Nokia’s back in the devices business, and it has a former partner in its crosshairs.
The Finland company on Tuesday unveiled its N1 tablet, its first device since Microsoft acquired its handset and devices division in April. The long partnership between Nokia and Microsoft has clearly come to an end — Microsoft is no longer branding its phones with the Nokia name, and it laid off 12,500 of the 32,000 Nokia employees it absorbed — and the N1 flaunts Nokia’s new direction.
Foremost, Nokia is now a Microsoft competitor. The Redmond company is betting on its Surface tablets to physically embody the company’s mobility and productivity ethos. Nokia is hoping to eventually cut into Surface prevalence with a product that is cheap — it will sell for about $250 — and sleek.
The N1 is also a clear departure from Microsoft’s software influence. The tablet runs on Android 5.0 Lollipop, a safe bet considering 62 percent of tablets purchased in 2013 had the Google operating system, according to technology research firm Gartner. Microsoft’s 2 percent share of 2013 tablet sales would scare away many entrants, but Nokia’s choice to use Android has more gravity given its history with Microsoft.
At first glimpse, the N1 is a competitive piece of hardware. It is thinner than an iPad mini, has two gigabytes of RAM and 32 gigabytes of storage, and has a matte one-piece aluminum body. It also features Nokia’s Z Launcher, a feature that lets the user search for apps by writing the first letter of the app’s name on the homescreen.
“We are pleased to bring the Nokia brand back into consumers’ hands with the N1 Android tablet, and to help make sophisticated technologies simple,” Sebastian Nyström, who leads Nokia’s products division, said in a statement. “This is a great product for Nokia fans and everyone who has not found the right Android tablet yet.”
Launching a new product is a feat in itself for Nokia. Many assumed the Microsoft acquisition gutted the company previously known for its ubiquitous handsets, but Nokia retained its patents and licensing in the deal. Nokia agreed not to make phones until 2016, but it was not barred from producing other devices.
“This is an audacious move by Nokia,” Ian Fogg, a mobile analyst for IHS Technology, said in a report. “There will be those at Microsoft who will be startled by the speed and audacity of Nokia’s strategy. They shouldn’t be: Nokia has a long history of bold strategic moves.”
Chinese electronics contractor Foxconn will license the product and brand from Nokia, eliminating Nokia’s need to manufacture or market the product itself.
Nokia’s entrance into the tablet market comes at an uncertain time. Gartner predicts tablet sales will grow 11 percent in 2014 compared to a 55 percent rise in 2013. And Android’s popularity could make it difficult for consumers to distinguish the N1 from other offerings.