet. I set upon imagining the Nokia tablet and what it would in reality be, and I got the feeling that seeing a tablet from Nokia is still a long way away. In this post I evaluate some of the difficulties Nokia faces in releasing a tablet and speculate features, forms and technological wow-factors it could come to encompass. At the same time, I ponder how Microsoft's Surface effort, as well as mismanaging Windows RT and Windows 8 might've messed with Nokia's tablet plans.

My impressions of the current situation on the market
Having a tablet to compete in the ever converging mobile space seems to be a must in the Western world. Not every consumer has a tablet, but just about everyone is starting to have a smart phone. At the same time people are moving away from traditional (desktop) PCs and ultra portables are becoming more popular. I understand this is the emerging market often titled as the "post PC market" that manufacturers are racing to capture.

At the moment the tablet market is dominated by two players: Apple with their iPads and Samsung with their army of Android powered Galaxy Tab devices. A lot of other manufacturers offer tablets, but only these two manufacturers have managed to sell tablets in the (tens of) millions. Apple's and Samsung's success can be explained by, well, having a tablet in the first place to sell, but also being first ones to offer a truly consumer-friendly tablet experience. Apple's "one-size-fits-all" approach with just one model a year is met by Samsung's "one-of-these-sizes-must-fit-someone" approach, which in practice means a plethora of Galaxy Tab branded tablets in all thicknesses and screen sizes and in just about all price points.

What then can be Nokia's angle with which to conquer the tablet market?

Operating systems
The operating system aboard Nokia's tablet will most certainly be one designed by Microsoft. As much as I'd love to fantasise MeeGo-Harmattan based tablets, in all honesty I think Microsoft's platform is the only viable platform (that is in existence and ready) that can handle tablet-device duties and is available to Nokia.

Rumours also have it that Nokia will be launching a Windows RT powered tablet. Some hoped it would happen at MWC13. Then we learned that Nokia had only done some prototypes that mostly tried out different form-factors for tablets, and that nothing had survived the process to become a final consumer product. Yet. I feel that if there's some debate over Nokia tablet's operating system, it revolves more around the question will it be Windows RT, or full on Windows 8.

Windows RT is a "simplified" Windows 8, with support only for apps that make use of the 'Modern UI'. Basically  it looks like the Windows 8 app launcher that you can see when you press the Windows button in Win8. Biggest caveats in WinRT by public opinion seem to be: no desktop, heavy reliance on developers making 'Modern UI' versions of apps, and apps can only be downloaded from the Microsoft store. Right now the Microsoft store is pretty empty. I think Windows RT's real problems don't rely in the mentioned limitations, but that Microsoft's marketing hasn't been able to differentiate it significantly enough from Windows 8. People seem to regard it as a version of Windows 8, that's found on tablets. That's why they are dissapointed, when you don't have the full-power of the Windows desktop product, in a product that uses the Windows branding. Proof of the existence of this "Windows illusion" is in the fact that nobody for a second stops to criticize that Google based tablets only allow downloading from the Google Play store and iPads can only download apps from the AppStore. To me this is proof that people quite haven't wrapped their head around what Windows RT really is. A lot of this misconception is Microsoft's own fault though as they made some empty promises and gave out some misleading information relating to the operating system's capabilities.

Microsoft has failed in marketing it as a "streamlined tablet OS utilising functions from the Windows products" and instead its viewed as a "Windows 8, compromise edition. Half the features and half the functions you expect. And no legacy apps!". These misconceptions have made Windows RT an operating system with a frankly negative reputation, making the job for Nokia ever harder. Samsung is cancelling Windows RT tablet-PC hybrids in the US and countries of the EU because of low demand. It's becoming ever harder to see how Nokia's WinRT effort could turn this around.

I see some technical reasons why Nokia would be interested in using Microsoft's Windows RT on their tablet instead of the full-fledged Windows 8, though. Unlike Samsung and Apple, Nokia has little to no experience in the PC market. Nokia's Booklet 3G was a lick away from a disaster, so I bet Nokia is much more careful to not get burned again in a market unfamiliar to them. Should Nokia chose Windows RT, it would place Nokia's products closer to the expertise Nokia already has. Windows RT devices run on hardware very similar to those on smart phones and so Nokia could utilise existing partnerships. After-sales support is a lot more manageable when you can utilise your current support (or Nokia Care) chain you already have in place. In the times of the Booklet 3G, smart phones and computers were worlds apart in design and manufacturing costs. Marketing a tablet these days is similar to marketing a smart phone, especially if you can make the connection between the operating systems running on both devices. Booklet 3G's Windows XP was worlds apart from Symbian, and there was no real coherence between Nokia's smartphone products and the Booklet. Running full-fledged Windows 8 would again create a gap between Nokia's handset products and its tablet products. Naturally, also hardware requirements would be very different.

