Nokia Hits the Comeback Trail With N1 Tablet

Although Microsoft has the right to use the "Nokia" name in branding its mobile offerings, there's nothing in the companies' agreement to prevent Nokia from using it on its own line of tablets -- and that, in fact, is what it has decided to do. Microsoft appears to be moving away from the "Nokia" brand, in any case. It may be that in years to come a new batch of Nokia phones will be in direct competition with the Lumia line.

Nokia on Tuesday announced the N1 Android tablet, the first offering under its own brand since Microsoft’s acquisition of its mobile phone business.

The N1, slated for Q1 2015 release in China, will be made by Foxconn, which also will handle sales and distribution.

Microsoft also offers a tablet under the “Nokia” brand — the Nokia Lumia 2520 — which raises the question of whether perhaps this might cause confusion among consumers.

“There are two Nokias now, the cellphone unit, which Microsoft bought, and the networking unit, which this [N1] announcement seems to have come out of,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Microsoft is migrating away from the Nokia name, having just brought out the Microsoft Lumia 535, the first Lumia associated with its own name, and “my understanding is that [it] won’t be releasing any more Nokia-branded tablets,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times.

The Lumia 2520 may not have sold well in China, where prices are “far lower” on the average, Enderle pointed out, so “these are very different products at very different prices, and I wouldn’t expect to see the 2520 in the market any more when the N1 is launched.”

Under the N1’s Hood

The N1 has a one-piece aluminum body with a sandblasted soft finish. It has a 2.4 GHz 64-bit Intel Atom quad-core processor and runs Android Lollipop.

The 7.9-inch Gorilla Glass 3 display has an IPS panel with LED backlighting and 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution. It is fully laminated.

The N1 has an 8-MP rear-facing camera with autofocus and a 5-MP front-facing fixed-focus camera. It can record 1080p HD video.

It has a micro-USB 2.0 port with a Type C reversible connector, two 0.5 W stereo speakers, and a 6-axis combination gyroscope and accelerometer. It supports WiFi and Bluetooth.

The N1 also has the Nokia Z Launcher, a home screen that lets users scribble a letter with their finger to find what they want. This adapts to the user’s location and actions and appears to be self-learning.

Some media reports have likened the N1’s design to that of the iPad mini, which is “not surprising … since there are few available design parameters that consumers find acceptable, and the iPad mini has proven to be acceptable,” said Wally Swain, a senior vice president at 451 Research.

Nokia Walks the Line

Although Microsoft does offer the 2520 Lumia tablet under the Nokia brand, Nokia remains within the terms of the agreement between the two companies with the announcement of the N1.

Microsoft acquired Nokia’s phone business and rights to Nokia’s IP licenses with Qualcomm and other licenses, and it licensed Nokia’s patents as part of the deal. Tablets were not mentioned.

“Public statements were very clear about the agreement being limited to the phone portfolio,” Swain told the E-Commerce Times.

Saying It With Yuan

The N1 will be released in China at US$250 and Nokia will look at other markets later.

Foxconn will be responsible for the full business execution, from engineering and sales to customer care, including liabilities and warranty costs. It also will handle inbound IP, software licensing and contractual agreements with third parties, Nokia said.

“This network infrastructure-based company out of Finland has done a deal with Hon Hai Precision (aka Foxconn) so the phone will be designed by FoxConn to Nokia’s specs, and that makes perfect sense,” said Jeff Orr, a senior practice director at ABI Research.

“It’s focused for Lunar New Year release in China and will probably make its way back across Europe afterwards in areas where Nokia is strong, and that all makes sense,” Orr told the E-Commerce Times.

In the long run, Nokia’s move might spell trouble for Microsoft, 451 Research’s Swain suggested.

“What [Microsoft risks] with Foxconn distributing a Nokia tablet and Nokia talking about licensing the brand to a smartphone vendor in 2016, is that consumers, especially in emerging markets, will develop a brand relationship with Nokia,” Swain said, “and when they’re ready for a smartphone, they won’t be thinking about Lumia.”

Richard Adhikari

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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