Many readers of this blog already know of my involvement with the launch of the Nokia N800 internet tablet. I took a high personal interest in the product line that went beyond my normal duties, because I saw a great deal of potential for the devices and their technology. That interest led me to constantly suggest ideas for software applications and use cases. Unfortunately for me, there was a development agenda in place that allowed little room for additional exploration. This agenda was deliberately conservative and is just now enabling maturity in the device family, four years after the first true Nokia Internet Tablet (the 770) was introduced.
But what if Nokia had taken a radically different approach? That thought (along with musing over related possibilities) has been eating at me a lot lately as speculation around the next device grows. So for sheer sake of a wishful, whimsical writing exercise, I decided to construct an alternate product timeline with the benefit of my own hindsight and opinions combined with a vast accumulation of user input. Note that this is not intended to be reflective of reality!
So without further ado, let’s rewind a few years and play with the idea a bit (all hyperlinks are actual and not part of this fantasy)…
June 2004: Nokia cancels the public release of the 7700, a touchscreen phone, based on preliminary negative feedback over the “sidetalk” feature that also doomed the first ill-fated N-Gage gaming phone. Convinced that the essential idea still had merit, and determined to be first to market with the technologies involved, Nokia partners with several third-party logistics service providers to test the idea of a phone designed to specifically support inventory and delivery operations. Resources are redirected to retool the in-process 7710, which had been intended as a follow-up.
January 2005: At CES, the 7710-3PL is announced. It is feature-rich, sporting abilities far beyond anything offered by competitors. However, it is not intended for public use. The phone enjoys a ruggedized frame and a high degree of PC interoperability. It comes preloaded with a full-featured browser capable of supporting all internet technologies at the time. This allows the 7710-3PL to run web-enabled applications over any corporate VPN. Target customers include UPS, Brightpoint, Federal Express and New Breed Logistics. The devices are unlocked but T-Mobile signs on as a partner to provide phone and data services in the US and UK. The 7710-3PL is a huge hit. Within a month, Costco announces a massive purchase program for a customized version. Nokia plows the profits into accelerated development.
February 2005: The success of the 7710-3PL encourages a newly-aggressive Nokia to green-light a related program. The goal is a relatively small touchscreen device that can run a full Linux operating system, but does not include cell phone capability. The intention is to enable voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) communications and market the device as a lightweight mobile auditing and inventory management tool with desktop voip phone capability. Linux is selected as the OS to keep costs down and facilitate strong community support. In fact, Nokia elects at that time to upgrade its Linux Foundation sponsorship to Gold status and begin releasing previously proprietary code upstream to the Linux kernel. Ubuntu is selected as the OS model, and a new variant called Mibuntu is developed.
May 2005: The 770-IM is announced at the LinuxWorld Summit in New York City. There is no finished product available yet, but a prototype is demonstrated that receives major raves. The device will come prepackaged with full VPN, PIM and A2DP support. Again, T-Mobile is onboard as default service provider.
November 2005: The 770-IM is made available for sale to corporate and educational customers. It becomes a hit, especially with large-volume grocery goods distributors. Like the 7710-3PL it is not intended for consumer use but naturally some end up in the hands of Linux power users who lobby for Nokia to expand its developer community. Recognizing the potential value and excited by the possibilities, Nokia management agrees, and expands its S60 Forum to include this new Linux-oriented community. Community member input is solicited for future product designs, and a community council is established to facilitate this activity. Nokia sponsors popular product and software design contests.
August 2006: Nokia publicly provides high-level details of its new product strategy, which includes realigning current Symbian product lines to fit global market trends and a completely new platform of Linux-based touchscreen devices. The latter will include cell phones, MIDs, reading slates, and home automation panels. Plans are also divulged to create a vast third-party support infrastructure that will include such amenities as gaming controls. The original touchscreen tablet team is increased significantly in size and scope.
October 2006: Nokia cancels plans to close its Alliance (US) production operations, opting instead to relocate to a smaller nearby facility and focus efforts on supporting US logistics and last-mile customization.
January 2007: At CES in Las Vegas, Nokia demonstrates four consumer-friendly members of its new touchscreen product family. Only one has cell capability, but all include VPN, PIM, Bluetooth, WiFi and most amazingly, GPS. That also includes an 8 inch by 10 inch touchscreen panel, the N802-AT, that replaces a home thermostat and can provide full automation capabilities. While at rest, it functions as a picture slideshow or video presenter. It can also be used as a remote touchscreen tablet to control any PC in the home.
June 2007: Apple releases the sleek iPhone to much fanfair. The device is immediately compared to Nokia’s popular N800-MP touchscreen cell phone. The iPhone goes on to be successful enough but its lack of multiprocessing ability and its locked-in battery hurt it in some areas. The N800-MP outsells it 4-to-1 in the United States and 10-to-1 globally.
November 2007: Amazon.com announces its electronic reading slate, Kindle, but it is soundly trounced in the press– it does not measure up to Nokia’s N801-RS with its color screen and full web browsing experience. Amazon discontinues the Kindle after nine disappointing months of poor sales.
January 2008: At CES Nokia continues its frenetic pace of Linux-based device releases by announcing the N810-X family boasting a more powerful CPU and four times the memory of previous releases. GPS performance has been enhanced and integrated into every application where useful. Nokia also announces the MID-port, a new connector specification that other manufacturers have agreed to support. This will allow device expansion; the first announced add-on is a radio for WiMAX with plans for LTE support later on. Radios can be hot-swapped as needed.
June 2008: Nokia announced it would fully acquire Symbian and establish an open source foundation for the technology.
December 2008: Nokia completes its acquisition of Symbian and sets up Symbian Limited.
January 2009: The economic downturn has put a damper on sales, but Nokia presents plans for further expansion of its Linux-driven product line, which will soon include netbooks averaging $75 less than equivalent competitor offerings.
June 2009: Having never been laid off from Nokia in this alternate world, this writer is offered a position managing forward logistics in the local netbook production facility.
Yeah, it’s a complete fabrication and fantasy… but wouldn’t it be sweet? 😉