Will Skype save Nokia Internet Tablets?

n800_pro.jpgNokia’s Internet tablet efforts – the 770, and more recently, the N800 – have produced a mixed bag of results. While the techies have been enthusiastic about the Linux-based tablets, the consumer electronics crowd (and buyers) hasn’t been overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

On Tuesday, some Nokia folks stopped by in our makeshift offices and articulated their vision for the tablet series. The company is betting that as more web services start to support the platform, the devices will gain in popularity. The Finnish phone maker believes that tablets are the next evolution of computing, and as web service matures, these Internet-centric devices will gain more traction.

And one such service is Skype. Nokia is expecting that Skype support will make the device more alluring, especially in the overseas markets.

The Nokia N800 is a nifty looking device that is very capable when it comes to making VoIP phone calls – we use Gizmo client all the time. Google Talk hasn’t exactly become our favorite, but like most we think Skype could actually make us use the device a lot more, especially for quick calls to other Skypers.

“Skype is certainly the most popular,” says Ari Virtanen, Nokia’s vice president of convergence products. Nokia will release in an early beta (without SkypeIn/SkypeOut support) in a few weeks, but the full version of Skype client is expected later this summer, Virtanen says. The Skype support, if nothing else, makes the N800 more attractive to folks who don’t want to lug a laptop along on short day trips.

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We see N800 becoming a good way to consume music from subscription services such as Rhapsody and Napster. Nokia folks showed off the Rhapsody service, it was simple, easy to use and music streamed quite nicely over an EVDO-powered Wi-Fi network. Nokia wants to add more such services: Yahoo Music, MSN and Yahoo Messenger amongst others to boost the utility of the device. “It is an Internet services based platform,” says Virtanen.

“The world of computing has gone from mainframes to desktops to now laptops,” says Virtanen, “and the next step is tablets.” That future is going to take a lot longer than either Nokia or anyone else can imagine.

The sales register isn’t exactly jangling with regularity. Nevertheless, Nokia plans to add more retail outlets to its sales channel, especially in the US. Currently the device is sold online, and at Fry’s and CompUSA.

The big boost for N800’s descendants will come when Sprint launches its WiMAX network, sometime in 2008. At higher speeds, most web services are going to become easily accessible, and the N800 type devices will see their utility go up.

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