Nokia CEO Stephen Elop has hinted at launching a Windows tablet and spoken candidly about why Nokia ditched its own operating system and picked Windows over Android, saying that Nokia was "very worried" about Samsung's expected monopoly in the Android space.
In Australia to visit customers, partners and staff, as well as to launch the budget Lumia 620 smartphone, Elop said in a group interview at the Ivy Penthouse in Sydney on Monday that Nokia was looking at how Microsoft's Surface tablet went in the market before launching its own.
While Nokia had not formally announced a tablet computer, Elop said bringing one to market was something that the Finnish-based company was "clearly looking at very closely".
"We're studying very closely the market right now," Elop said. "Microsoft has introduced the Surface tablet so we're trying to learn from that and understand what's the right way to participate and in what point of time but we haven't announced anything at this point."
He added that there were "some great opportunities" for a 7-inch tablet, as well as a larger one.
Speaking hypothetically, he said Nokia "could consider any" operating system to put on a tablet it launched, but hinted that the company's "first focus" would lie with Microsoft's Windows.
"... Companionship is something that every consumer is looking for and so when you think about the Lumia 920 [smartphone] running on Windows Phone, having a Windows Phone or a Windows PC or an Xbox or any of those things as part of the broad family is something that will give us the opportunity to give a pretty integrated experience," Elop said.
"So our first focus in what we look at is clearly in the Microsoft family," he added, before his minder reminded him to reiterate that no decisions had been made on Nokia launching a tablet.
Elop also revealed how he had the opportunity on Sunday to visit telco stores in various parts of Sydney's CBD - "going in a bit undercover at times" - to ask store representatives what phones they recommend and asking them for demonstrations.
He said they were "very favourably abreast" of Nokia's products. "It's really good to see."
WHY WINDOWS AND NOT ANDROID
Elop, a former Microsoft executive, also spoke about his decision to ditch the company's own Symbian operating system on high-end smartphones in favour of Windows instead of Google's Android and said he hoped to bring Windows Phone into "double digit" market share but would not give a time frame in which to reach the target.
Microsoft, whose Windows Phone market share currently sits somewhere between 2 and 4 per cent, paid Nokia billions of dollars to switch to Windows Phone in February 2011.
Elop said Nokia ditched its own software as it "was seen as a much higher risk" to continue using it. It also ditched it because Windows Phone allowed it to differentiate, he said.
After the agreement with Microsoft was signed in 2011, Elop said back then that Nokia had been courted by Google as well, which sought to convince it to use its Android software.
ANDROID LICENSING 'CONSTRICTED'
In the end he went with Windows, explaining on Monday that part of the reason why he chose the platform over Android was due to the fact Google's Android licensing was becoming restrictive.
"If you watch very carefully as to what's happening with the changes to the open handset alliance agreement and the work Google has done on their contracting, it's become more and more constricted over time in terms of what you're allowed to do," Elop said.
"And so that was something that we had concerns about, forecasted and now you see it coming into practise. Yes you can call it open source, but in practicality you're getting more and more constrained on what's possible in that environment."
He added that Google's licensing arrangements would've meant Google Maps came pre-loaded on any Nokia device, moving the focus away from Nokia's own mapping applications.
"[Nokia's mapping assets] would have been less valuable to us at that point," Elop said.
"So that's part of the calculus."
Another reason Google's Android operating system wasn't picked was because Nokia was worried it would be entering Android too late in the smartphone game, Elop said.
"[We] were very worried that because we would be entering Android late relative to everyone else in the industry, that perhaps one vendor was well on the road to becoming the dominant Android vendor at the expense of everybody else," Elop said.
"If you look back two years when we made the decision Samsung was big, HTC was pretty big, Motorola was pretty big. And of course what's happened in the [last] two years, Samsung has captured the lion's share but the others have been squeezed down to [a] very small market share even though they started with much larger," Elop said. "So we were worried about exactly that pattern forming and whether we would be able to break through with that."
The company that was once a market leader and popularised the video game Snake on mobile phones, Nokia late last year unveiled its Lumia 920 and Lumia 820 smartphones in New York.
The 4G LTE smartphones include notable features such as wireless charging and augmented reality technology that lets users see details of their surroundings through the camera.
The Lumia 920 is available through Telstra and the 820 through Vodafone and Optus.
Other notable features include the capability for the phones to automatically adjust the screen's colours according to sunlight glare and the ability to use the phones while wearing gloves.
The 920, unlike the 820, features a "PureView" camera which has the ability to reduce the amount of blur in a picture by using "floating lens" technology, which can help stabilise images taken while moving. When launched, Nokia showcased the feature in an advertisement that caused controversy after it was revealed to be fake. The company later apologised.
The Lumia 620, which Elop announced on Monday as going on sale in Australia in the coming weeks, is the budget smartphone in the Lumia range without many of the 920 and 820 features. It has an RRP of US$329 outright and is expected to go on sale mid-February, according to Nokia's Australian managing director Steve Lewis.
- The Age