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MWC 2013: Nokia CEO chats about wearable tech trends, tablets, sales

Nokia's future includes a lot of sensors, and maybe some tablets. Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said that his company's smartphones can help ride the hot new wave of wearable tech, but that he's still puzzling out what to do about tablets.

While Elop shied away from discussing specific products, he got pretty animated when talking about wearable gadgets like the Fitbit and Pebble, and how Nokia's smartphones could fit into that equation - or possibly even replace these wearable devices.

"What these [smartphones] are, are a sensor collection. Take a Lumia 520 or 920. They have multiple GPS receivers, a compass, a microphone, a camera, all of these sensors. The idea that more and more there will be sensor technology that you carry around with you, we think that's a fundamental trend," he said. "These devices are sensing the world around you, they're sensing you."

With a bunch of top journalists in the room, we spent a lot of time trying to bait the CEO into talking about devices Nokia hasn't announced.

"Do we see opportunity in tablets and things like that? Sure. The key thing is to understand which of these opportunities are growth opportunities," he said.

We've heard that refrain from Elop before, and it sounds like the mixed reception for Windows 8 tablets may have slowed down Nokia's move into larger mobile devices. Elop pledged not to build a "relatively uninspired laptop," and threw up his hands when I mentioned the Nokia Booklet 3G, a relatively uninispired laptop Nokia made before he arrived.

"Windows 8, how do you like it? I'm asking a lot of people that question; we're trying and experimenting ... we can't make just another Acer-like device," he said. "We've got to have differentiated products, and we've got to point to specific consumers."

The one thing he would guarantee, of course, was more phones, both at the high and low ends of the Lumia pricing range. Nokia's Windows Phones got more affordable today with the new 520 and 720, but there's still room to bring prices down from the 520's £120.

"We do have to continue to broaden the Lumia product line, but what we're carefully balancing (and this is an engineering balance) is how far down do you go in price point without sacrificing the essentials of the experience," Elop said.

As for the high end, "we have a flagship device now, known as the Lumia 920 ... and there's still a lot more to come in 2013. Broadly, we have a lot of work underway," he said.

How Nokia Can Break Through

Elop spent a lot of time talking about how Nokia can break through in sales; according to the latest numbers from IDC, Windows Phones only had 2.6 per cent of the global smartphone market in the fourth quarter of 2012. Nokia sold more than three-quarters of those. Android, meanwhile, topped 70 per cent market share.

Nokia's Asha phones could cut into Android's market share by offering a better experience at very low price points, Elop said. "If you look at the lower-priced Android devices, they have old versions of the OS, app incompatibilities, and a less responsive user experience," he said.

For Nokia's Windows Phones, "retail execution" is key, getting salespeople to use and evangelise the phones, Elop said. In markets where carriers are already pushing Nokia phones, the company just needs more time, he said.

"The more time we have, the more experience we have," Elop said. "What we've done [in terms of sales] with the [Lumia] 920 is more than we did with the 900 with AT&T, and you'll see us continue to go ahead one step at a time," he said.