Nokia launches a beautiful, but flawed Flagship … Nokia N9 emerges

At some point or another, most have us have owned a Nokia phone, and loved it. Those Finnish guys really know how to put together phones, but these days they are having a hard time because of poor software decisions. Their insistance to stick to Symbian all this time has been detrimental to the company’s sales and profits, especially at the high end of the market. But recently they let the world know that they will be adopting Windows Phone 7 as its flagship operating system going forward. Good on them.
But when Nokia announces a new handset, the world still sits up and takes notice. Yesterday Nokia showed off their new N9 handset, which is a stunning slab of hardware design. Perhaps more significant is the use of Meego, Nokia’s own smartphone OS which it has been very slow to roll out until now (a previous version called Maemo showed up in the horrible Nokia N900). At first glance the phone’s simple design is what grabs your attention. It is very simple, and the front of the device is dominated by the screen, with no hardware buttons. Its almost as if Nokia handed Dieter Rams an old iPod Nano and told him to use it as inspiration. It is one of those designs that looks like there is almost no design – just the most logical shape a smartphone can have. The glass on the screen is curved, and is also mended with the underlying (OLED) display like an iPhone 4, which gives the impression that the display is “painted on”. In typical Nokia N-series fashion – a high end Carl Zeiss lens equipped 8MP shooter is also found. Take a look at the official Nokia video for the N9:

Nokia is punting their “swipe” campaign to show off how the device works without buttons (except for volume and camera on the side). The user simply sweeps left and right to switch between the main screen (which shows calendar and social feeds and the like), app launcher and multitasking. (Sounds OK in practice – but how will this work with apps who want to use more complicated gestures?). My bigger issue is what exactly Nokia’s strategy is with Meego – it is currently a reasonably polished OS, but why would Nokia put all their design chops into a device that runs this almost once-off software? There are a few apps out for Meego yes, but its still a very poor catalogue. And these days it is all about the Apps. Nokia is punting its well known Qt platform to existing Nokia developers, but why would a developer focus its effort on Meego, when it is essentially only on one phone out there?
But Nokia is sneaky – go over to the quite impressive homepage and start looking at all the pretty pictures of the phone, and also head over to the features and applications tabs. All very impressive looking. But then look around on the Nokia N9 pages – do you see one single mention of what OS the N9 is running? No. Sure, not every phone buyer is interested in what OS their phone is running, but I reckon its a pretty big component of buyer research these days. Part that bothers me is that users will look around these pages and think that the N9 is running Symbian, or even Android. Users will bargain on the fact that their will be apps available, and they will be in for a big surprise once they have this beautiful  phone in their hand. Very sneaky.
All of this just smells of very 2008-like thinking from Nokia. You guys know that you are releasing the Windows Phone 7 devices soon, yet you still harper on about Meego. Did you have some executive that really wanted to see his pet project on the market? Here is my advice to Nokia – no one cares about Meego. Sure, it has some geek appeal, but smartphone buyers want apps on their phone – it is that simple. And there is very little reason for developers to bother with Meego right now. I can absolutely see this phone being a great flagship if Nokia indeed went ahead with Meego as its flagship OS, but we all know that did not happen. Meego is actually pretty cool looking, but its a dying platform. So this phone is all about the hardware design, which is a shame.
I will say the same as I did with Nokia E7let me know when this stunning hardware ships with Windows Phone 7.

  1. “But then look around on the Nokia N9 pages – do you see one single mention of what OS the N9 is running? No.”Go to Scroll to bottom. Click “Developers link”. Read the _very beginning_ of the first sentence: “The Nokia N9 smartphone, based on MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan”. Now was that really, really so hard?
    They also make it pretty damn clear that you download apps from the Ovi Store, where, you know, you can actually see what would be available for your phone. So if consumers doing “buyer research” ignore that little fact and end up unhappy with what they actually get, well, shit: that’s their own stupid fault, now isn’t it?
    Rather leave off the wild conjecture next time, hmm?

    1. You reckon a buyer of the phone is going to click on the Developer link? What it comes down to as that they do not really mention what OS this phone is running. You do not find that strange in this day and age of smartphones?

