Nokia is building a Windows 8 tablet. While plenty of other companies will likely follow suit, the Finnish company’s position is unique. In smartphones, Nokia is the only vendor that even has a chance of taking the fight to the iPhone using the Windows Phone platform. So it only follows that it’s also the only vendor to take the tablet fight in the same direction by adopting Windows 8. Most of the usual suspects for Windows tablets are also likely to be pushing Android alternatives, so Nokia may be the company funneling all its efforts into Windows 8.
Since we actually don’t know anything about the product, let’s imagine what it would take to build a winning Windows 8 ARM tablet.
As just a tablet, or a more traditional ARM notebook on steroids, I doubt this product would be very interesting. But as a transforming product, one that had a detachable keyboard like the Asus Transformer Prime, it would have some intrigue. You see, even though the ARM version of the product will not run Windows 7 programs, it will ship with an embedded version of the key Office applications rewritten for ARM. This means, unlike the x86 version, no changing interfaces and an experience much closer to the iOS and Android today, but with far better productivity built in. That means you could actually live on this product with a keyboard.
AMOLED or Mirasol transflective display
Samsung has already stated shipping its AMOLED display tablet in a 7.7-inch form factor, but that size is best for readers and entertainment. Apple has taken its Retina display to the iPad, and the only thing in market better is the AMOLED technology. Even next to the amazing Retina display, AMOLED should make the Retina display look dull because it has vastly deeper blacks, causing the images to really pop. The only thing that could be better than AMOLED would be transflective color displays like the Qualcomm Mirasol display. It uses ambient light to massively conserve battery life in natural light, and work outdoors nearly as well as e-paper. A smaller 7-inch transflective product could be a great reader as well as a productivity tool, giving the Kindle a run for its money.
More than 10 hours of battery life
One of the difficulties those of us using smartphones and tablets encounter — particularly Apple’s – is that you can’t have a spare battery. You can buy a number of battery extenders and mobile chargers, but the issue is that we often don’t remember to charge our “precious,” and when it dies we’re left feeling like Gollum after he lost the ring. Worse really, because we end up disconnected. That can be a big issue if you are calling for a ride or help, suddenly find you can’t respond to an email or instant message timely, or even worse, you’re just bored and your damn e-book won’t fire up.
I’m particularly fond of the Asus Transformer Prime’s approach of putting a second battery in the keyboard because you’re likely to have it with you, and that spare battery is a life saver. But less than 10 hours would be a problem, and some kind of a built-in way to boost the time you can power it would be a big plus.
4G option or bundled with a tethered 4G phone
3G just won’t cut it by the end of the year, and I’m an even bigger fan of embedded tethering. Only the BlackBerry PlayBook seemed to grasp this concept, but then RIM didn’t really sell it. Having multiple data plans is a waste since you can’t really browse on your smartphone while you are browsing on your tablet, so why not one plan that covers both devices? Set it up so the tablet automatically tethers with the phone when you buy them together. Better yet, have them able to talk to each other so you simply put both devices in tether mode, hit connect, and be permanently done. Tablets were meant to be constantly connected, but no one has truly done a great job of getting that done inexpensively.
Making another iPad clone would be better than building an ugly box, but the goal would be to build something substantially better. Something like the carbon-fiber-wrapped TAG Heuer phone could play well, and a theme tied to racing or technology might be interesting if the result was thin. But it needs to be something that folks would be proud to say isn’t an iPad. (Granted, Samsung did prove you could create a better-looking iPad with the Galaxy Tab, which is why I think it was so successful and why it pissed off Steve Jobs as much as it did, but that is just the bar.) Nokia should strive for something more than being a better copy.
Complete user experience
The problem with most companies building both Windows and Android products is that they typically don’t assure the user experience. They have a tendency to agree it sucks, and then blame Microsoft or Google for the suckiness (technical term). Apple OS X actually started with BSD UNIX, but looks more finished than competitors. If one company can improve something 90 percent, everyone else should be able to improve it 10 percent. Nokia has been given unique permissions to alter the user experience with Microsoft products, and should do whatever it takes to make its Windows tablet more complete than the iPad. The iPad isn’t perfect — if it were we would have all stopped buying after the first one. The newer iPad will be better than the new iPad, after all (OK, I hate what Apple is doing with naming: the iPad 4 will be better than the iPad 3). Figure out what the iPad 4 will be in terms of total user experience and build it first.
Taking a market
Apple was never able to take the PC market away from Microsoft, and Microsoft was never able to build a better iPod. Apple is effectively winning PC market share with the iPad by side stepping and creating something that is both different and compelling. In the end, that is likely the best path for Nokia: Not a better iPad, but a device that is orthogonal. It should do what the iPad does, but approach the problem differently, much like the iPad does on a portability vector. However, that kind of a move requires a willingness to take risk and massive innovation. I’m not sure the team at Nokia has that in them. I’m not dissing Nokia — I’m not even sure Apple has that in Apple anymore now that Steve is gone. But that would be the gold ring: not a better iPad, but what Microsoft should have done with Zune, a better whatever is next. (Microsoft should have done a phone and beat Apple to the iPhone rather than chase the iPod). Interestingly, Windows 8 (which is a PC OS), is likely where Apple is going as it adds capabilities to iOS and eventually replace the Mac OS with it. Getting there first with a complete solution is possible, now Microsoft and Nokia just have to step up.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.