Nokia to release a netbook?

Times are tough for Nokia but the Finnish phone supremo is trying to look ahead rather than cast worried glances over their shoulder. It’s already previewed an impressive online app store and now there’s continued buzz that Nokia will launch a netbook or similar device with inbuilt 3G.

In a recent interview with the Finnish national broadcaster YLE as reported by the Reuters news agency Nokia CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was asked if the company was planning to extend its consumer scope beyond mobile phones to netbooks. “Will Nokia make mini mobile PCs some day?” quizzed the reporter. “Never say never” replied Kallasvuo replied.

“Of course we are looking very actively at this opportunity. We don’t have to look even for five years from now to see that what we know as a mobile phone and what we know as a PC are in many ways converging. Today we have hundreds of millions of people who are having their first Internet experience on the phone. This is a good indication”.

While the netbook market is already packed with players Nokia would be seeking to capitalise on its strengths as a mobile phone company. That would include building 3G HSDPA modems directly into each netbook as well as using its extensive carrier and retail partnerships to give Nokia-branded netbooks far greater exposure and availability than any existing PC vendor’s netbook enjoys.

The device would also promote Nokia’s Ovi online service to an entirely new set of customers while Bluetooth and preloaded Nokia Suite software could help owners of Nokia phones synchronise their mobile against the netbook and make better use of the phone itself.

The Nokia N810 Internet Tablet already shows one direction Nokia could take into the MID market

Of course Nokia doesn’t have to be building a look-alike netbook. The company has already created an appealing series of MID-type devices in the Internet Tablet family most recently the N810 with its slide-out QWERTY keyboard and Wi-Fi access. Something like this only larger might also be on the drawing board.

All this begs the question of which OS platform would Nokia choose? The N810 runs on a Linux variant known as Maemo which includes a Nokia-developed Gnome application framework dubbed Hildon.

Hildon in turn has been adopted by Ubuntu for their Intel-endorsed Mobile Internet Device Edition while the Intel-founded Moblin project is built around the  Gnome Mobile platform. This already gives Nokia some entre into the world of Linux and Atom-powered devices.

A possible OS for any new Nokia MID is  Ubuntu MID Edition shown here with the ‘Clutter mode’ (above)
and ‘Flash mode’ (below) home screens

Android would have obvious appeal from the outside especially as there are signs of this being extended from phones onto netbooks but to date Nokia is one of the few major players not to have joined the Android’s parent group the Open Handset Alliance. That’s not surprising because Nokia sees Android as a competitor to its own Symbian ecosystem.

And Symbian is the dark horse in this race. In 2008 Nokia assumed complete control of Symbian buying out former partners including Sony Ericsson and Samsung for a total of US$410 million and announced that the OS would become open source in the first half of this year under the guidance of the Symbian Foundation.

No-one is kidding themselves that in its current form Symbian would make for a good netbook OS. But Nokia may be hoping that what’s worked for Linux Firefox and Android could work for them too.