Nokia’s new device: Don’t call it a phone!

October 17, 2007, 7:14 PM UTC
Fortune

Just days after launching an 8-gigabyte version of its popular N95 mobile phone, Nokia (NOK) unveiled yet another device in its multimedia products lineup. The new N810, though, is no phone – it’s an 8-ounce Internet-optimized machine.

At a launch event this morning in San Francisco, Anssi Vanjoki, executive vice president of Nokia’s multimedia group, called the device a “full-fledged computer.” With a Mozilla-based browser, media player, video chat features and a built-in Skype application and GPS, the portable N810 comes close. It’s not bad-looking either – the large 4.13-inch display makes for readable Internet pages (the iPhone’s screen, by comparison, measures in at 3.5 inches). There’s also a sleek-looking, pullout QWERTY keyboard and an attractive user interface. But, while the device has built-in Wi-Fi and can connect to your mobile phone via Bluetooth technology, it doesn’t have cellular capabilities itself. That means that – at least for the time being – it has to be used in conjunction with a cell phone. At $479 a pop, that might be a tough sell.

“This is a clean Internet device,” said Vanjoki, who says he recognizes the N810 will not become Nokia’s most successful product. It’s more about the end result – Vanjoki’s five-milestone roadmap, which has already included two more rudimentary iterations of the Internet tablet (the N700 and the N800). The ultimate goal? Merging the full capabilities of the N810 with those of a cellular phone – such as the N95. But getting to that point, said Vanjoki, would be a matter of years, not months.

The N810 fits in well with Nokia’s new strategy of evolving into an Internet player. That’s why the Finnish company has been busy acquiring software players – such as mapping provider Navteq. That’s also why Nokia chose to unveil the N810 Internet tablet the morning of San Francisco’s Web 2.0 Summit and not next week, when CTIA – a wireless show that will take place in the same city –kicks off.

In keeping with Nokia’s new, Internet-focused identity, the N810 runs on a Linux-based operating system, which means that it will be open to outside developers who want to build applications specifically for the device. According to Nokia, its developer forum already has more than 3.4 million registered users.

“We encourage our users to tamper with their devices,” said Vanjoki in an obvious reference to Apple (AAPL), who recently got flak for “bricking” (i.e., rendering useless) iPhones that had been modified by their users.

In fact, Vanjoki said the issue of closed versus open phones represented a “deep philosophical difference” between Nokia and Apple. Just this morning, though, Apple CEO Steve Jobs finally announced that a developer kit for third-party software application developers would be available early next year.

But the N810 could have other challenges – unlike the iPhone, which is available throughout AT&T stores nationwide, the N810 will not be sold through any comparable stores in the U.S., as it is not a cellular device.

Vanjoki is well aware of the competition Apple represents, both in terms of future plans for the N8100 and the current N95 – a full-feature phone that many are calling an iPhone competitor.

“We are competing with Apple on all fronts with all cylinders,” said Vanjoki. “Let the best man win.”