Nokia Booklet 3G: What it is? What it isn’t? And why Nokia made it

If you look at all the coverage Nokia Booklet 3G pre-announcement received yesterday, you get the impression that this is THE product announcement of the year.

Which looks pretty strange, if you consider what was announced – just another product – Wintel PC –  in a tiny (albeit fast growing) Netbook market.

So now, that we’ve had some time to think about it, let’s try to figure out what yesterday’s announcement of Nokia Booklet 3G means. What it is? What it isn’t? And why the heck Nokia even bothered to make one?

Nokia Booklet 3G

What is Nokia Booklet 3G?

This one is pretty easy. It’s a Netbook. A small, relatively cheap, limited functionality portable computer running on Intel Atom CPU and Windows OS.

Officially known specs for Nokia Netbook 3G include: Atom CPU, Windows OS, 3G/HSPA, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth radios, A-GPS, HD ready 10.1” display, SD-card reader, HDMI port, 12hrs battery life, dimensions of 185×264×19.99 mm, weight: 1.125 kg.

Additional, unofficial,  Nokia Booklet 3G specs, courtesy Eldar Murtazin, are – fanless Intel Atom Chipset (Z530 running at 1.6 Ghz), 120 GB HDD, 1 x HDMI port (for HD video out), 1 x integarted SD card reader, 3 x USB ports, 1 x audio port. Possible price: EUR 399 or more.

If you look just at the hardware side, probably  except for the A-GPS, Nokia’s Booklet 3G is exactly the same as any other run of the mill Netbook made by Asus, Del, Acer or anyone else.

Well, one could argue, that some specs like HD ready thing, HDMI, 12 hrs battery life, are better then netbooks out there have now. Sure. But by the time Nokia Booklet ships, sometime in Q4 2009, other PC vendors will surely catch  up specwise.

The only difference between Nokia Booklet 3G and any other next generation netbook, is it’s tight integration with Nokia software & services. It means that Nokia Booklet 3G will come with a preinstalled Nokia Ovi Suite 2.0 (I hope non-beta version is ready by then), Ovi maps and probably some other Ovi gadgets on your desktop, plus easy access to all Nokia OVI online services. And, probably, easy syncing and connectivity with your Nokia phone, out of the box.

But nothing of that will be exclusive to your Nokia Booklet 3G. With a bit of tinkering and a few downloads, you’ll be able to replicate (almost) the same functionality with any other new high end netbook out there.

What Nokia Booklet 3G isn’t?

First,  Nokia Booklet 3G isn’t the device to bring true internet and PC use experience to the masses in developing world/emerging markets. Or a truly mass market device in the rest of the world.

You simply do not make a device from carved aluminum chassis and HD bells&whistles for that market. You go for barely adequate specs and materials to make the thing as cheap as you can. And why would Nokia do that, also creating competition to it’s main product lines? They are pretty happy getting people over there connected via their cheap S30/S40 and soon S60 handsets, without any need of PC.

Nokia Booklet 3G is not the first step in some secret, cunning and ultra smart plan by Nokia to conquer the laptop PC market. Actually, it is not even an attempt to become a player in laptop PC  market. Most likely, it’s not even a serious attempt to become a major player in a Netbook market.

And, it seems, that  Nokia Booklet 3G is not even made or designed by Nokia.

The rumors way back in February, reporting that Nokia is planning to launch Netbook this fall,  insisted that Nokia was talking about Joint Design Manufacturing approach with  Taiwanese OEMs. Now that we know, that the first part of the rumor is true, I’m pretty sure the second part is too. Especially, seeing just how little in the new device comes from Nokia side, and how much of it is just plain simple netbook.

Yes, Nokia had some involvement in Booklet design.  It is a Joint Design Manufacturing after all. But that involvement was pretty limited. Probably to the inclusion of A-GPS, HSPA connectivity and integration of Nokia software and services. Maybe some energy saving tricks, to get to that promised 12 hrs battery life, though I really doubt that.

What this amounted as a resource investment from Nokia, were a few, maybe several tens, of Nokia engineers working with Compal,  Quanta, Foxconn or some other OEM they contracted to produce the thing, making sure everything  runs smoothly.

So, though I’m curious to see all the details about Booklet 3G made public, come Nokia World next week, I do not expect any big surprises. There won’t be any new technology breakthroughs, next generation chips others don’t have, or mind blowing software/user interface innovations on Booklet 3G.

Nokia simply does not have enough clout with the PC chip makers to get them to make something exclusive, while keeping the likes of Acer, Dell and Asus locked out. And it also does not have enough resources, will and belief in the device category, to create the next generation user experience on yet another platform.

So why did Nokia make Booklet 3G?

Well, actually, more correct question will be – Why Not?

Back in April we told you about Nokia’s plans in small mobile computer market. Now, that we’ve seen the actual products, it’s seems that those plans are evolving more or less along the lines we described.

According to Nokia VP Anssi Vanjoki:

[netbooks] today have a pretty strong demand due to their compact nature and possibility to use some standard applications, e.g. during travel. So due to these market opportunities we are looking into this segment as a tactical possibility. It is possible that we will have some devices of this type in the future.

But I want to emphasize that this direction is not a strategic one for us. We are aiming at a different type of mobile devices.

Translated from corporate speak, netbooks are nothing more then a sideshow for Nokia. A way to make a quick buck, while the market demand is hot. And, probably, to buy some insurance, in case there is something bigger then they now see in this category of devices.

And why not? They do not need to invest a lot of money and resources to produce the thing. Most of the development work has been done by OEMs and Microsoft. Just slap on your own software&service suite, add some gimmicks so your marketing department has a way to fool the average Joe that it’s something special differentiate a product, push it out there and see what happens.

Especially, when potentially biggest netbook distribution channel is ready, eager and waiting. I am talking about Mobile Operators, which are just starting to promote subsidized netbooks to their clients.

This latent operator demand might be the biggest reason Nokia even considered producing it’s own Netbook at all. This is the only competitive advantage Nokia has over the likes of Dell, Acer, Asustek and other players in the PC market. But it’s a real one nonetheless. While PC makers are only starting to find a ways to get their subsidized netbooks on mobile networks, Nokia has been successfully nurturing  these relationships for years (I’m not talking about U.S. market here).

Heck, Nokia reps are probably talking to the network operator reps about Booklet 3G right now. When it is finally ready to ship, Booklet 3G might launch worldwide, with the promotion campaigns from tens of mobile carriers, at an attractive, subsidized price.

And what if the market does not take off, or the device itself flops?

So what? Nokia writes-off a few million $$ in losses, forgets the darn thing, and merrily continues to conquer the world with it’s Maemo based “true mobile computers” like N900 and hundreds of millions of  cheap Symbian smartphones.

And don’t forget the perverse pleasure at least someone at Nokia should feel for the opportunity of biting all those pesky PC makers where it might hurt. After all, they’ve been giving  Nokia so much grief these last few years, with their inroads into a smartphone market Nokia considers it’s own, should feel sweet to able return  the favor…

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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