Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is jumping back into the consumer device market by licensing its brand to Foxconn to create a tablet called the N1 running Google's (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android platform.
The device, which will be manufactured, distributed and sold by Foxconn, is Nokia's first step back into the devices market after it sold its handset business to Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) in April. The 7.9-inch tablet, which runs Android 5.0 Lollipop and sports a 2.4 GHz Intel Atom quad-core processor, will cost $249 plus tax. Nokia said N1 sales will start in China in the first quarter of 2015 and will expand later to other markets.
Nokia CEO Rajeevi Suri and other executives indicated last week that Nokia would look to license its brand for other consumer products. "We wanted to start with something small that caters to our fans," Sebastian Nyström, head of products at Nokia Technologies, the company's licensing unit, told Bloomberg. "There is room for better products out there." Nyström unveiled the N1 at the Slush technology conference in Helsinki.
The N1 seems aimed to compete with Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad mini tablet but at a cheaper price. The iPad mini 3 runs $399 for the cheapest version and even the older iPad mini 2 is more expensive at $299. The N1 sports an aluminum unibody design, 2 GB of RAM, 32 GB of storage, as well as an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera.
The N1 also has what Nokia is calling the "Z Launcher," which it said lets users scribble a letter or two to find their content more quickly. Over time, Nokia said, the Z Launcher learns what applications are in use, and predicts and highlights the applications consumers are expected to want based on time of day and location.
Importantly, Nokia said that in addition to the Nokia brand, it is licensing the industrial design, Z Launcher software layer and intellectual property "on a running royalty basis" to Foxconn.
Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, told the Financial Times the N1 tablet would be as good as Apple's iPad mini but will cost less. He said the N1 is just the first consumer product that would be designed and labeled with the Nokia brand.
"It's the first of many coming--more SKUs [stock-keeping units], more sizes, more features," he said. "We will go beyond tablets for sure."
When Microsoft officially acquired Nokia's devices business this spring, Microsoft was only licensed to use the Nokia name on Lumia Windows Phone smartphones for 18 months after the deal's closing. Microsoft can use the Nokia brand name on feature phones for 10 years. Microsoft has dropped the Nokia name from its Lumia smartphones.
Nokia could potentially get back into smartphones via brand licensing. "With the agreement with Microsoft, as is customary, we have this transition and we can't do smartphones ... We have a time limit. In 2016 we can again enter that business," Nyström told Reuters. "It would be crazy not to look at that opportunity. Of course we will look at it."
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