Nokia's new 3G netbook: Will it matter?

Struggling cell-phone maker Nokia (NOK) has jumped into the tiny laptop game, training its sights on the hottest name in the tech hardware space, Apple (AAPL).

Just don't call Nokia's new device a "netbook."

The Finnish company -- the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer -- this morning announced the release of its "Booklet 3G," a foray aimed squarely at the heart of the nascent market for mobile devices which have more functionality than cell-phones but without the bulk and heft of traditional laptops.
Nokia, which once sat atop the mobile device mountain but has slowly seen its luster erode, thanks to Apple's iPhone and Research in Motion's (RIM) BlackBerry, hopes its Booklet 3G will preempt other entrants into market. Nokia is gunning in particular for Apple, which has been been the subject of near-rabid speculation over the release of its forthcoming netbook-style device, dubbed by some the iTablet, which the company hopes to have available in time for Christmas.

Nokia's offering significantly intensifies the heat and light in the netbook/booklet -- whatever you want to call it -- space, and all eyes will surely be on Apple to see what the Cupertino design wizards will produce.

Nokia has made no secret of its desire to ramp up its assault on Apple and RIM. "Given Nokia's ambitions, there is no doubt it is trying to steal Apple's thunder here," John Barker, president and C.E.O. of DZP/Barker, a digital advertising agency based in New York, told DailyFinance. "But is this a battle even worth fighting? There are already fairly high-quality products from Sony and others that have failed to gain traction even among business travelers and executives. I'm skeptical about whether netbooks will catch on with the general public."

"So even if Nokia beats Apple here, it may be a Pyrrhic victory," Barker said.

Sree Sreenivasan, a tech and gadget expert who runs the digital media program at Columbia Journalism School, pointed out that Nokia still has a strong brand internationally, despite the erosion of its image in the U.S. Nokia currently controls about 38 percent of the global handset market.

"This is a way for the company to become relevant in this new space," Sreenivasan said in an interview.

Apple shareholders shrugged off the Nokia news, pushing Apple shares modestly in early trading. Nokia shares, meanwhile, were trading up over three percent amid modest gains across market indices in early trading.

Nokia said in a press release that its Booklet 3G is powered by the "efficient" Intel Atom processor and features an "impressive performance with up to 12 hours of battery life, enabling people to leave their power cable behind and still be connected and productive."

"A growing number of people want the computing power of a PC with the full benefits of mobility," Kai Oistamo, Nokia's Executive Vice President for Devices, said in the statement. "We are in the business of connecting people and the Nokia Booklet 3G is a natural evolution for us."

Oistamao added that "with the outstanding battery life, premium design and all day, always on connectivity, we will create something quite compelling. In doing so we will make the personal computer more social, more helpful and more personal."

Look for more details at the Nokia world event on September 2.
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