(Editor's note: Below is a sample of reader comments in response to business editor Bolaji Ojo's analysis: Nokia + Netbook = what exactly?).
Michael A.M. Davies, chairman of Endeavour Partners and senior lecturer at MIT:
Actually, when you look at the function of this netbook, rather than just its features, it makes a lot more sense. : wide area broadband, not just WiFi; built-in location services with GPS; a rugged case, of Aluminum, not plastic; and very long battery life, twice that of many netbooks. These are not just features, however; they change the function of the device, the job that potential users might hire it to do. The function of a conventional netbook is to connect quickly and cheaply to the web via WiFi in the home; this is the job that users hire netbooks to do. Let's take a step back and look at this through a different lens, however: a customer who wants a simple easy-to-use device with ".a screen, a keyboard, and an ability to connect to the Internet" while either mobile, or where WiFi is not available.
First, in much of the world, there is little if any fixed broadband and less WiFi, let alone the hotspots that US road warriors can rely on being able to find as they refuel with caffeine; these potential customers are looking for a robust device that connects quickly and cheaply to the web via 3G cellular. Second, even amongst those very US road warriors, a lightweight rugged long lasting device with good connectivity and location smarts might be a great candidate for their job: enabling me to connect quickly and easily while traveling. A 12 hour battery life may even eliminate the need for a top-up charge during the day, and hence for carrying a wall wart and scavenging for power; the coveted tables at Starbucks are not those with comfy chairs or good view, but those nearest wall outlets.
A more nuanced assessment of Nokia's Booklet 3G would evaluate it against the other candidates for this job: rugged or lightweight laptops, plus 3G connectivity, perhaps in the form of Verizon's great MiFi device, which is a mobile hotspot; or Nokia's own high end smartphones such as the N97 or Apple's iPhone. When looking at this from the perspective of customers, the trade-off amongst the candidates then goes something along these lines: a lot bigger which is good for usability but bad for portability, a little more expensive than a smartphone; cheaper and simpler and smaller than something like a MacBook Air or Dell Adamo; even competitive with something like Dell's own netbook for which adding a 3G modem and a large capacity battery boosts the price by $275.
The interesting question for Nokia then becomes: are there enough customers in the developing world where it is so strong, leveraging 3G rather than fixed broadband, or enough road warriors who prefer their candidate for the job of portable companion?
I have to agree with your analysis, especially the conclusion where Nokia must now ask whether there are enough people who would pay a premium for it's netbook because they believe so much in what it would do for them. I am not sure there are enough people out there who would immediately opt for the Nokia booklet 3G rather than a much cheaper product. Perhaps if businesses begin buying netbooks for their staff, Nokia's booklet would be a prime candidate in the corporate environment. It's also possible that Nokia is more interested right now in throwing its hat into the ring rather being concerned about the volume of products it can ship in the immediate term. Perhaps this was a placeholder to ensure the market understands Nokia won't allow anyone to corner its market.
Still, I am struggling with how netbooks can replace mobile phones. Skype has made it possible to communicate via the web but the entire process of getting online before being able to make a call via Skype remains clunky. At the moment, nothing beats the convenience of a regular cellular device both for the ease of use and the size of the handset.
I think you're still focused on price + features versus function. If I want 3G connectivity and long battery life, I'm hiring the netbook for a different job. I'd have to pay Dell another $275 to upgrade its netbook to do this job, which makes it closely price comparable to the Nokia, without having the rugged case, nor GPS. They're not paying a premium for a netbook; they're looking for a different tool. If it's being considered for WiFi in the home, for which the battery life, 3G, GPS and strength are all completely irrelevant, then it's uncompetitive. Function, not just features.
And I was never suggesting that netbooks replace mobile phones. For some applications, they may be complements: small mobile phone and Booklet 3G or smartphone? Depends on my use cases: if I mostly want a small rugged device (phone) and also want a larger screen and keyboard when I am on the web, then this may be the optimal combination.