This may be the real reason behind Microsoft so quickly dropping Nokia branding from its own devices: Nokia—the "real" Nokia—today launched a tablet of its own, and it runs the competing Android OS. Clearly modeled after Apple's iPad mini, the Nokia N1 looks like a master-crafted digital device and it comes with some unique software of its own. But it won't be sold directly by Nokia.
"We are pleased to bring the Nokia brand back into consumers' hands with the N1 Android tablet, and to help make sophisticated technologies simple," Nokia head of products Sebastian Nyström said in a prepared statement. "The N1 has a delightfully intuitive interface and an industrial design to match it. This is a great product for Nokia fans and everyone who has not found the right Android tablet yet."
It does appear to be a beautiful, well-made device. The "deliberately developed" Nokia N1 industrial design consists of a curved, one-piece aluminum body with a zero air-gap display. It matches up almost identically with the iPad mini, both in looks and in specs, with a 7.9-inch display that runs at the same 2048 x 1536 resolution—and aspect ratio—as Apple's tablet. But it's a bit thinner (6.9 mm vs. 7.3 mm) and lighter (318 grams vs. 331 grams) than the most recent iPad min.
The Nokia N1 comes with a 64-bit version of the Intel Atom processor, 2 GB of RAM, and 32 GB of eMMC storage, and runs Android 5.0 "Lollipop." But the big news from a software perspective is that the device runs Nokia's own Z Launcher front-end, which lets you start writing on the screen with your finger to find and launch apps.
Beyond that, however, details are slim. It won't ship until the first quarter of 2015, and will only be sold in China initially at a cost of about US$250. Nokia says it has "the anticipation of expanding sales to other markets."
But the weirdness here is that the device will be sold through a partner—identified obliquely only as "the OEM partner"—that is "responsible for full business execution, from engineering and sales to customer care, including liabilities and warranty costs, inbound IP and software licensing and contractual agreements with 3rd parties." In other words, Nokia is essentially licensing its name for use on this product, as well as the industrial design, software, and other intellectual property.
For Microsoft, Nokia's quick re-entry into consumer-oriented digital devices is a bit alarming. The firm had previously made only a single tablet, the poorly-received Lumia 2520, and that wasn't released until after Microsoft had announced its intention to purchase the firm. Unlike the Lumia 2520, the N1 seems nicely-executed, with a high-end body and running the mobile OS customers actually want.
Microsoft of course integrated Nokia's original devices and services businesses into its own corporate structure this year, and recently announced how it will transition from the Nokia brand to the Lumia brand in its own devices and services going forward. But Microsoft will also continue selling Nokia-branded "dumb phones." So there will be at least two companies selling Nokia-branded digital devices next year. And neither of them is actually named Nokia.