During a round-table interview with a group of South African journalists, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop dropped strong hints about the company’s entry into the tablet market, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is less guarded than most CEOs in confirming product secrets that the market has already guessed. Taking questions during a round-table session with five South African technology journalists, he is expected to be cagey.
But when he is asked about Nokia’s possible entry into the tablet market, there is none of the expected evasion and refusal to comment.
Instead, he acknowledges that when you add up Nokia’s embrace of the Windows Phone operating system, plus the fact that it draws on the same user experience being built into the forthcoming Windows 8 operating system, plus the fact that Windows 8 is especially well-suited to tablets, the conclusion is inescapable.
“Microsoft has shown in a couple of venues their plans around Windows 8, the big version of windows,” he pointed out. “What they essentially showed was that the standard user experience and also the convergence of development experience over time is what you see here on the Lumia devices. They call this the metro user experience, this idea that there are tiles that are constantly presenting you with new and useful information and it’s a fluid and a live environment.
“That same user experience will be turbocharged on a tablet, on a PC, on an Xbox: that will become the standard user experience across the Microsoft family of platforms. To the benefit of Nokia.”
Clearly, Elop sees no point in beating about the bush. His candour makes a refreshing change from technology sector CEOs who would place such topics off limits. Not only does he welcome it with good humour, but he drops tantalising hints about a timeline, and about such a tablet’s place in the device ecosystem:
“If you fast-forward let’s say a year – we don’t know when Windows 8 will ship – there will be hundreds of millions of people who on a tablet, on a PC, on a gaming platform, in an automobile, wherever, they will be seeing this style of user experience. It will instantly give them the promise of a combined experience across all of the digital parts of someone’s world.
“From our point of view, we knew this when we made the decision to go Windows Phone. We had an appreciation that it wouldn’t be just us alone trying to introduce an entirely different point of view, that there would be a lot of energy and push more broadly. That was something we couldn’t say a year ago but now its like, ‘we get it now, its clearly part of a much larger story’.
“When we look at that therefore, the opportunity to have a point of view that spans not just smartphones but also other devices from Nokia is very apparent to us, it is definitely an opportunity for us.”
Elop stresses that Nokia has not announced specific plans in this space, but also does not offer even a hint of denial. On the contrary: “Very clearly we look at that and say there’s an opportunity there.”
Elop is even willing to articulate a reason for a tablet: it is what Nokia’s customers will expect.
“I think our consumers would look at that and say we can imagine Nokia doing some interesting things and not just in the obvious parts. But there’s a lot of digital experience still to go, we’re all in the early stages of this so there’s an opportunity for us for sure.”
The suggestion then, between the lines, is that a Nokia tablet is likely to be ready around the same time that Windows 8 ships. Nokia would clearly be privy to such timings, and will have been working closely with Microsoft to ensure the Windows 8 software integrates tightly with Nokia’s hardware. It may even turn out to be one of the key elements of the Windows 8 launch. The long wait for the release also means Nokia has had the luxury of time spent ensuing the device works flawlessly. But Elop is not drawn further.
“That’s what we’re not announcing today. We just keep highlighting the opportunity. Tablets have come into the mainstream, but that situation is still in the very early stages.
“With what Microsoft is doing as it relates to the user experience, whether it’s on the PC, whether it’s on the tablet, to have a unified experience that says here’s a new point of view for tablets as well, I think that’s really going to change the industry, broaden the opportunities, so we’re very excited about that.”
A final hint at Nokia’s intended embrace of Windows 8 – and therefore of a tablet option – is Elop’s enthusiasm for the platform. It is infectious.
“If you have not seen the Windows 8 experience, take a look on YouTube,” he says. “It will really affect your thinking about how the industry is going to evolve. In terms of the degree that they’re changing their point of view and what they’re presenting, this isn’t a minor step; it’s a fundamental shift in their approach to Windows.
“And that will be to our advantage.”
Read Arthur’s column here on Nokia listening tonthe markets and taking the phone wars local.
* Follow Arthur Goldstuck on Twitter on @art2gee,