Nokia’s tablet: where might it fly?

Nokia launched a beautiful new tablet last week - not that you'd notice amongst the Apple noise. Could the design of the device hint at a way for Microsoft to establish itself in tablets?

Ah, poor Nokia. It announced its event in Dubai last week, only for all the media attention to be stolen away by the Apple announcement.

And it’s a shame. While Nokia announced some pretty predictable things – a refresh of its Lumia and Asha lines – it also launched something that many had suspected was coming, but which only emerged last week: a tablet. It’s not the first Windows RT-based tablet – Microsoft’s less-than-successful Surface RT (now replaced by the Surface 2) is probably the best know one. But it’s the most interesting one. Throughout its troubled few years, the one thing no-one has any doubt is that Nokia is still great at hardware. And that skill is finding more expression in the Lumia 2520. Rather than taking design cues from the iPad, its very much its own thing, reflecting the aesthetic and style of the Lumia phones. Bright, colourful polycarbonate backs, which wrap around onto the front. In a sense, it reflects the Windows software it runs better than the Surface does, because it’s as bold and different in its vision as the flat interface derived from Windows Phone is.

Will it sell? Passably, suggests Nokia’s recent history.

That seems a shame, because in a tablet age dominated by the iPad and “me too” Android-based devices, Nokia and Microsoft are doing something genuinely different here.

There’s one detail that makes me think that maybe there’s a different approach they should be trying: the screen is specifically designed to be far more visible in daylight when used outside than most tablets. Anyone who’s used an iPad on a bright sunny day will know how hard this can be. Coupled with that tough polycarbonate back, you’ve got a device that begs to be used outside and in difficult conditions.

Microsoft has a whole world of customers who could use such a device. People who are using business software in manual contexts, from surveying to construction to warehouses to industrial facilities. For all its bright, consumer-centric appeal, could this be the ideal device for those sorts of customers?

Is Microsoft making a mistake by trying to chase Apple into the consumer space that it’s so very good at. While it gets distracted by that Market, iOS and Android are making inroads into Microsoft’s heartland: the enterprise.

Maybe, once the two companies are one, if they focused on making devices like the 2520 the go-to device for mobile workforces, that tied beautifully into existing enterprise systems on Windows, they could grow their market share again – in businesses. Do that well enough, and you’ll start picking up market share in the consumer space almost be default.

Microsoft has always been better at being an enterprise company than a consumer one. Let’s hope their new CEO, whomever they will be, will realise that.