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8/25/2009
07:09 AM
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Will Nokia's Next Chapter Be Kitchen Blenders?

Nokia Corp. announced yesterday that it plans to retail a netbook, claiming that it would be "satisfying a need" among wireless carriers. I think the only need it'll satisfy is its desire to sell more stuff.

Nokia Corp. announced yesterday that it plans to retail a netbook, claiming that it would be "satisfying a need" among wireless carriers. I think the only need it'll satisfy is its desire to sell more stuff.I'm sure there's nothing wrong with the device: the Nokia Booklet 3G will be suitably small and sleek, and promises to include a built-in GPS nav chip. Nokia makes quality equipment, and it has a kind of wacky, spirited, perhaps uniquely Finnish approach to innovation that has helped make it the largest maker of cell phones in the world.

But a netbook isn't an example of innovation; it's exploitation, mostly, as a tactic to get users to spend more money on wireless broadband access and services (it'll likely be subsidized like other products in the category). It's also kind of silly. Nokia brings no special or unique insight into netbook design. The big hint we have so far is that the gizmo will have an aluminum cover. Big deal. It'll also have a keyboard configured for a munchkin, and devote a solid chunk of its processing heft to turning Windows on and off.

Brands need a narrative...some sense of the direction a business is pursuing, which gives consumers an understanding of what, why, and how products and services are offered to them. This is never more true than in the various categories of technology hardware, where it's getting increasingly difficult to differentiate complex devices (which may be sourced and built similarly as well).

Netbooks are an interesting interim technology, but the real a-ha will be when device makers figure out how to truly reinvent the mobile I/O interface. However miniaturized, netbooks are no more a glimpse of the future of ubiquitous connectivity and computing than a giant AM console radio on wheels. I think we'll laugh at the idea within a few years, once we're making mobile calls by tapping a chip implanted in our temples, or simply asking questions of the ether (like the way Captain Kirk conversed with his computer).

Nokia is addressing a legitimate "need," which is to throw more products into the market so that it (and its wireless service provider partners) can sell more stuff. There's nothing wrong with it, but coming up with a me-too netbook does little to build or support the Nokia brand. It might as well introduce a new line of kitchen blenders, or its own variety of floor polish. People buy that stuff, too.

If there's a story here, I'm not following the plot.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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