Nokia aiming to take anonymity out of netbooks

OvumNokia’s foray into the burgeoning market for netbooks marks the handset giant’s first engagement with the Wintel pairing that dominates the PC space. Will Nokia’s brand provide the impetus it needs to stand out in a market that has rapidly commoditized, or is the awkwardly-named Nokia Booklet 3G a careful toe in the water ahead of more ambitious plans in the category?
This would look like a bad move were it not for Nokia’s undeniable brand power in the mobile telecoms industry. As it is, Nokia could easily establish itself as a significant player in the netbook space, particularly those that feature an embedded mobile broadband modem.
Nokia’s strategy appears to be one of adding what new features it can to the Booklet and then using its channel influence in the mobile telecoms value chain to achieve significant volumes and keep down the final cost to end users.
Certainly the Booklet does offer some features that are as yet uncommon in the netbook space, most notably A-GPS, embedded HSPA, HDMI video output and an aluminium chassis. But without subsidy and high volume shipments these could work against it in a market that is already highly price-sensitive.
Netbook OEMs are already finding it difficult to differentiate and remain competitive. The typical netbook combination of Intel’s low-powered Atom chip and a cut-back Windows XP, along with very thin margins (although Microsoft has been attempting to claw some of this back through more favorable licensing terms for itself for Windows XP), means that adding any extra features is potentially a very risky move.
Nokia’s proven ability to work on fairly thin margins with much of its handset range will be tested to the maximum here. However, with Ovum forecasting mobile broadband-enabled laptop users (of all kinds) to reach 258.1 million by 2014 (see Mobile broadband users & revenues forecast pack: 2008–14) there is plenty of room for expansion and dominant new players to emerge.
Whether Nokia will bring anything more substantial to the netbook party remains to be seen. The company’s press release for the Booklet described the device as “another important ingredient in the move towards becoming a mobile solutions company”.
While Ovi clearly forms part of this “solution” – albeit hardly an exclusive one as Ovi services can be added to and accessed from other netbooks just as easily – there may yet be other aspects to this. For instance, a promotional video for the Booklet describes it as not requiring a VPN, so there may be an enterprise story here too.
There is also the possibility of bringing a new software platform to the category (and allied opportunities such as MIDs) via its R&D collaboration with Intel to converge development of the Linux-based Maemo and Moblin platforms (see Nokia and Intel agree mobile device collaboration).
In this light, seeding the market with Windows-based devices may only be the beginning and a good way to build marketing momentum before the main event.