Linux phone, netbook prove Nokia still has ambition

Nokia is not a company worth getting excited about, but with a new Linux handset, netbook, and solutions focus, that may be changing. Or maybe not.

Nokia is not a company worth getting excited about, but with a new Linux handset, netbook, and solutions focus, that may be changing. Or maybe not.

You'd think a company with 40 percent of the handset market would be more interesting, but Nokia has been known mostly as a bottom-fisher, despite repeated attempts to claim the high-end.

Both the N900 Linux phone and Booklet netbook are gaining favorable comments, though neither is actually available for testing as yet.

I don't think a $700 Linux phone is going to make a huge difference and the netbook is open to criticism on a variety of fronts. But, at least Nokia seems to be breathing and has a pulse, something I've had to wonder about in the past.

Of the two, the netbook is the most interesting, including built-in wireless and GPS but also the usual too-small 10-inch screen. Little information is available, but more should be next week. At first glance, I am interested in this netbook, though I wouldn't purchase such a small screen. Nor do I want my netbook to come with a two-year wireless commitment, though that may be difficult to avoid.

It concerns me that in introducing a Linux phone that Nokia execs said the Symbian OS, long a Nokia staple, is not endangered. I think it probably should be, given the track record of Nokia's high-end offerings. What I think I want to see is Nokia licensing Palm's webOS, used on the Pre.

It is also not clear the N900 will be offered in the U.S. or whether Linux will be the OS used on all the company's next-generation smartphones. It makes little sense for Nokia to try to turn both Linux and Symbian into high-end players. But, stranger things have happened, though they haven't been too successful.

While Nokia's overall share is not dropping, its average selling price is, according to Reuters, falling faster than the industry average. That's a bad sign and underscores some urgency in creating high-end products that will burnish both image and profits.

The company also announced creation of a "solutions" business unit with the mission of making smartphones and services/applications better integrate. This has been another Nokia failing and, with ecosystems becoming at least as important as the individual smartphone models, this is an area where everyone except Apple really needs a win.

Apple's success in making everything "just work" together and is a significant obstacle for competitors to overcome.

While cynics will say the new developments are just an extension of Nokia's losing battle for smartphone relevance--now extending itself to netbooks--I will be a tad more optimistic.

That is more than Nokia may deserve, but I keep thinking the company ought to be able to do more than its managed to accomplish in smartphones so far. Maybe the N900 is a new--and real--beginning.

David Coursey's first cellphone (1988) was a Nokia from Radio Shack, but he hasn't owned a Nokia since. He tweets as @techinciter .

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David Coursey

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