Physical form factor and hardware
Right now Nokia is having a great run in their physical designs of their products. Design award after design award has been won ever since the N9/Lumia 800 form factor and now Nokia's influence on design can (in my opinion) be seen also in other manufacturers' products. Suddenly we're getting devices and accessories with vibrant and brave colours, and not just those black, steel-gray or white devices. I trust no other company as much as I do Nokia in coming up with a truly unique tablet design. Just how they will do this is still unlcear for me, but I think the Nokia tablet that will end up being released won't be a ~10inch slab of glass and plastic.

Nokia could simply make a tablet that looks like a Lumia phone. I just don't think that this would be enough for the current Nokia. Microsoft's Surface tablet addressed this issue of generic tablet design by introducing a kick-stand to the device, colourful removable keyboards/protective shields and a MicroSD slot. If Nokia had been first to design a tablet with these functions, I feel Nokia could've A) brought some extra Nokia-wow to these features and B) marketed it much better. I also believe that Nokia would've looked more into actual user cases for the device, making its physical feel a lot better than the Surface. (By no means is the Surface a failed effort, however in my opinion.) Now that Microsoft has cleared the table with the Surface, I guess a lot of Nokia's ideas might've been sent back to zero. There's something about the form factors of the Surface tablet so Nokian that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if it turned out that Nokia designed the Surface. So I find myself thinking, what else is very Nokian right now in Nokia's products?

Nokia's state-of-the-art imaging technology is what wowed us in the Lumia 920 and Lumia 720, and design is what wowed us with the Lumia 620, Lumia 520 and for me personally the Lumia 820. Other Nokia's strengths at this time are their location based services and their wide array of Lumia-exclusive apps. These features don't seem to me as selling-points for a tablet, though. I feel that for the tablet, Nokia must come up with a new technology or some new innovation, or else Nokia's tablet will just seem like a big Lumia phone.

One possibly less adventured development path would be the road of specialisation. By specialisation I mean that Nokia would design their tablet to do fewer things, but to do them well. A music-oriented device would be particularly interesting to me, and it would continue nicely Nokia's concentration with music. Nokia already has a Windows 8 version of their app Nokia Music, which could be the center-piece in their music-oriented tablet. The tablet would naturally have NFC to connect to the array of NFC enabled music accessories from Nokia (and JBL). The speakers on the device it self could also be top-class, but by this I don't mean big. Current ultrabooks such as my Zenbook has tiny speakers designed by Bang & Olufsen, that sound a lot better than traditional laptop speakers. The device would pack a lot of internal memory and be upgradeable with MicroSD cards for people to load with MP3s and video files. Bluetooth 3.0 or a similar technology would ensure that file transfer could happen also without wires. Spotify would be a good launch partner and would erase the bad memory of Spotify's lackluster support for Windows Phone. I believe a Spotify app is in the works for Windows RT. Physical design of this device could have "play/pause, next and previous track" buttons. Physically it could be a smaller 7" tablet, with the adolescent audience and women in mind. (Many probably don't know this, but even the N9 was originally designed to please the female audience. Turns out everyone loved it, so this could be a killer recipe.)

Another specialised tablet could be one designed for corporate use. It would have a webcam of great quality, and a great set of microphones for Skype calling. It would come with a deattachable keyboard of course, and Windows already has support for just about all Bluetooth keyboards out there. At launch Nokia would introduce a few of its own keyboards of course. The tablet would have wireless charging technology to make keeping all of your devices, including the tablet itself, running on full battery. The deattachable keyboard would bring extra battery life to the product and serve as a wireless charger. Microsoft's cloud-based Office solutions would play a key role here and be heavily present in the marketing. This tablet would also be every bloggers dream bit of kit to take to live-blogging events. Nokia would introduce at launch a few new auxiliary power solutions tailored for this device, but usable by other Nokia products as well.

Specialisation like this could be a way around the problem with Windows RT at the moment. Marketing Nokia's device as a strictly specialised product could take away from the illusion that Windows RT should be able to do everything Windows 8 does. It wouldn't even attempt to compete with "full" Windows 8 devices. Specialisation could also be the way to bring added value to people that have tablets now. I feel that Android and iOS based tablets offer only "more of the same" you've come to expect on those platforms in smartphones. Sure some apps make use of the larger screen, but in all honesty you're doing the same things on a tablet you're doing on your phone. This has been reason enough for me to conclude that I don't need a tablet. Specialisation could be a fresh new way out of the stagnated slate-inflated tablet market. It would also give a nice excuse to sell multiple devices of different purpoes to the same customer.

