Nokia's launch today of its first Windows tablet, the Lumia 2520, running Windows RT 8.1, at an event in Abu Dhabi, left observers wondering what would happen to the new tablet once Microsoft finalizes its $7.2 billion purchase of Nokia, probably next year.
One big question is what Microsoft will do with the Lumia 2520, which is priced at $499 with 32 GB. The Lumia is surprisingly similar to Microsoft's own Surface 2 tablet, which also runs Windows RT 8.1 and goes on sale today for $449 with 32 GB.
An even bigger question is why Nokia is producing a Windows RT tablet at all. The 8.0 version of the operating system was reviled for not running legacy Windows apps, among other problems, and was rejected by device makers Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Samsung. Will Windows RT 8.1 with its Outlook and Office 2013 RT software really be that much better than the Windows RT 8.0 version that came under such criticism?
First, let's compare the tablets and then examine what might happen to the Lumia 2520 under Microsoft ownership.
The biggest difference between the two tablets is that the Lumia 2520 has LTE support, while the Surface 2 is a Wi-Fi device, like about 80% of the tablets in use today.
Nokia also baked camera features into the Lumia 2520 that are superior to the Surface 2, including a high-quality 6.7-megapixel rear camera (and a 2-megapixel front shooter) as well as ZEISS optics and an f1.9 aperture to deliver low-light performance. The Surface 2 has ample cameras at 5.0 megapixels for the rear and 3.5 megapixels for the front, but doesn't have Nokia's camera software, such as Storyteller and Video Director.
As for similarities, both tablets run ARM-based processors and are about the same size. The Lumia 2520 has a 2.2 GHz quad-core Snapdragon 800 processor from Qualcomm, while the Surface 2 runs the comparable Nvidia Tegra 4. The display on the Lumia tablet is 10.1-inches, while the the Surface 2 jas a 10.6-in. display. Both displays have 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution.
Nokia rates its battery at 8000 mAh, or 11 hours of use, with five additional hours from a supplement power source in a Lumia 2520 keyboard/cover which costs an additional $149. There's even a quick-charge ability to help charge half the battery in about 40 minutes, good enough for a layover in an airport. Microsoft hasn't listed a power rating for its battery, but said it has 10 hours of video playback ability.
In essence, the new Nokia 2520 should be a perfectly good tablet for the $449 price, if you like Windows RT 8.1. Does that mean it will take the place of the Surface 2 tablet, once it's inside the doors of Microsoft?
Some analysts, such as Carolina Milanesi of Gartner, said Microsoft should ditch the Surface 2 brand once Nokia is part of the company. "If I were Microsoft, I would phase out Surface 2 and use Lumia to drive into the consumer market at a lower price, while keeping Surface Pro as the professional's device and premium brand," she said.
Her suggestion makes sense because the Surface Pro 2 brand with Windows 8.1 Pro has far greater storage capacity than the Surface 2 and also supports the legacy apps needed by many workers. That means the Surface Pro 2 will run the same custom apps created for, say, Windows 7, while the Surface 2 running Windows RT 8.1 will not.
Nokia attempted to make the case today that the Lumia 2520 works is a good choice for both professionals and consumers because it is truly mobile with LTE support. (AT&T has said it will carry the Lumia 2520 later this year, but its pricing with an LTE service contract isn't clear. It also isn't clear what other U.S. carriers will support the tablet.) The added battery in the cover/keyboard and quick charging should also be a plus for workers.
One theory for having both products on the market is that Microsoft intends to keep both brand names -- Surface and Lumia -- for tablets, with one of the two, probably Lumia, becoming the repository for a merged OS that works on both smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has made it clear it will eventually merge the Windows Phone OS with Windows, and Lumia is already the brand used on a series of Nokia smartphones, including two announced today-- the Lumia 1320 and the Lumia 1520. The Lumia 1520 will be sold in the U.S. later this year exclusively by AT&T.
As for the Nokia 2520 tablet, Kevin Restivo, an IDC analyst, said Lumia could be suited for business users who want access to corporate data at all times, including when on a cab ride where Wi-Fi isn't available. "But given the [high $499] price and the fact it runs RT, it's not exactly [going to be] a hot seller," he said.
So everything about the new Lumia 2520 seems to come down to Windows RT and its apparent failings. So why did Nokia bother to throw in a nice camera and LTE connectivity on a good-looking new tablet that is otherwise a lot like the Surface 2 running Windows RT 8.1?
"RT hasn't worked out so far due to many reasons," said Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. So far, RT has lacked the apps that tablet owners have wanted, doesn't support legacy apps, "has been very sluggish, and hasn't met the bar for battery life," he added.
Even so, Moorhead said Microsoft should hold on to the Lumia-branded 2520, even after the Nokia purchase, if only to expand the Windows RT ecosystem and number of brands.
Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said that he expects Microsoft, post-Nokia acquisition, to allow the Lumia 2520 to die, while continuing support for Surface 2 and its expected Windows RT offspring. Nokia's superior camera technology can be added to the Surface devices, he said.
Nokia didn't decide on a full Windows design on Intel chips instead of RT over ARM chips because it would have been too expensive, Gold said. Nor could Nokia have competed with PC makers on use of full Windows with a tablet, Milanesi added.
"The Nokia RT device has been in the design phases for a long time -- well before the Microsoft acquisition announcement -- so that is why Nokia did it anyway," Gold said.
"I don't think Nokia needs to sell the Lumia 2520 in the volumes that Lenovo and Asus and others needed in order to be successful," Gold added. "Still, I just don't expect much volume on the Lumia RT device, even with LTE and AT&T pushing it."
"RT is not popular and is not selling well for good reason," Gold added. "It is a dumbed-down version of Windows. I don't expect Nokia to do well with this product for that very reason."
Mikael Ricknas of the IDG News service and Gregg Keizer of Computerworld contributed to this story.
This article, The puzzling Lumia 2520 tablet: Will it die when Microsoft buys Nokia?, was originally published at Computerworld.com.
Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.