      1. A buyer that really cares enough to find out what OS (down to the patch number of the build) will click on the Developer link, yes. I know that’s exactly what I did this morning when I saw that site and wondered which OS it was running.
        Disregarding that, though, the fact of the matter with a smartphone, actually, is that the specific operating system that it’s running shouldn’t, by and large, matter. (The irony of myself writing this, while co-running a Android-specific website isn’t lost on me, don’t worry.) Q: Is the platform stable in terms of unexpected reboots or crashes? Q: Are all the apps you want to install on day one of receiving/purchasing the handset available on its relevant market? Q: Does the OS support all the hardware the apps you want require or can leverage? If the answer to all of these questions is “Yes”, then ask yourself: does it really make a single jot of difference (outside of aesthetic and/or personal preferences regarding the look and feel of a specific OS) whether the phone is running iOS, Android, bada, MeeGo, Symbian^3, or any other operating system you’d care to mention?
        The obsession with which OS a phone is running, I think, is a byproduct of the history of specific phone operating systems being tied to a specific manufacturer (or handful of manufacturers): for example, Apple/iOS, Nokia/Symbian, WinMo (pre-7) / HTC/Samsung, RIM/BBOS. These days it’s increasingly becoming the case that, given a preferred manufacturer or OS, you’re far more likely to be able to mix and match to get what you actually want.

    2. Nokia have made a hash of their communication on their OS strategy.
      They’ve mentioned almost nothing about Meego since the WinPhone7 deal and then they launch this top of the line phone. It’s an “N” line phone and it’s the new highest number!  It must be the best!
      There’s a lot of subtext pointing to the fact that this is almost a public beta release to show off concepts in UI and design, like:
      “With the Nokia N9, we wanted to design a better way to use a phone. To do this we innovated in the design of the hardware and software together. We reinvented the home key with a simple gesture: a swipe from the edge of the screen. The experience sets a new bar for how natural technology can feel,” said Marko Ahtisaari, Nokia’s head of Design.
      “And this is just the beginning. The details that make the Nokia N9 unique – the industrial design, the all-screen user experience, and the expressive Qt framework for developers – will evolve in future Nokia products.”
      Any tech savvy person (that doesn’t want an interesting technical one off) would stay away from a platform like Meego (even more than extending a long term relationship with Symbian) because of the WinPhone 7 marriage with MS.This man in the street will see this device as a newer and better (and in my opinion a far more beautiful!) Nokia N8.
      What this article highlights is a valid point that is the duty of tech media to make – the man in the street might not realise that this is a potential dead end OS.  Actually, even if Nokia used Meego as an advertising lead feature, it would still be BandWidthBlog’s duty to tell readers that this makes it a poor choice of handset.  Period.

  2. Few points on the N9 MeeGo device:
    1.  The development of this device was probably way past the turn-back point when Nokia announced their WP7 ideas.
    2. Localized versions of WP7 will for some time still, not be available.  This is a problem for Nokia as China, India and Arabic nations are where Nokia is at its strongest.  Therefor in oder to still compete in the smartphone market they are rolling out this device as flagship in those territories. At least until WP7 get localized versions.
    3. Qt Symbian apps (which run on all Symbian^3) can be converted for MeeGo without too much effort.  Obviously the amount of apps will never compete with the likes off the App store, Android market, etc but the fact is there will be some apps.
    All in all I am personally excited to see the device in action. The interface looks really unique.  The only issue is one has to consider the fact that there is a reason Nokia signed a deal with Microsoft….

    1. You make a few very good point Renier.
      The localization issue is something we dont always take into account, and it really does add to the development cycle of a device…
      Do you reckon prominent developers are going to bother with Meego, even if Qt enables them to quickly port to Meego?

      1. There is a massive drive by Nokia to support developers interested in compiling their Qt apps for MeeGo. Whether this would result in loads of MeeGo apps, I’m not sure.  I doubt you will see nearly as many MeeGo apps compared to Symbian^3 apps.  
        Depending on the amount of devices sold globally it could be lucrative for developers to port their Qt apps to MeeGo as the competition would obviously be a lot less than on the crowded app stores.

  3. I have been anticipating the Meego phone for a while now, hoping that the same Apps that are already available on Maemo will be available (ported or possibly native) to Meego. I also assume that the integration level that I currently enjoy between N900 and Ubuntu will remain. Having said that I have probably identified myself as one of those unique users, also know as geeks 🙂

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