Nokia has some real strengths right now, making them the most viable Windows Phone manufacturer today. The Nokia tablet should have features we already enjoy about Nokia's current product portfolio: it should contain a wide array of Nokia apps we enjoy on the Lumias, it should make use of Nokia's location services and perhaps their imaging technology too. The tablet is a product that requires something new from Nokia however. It would need a new technology or a new innovation, but it should bring something new to the table in terms of how we use tablets. This is by no means a small feat and even with my idea of specialisation I don't think the picture is quite ready for a viable Nokia tablet. It's not only up to Nokia either. Microsoft have to do some extensive face saving with the reputation and perceptions around Windows RT.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Why (not) Windows Phone 8?

Last article on this site was about my reasons for sticking with Windows Phone 7 over everything else out there. In this article I try to explain why, contrary to my enthusiast nature, I'm thinking of not changing from Windows Phone 7 even to Windows Phone 8.

Towards the end of October '12, we finally saw the wraps come off some notable Windows Phone 8 devices. Samsung opened the game with ATIV S, shortly followed by Nokia and HTC. All of these devices offered a lot of specs to drool over, but I can't help to think that for me the operating system it self is the least exciting thing about these new devices.

Let's compare the situation to the Android and even iOS world. Every time there's new devices announced, they also make a very big deal over how the OS has evolved in its latest iteration. Android manufacturers and Apple upgrade their operating system, but offer higher specs in the devices as well. Sure, this isn't a guaranteed way to make money (such as HTC's beautiful and powerful One-lineup proved), but it becomes pretty clear to consumers as to why make the jump.

The most awaited feature in Windows Phone 8 for me is ... drumroll .... the new theme colours. Yeah, not Kid's corner, not that Room thing, not the resizeable live tiles, not the support for new technical feature a-z, but the theme or accent colours. Sure, Microsoft is very lucky that they've enrolled a device manufacturer that has been willing to pour its heart out in innovation into their WP8 device, increasing drooling potential significantly. Still I feel this isn't a merit of the platform itself at all, and I pack the 808 for when I need a mobile camera. Other features I love about WP7 remain unchanged in WP8, so why do the upgrade?

Yeah, so?

So, sales and especially pre-order sales have been great for some Windows Phone 8 devices, so I must be in the minority who think that WP8 isn't anything too great. Right? Well, I think there's more to this here. Let's explore a little farther.

Windows Phone 7.8, the update to all current Windows Phone 7.5 devices. Rumours spread around the web a couple of weeks ago, that on the 28th of November, WP7.8 would be released to the masses. Wednesday rolled around, and all we got was a Microsoft statement that they've pushed it back to Q1 2013. Whenever a date pops into the rumour-o-sphere that is Twitter, we can usually be pretty sure that the software is ready or just about ready to be released.

There can then be only market-strategic reasons for not releasing the software. I think that the reason this time is, that they don't want to risk sales of Windows Phone 8, and will go far and wide to take precautions. If I, for example, would have been given WP7.8 on the 28th, I don't think I would even be writing this blog post. Windows Phone 8 would feel so irrelevant to me. I'd have all I wanted:  my precious theme colours. There was a lot of commotion when WP7.8 was announced, as people were expecting a free update to WP8. Since that day I've felt though, that because WP7.8 and WP8 will look the same, the real differences between the operating systems will soon be forgotten. I think Microsoft is aware of this as well, and this is the reason they're pushing it back.

High demand and interest for WP8 comes from people, who aren't on the platform yet, but refused to do the jump 6-8 months back when it was "killed" WP7 months after it got popular and got its first flagship devices.

Conclusions: my suggestion to Microsoft

Now that you've bought yourself some time with WP7.8, make it mandatory that in the installation phase you will be greeted with a checklist comparing WP7.8 to WP8. I think we satisfied, current customers should be reminded why we're only applying the "WP8 skin" to our system. You could remind us of the strict hardware restrictions that have made "real" new features a near impossibility on older devices. Trash talking your own product like this probably isn't the way to go, but maybe you get my drift.

Sales for Windows Phone 7 devices were rubbish, but there's still a couple of million of us out here, so make the effort of selling Windows Phone 8 to us.