South African Nokia N9 Launch – We Were There

As you may know by now, I’m Android fanboy, so the fact that I specifically asked to cover the Nokia N9 launch last week Thursday, says something about how special this device is. Climbing a nondescript flight of metal stairs, I emerged into the DIS Daylight Studio, Nokia South Africa’s stunning venue for the N9 launch. Free drink in hand, looking around the room revealed a few very important faces (and a few less important one, like myself).
After a bit of networking, things kicked off with a slightly cheesy video about design inspiration and some stunning choreography, after which Nokia’s Senior VP of design, Marko Ahtisaari, took the stage. Marko is the man behind both the industrial, and user-experience design of the N9 – something that, as I’ll explain later, goes hand in hand. He explained how the design revolves around a single gesture, the “swipe”, and how the elegant simplicity of the Harmattan User Interface came about as a result of the competition’s design paradigms (iOS and Android were the examples used) still not being, in Nokia’s mind, optimal for a device that is “small enough for your pocket, but big enough for your hand”. As Marko explained these principles, and demoed the software on the phone, the passion and expertise that went into the Nokia N9’s overall design and experience was evident throughout, although there may have been a slight hint of bitterness – Nokia has already decided that MeeGo, the operating system that the N9 runs, has no future in the company.

After the presentation, I sauntered over to the N9 Showcase, and spent a few minutes with the device. The hardware is stunning. Nokia has opted to use a body machined from a single block of polycarbonate resin that is coloured throughout. Three colours are available: black, cyan and magenta – a nod to the design industry. The curved Gorilla glass that covers the vivid 3.9″ AMOLED display is engineered to facilitate the “swipe” gesture, and the fact that there is no air between the display itself and the glass means that it feels like things are happening directly on the surface, right beneath your fingers. The Nokia N9 also sports a 8MP autofocus camera with Carl Zeiss optics, with an aperture of f2.2 and dual LED flash (which means that it should perform excellently in low light). The N9 is powered by a single core ARM Cortex-A8 processor running at 1GHz, backed by 1GB of RAM. In South Africa, we’ll only be seeing the flavor with 16GB of internal storage.

Where the device really shines, though, is the software. The Harmattan UI that lives on MeeGo 1.2, a linux-based mobile operating system, is something totally new that feels somehow familiar. Once you unlock the device, there are only three main sections: an application drawer that looks a lot like what you would find on Android, a multi-tasking view that displays the latest-used applications first, and an events view that is a combined stream of things like message, missed calls, tweets, and so forth. You navigate between these views by swiping left or right from the edge of the display. And that’s it. Simple, intuitive, elegant. The N9 comes preloaded with a few applications (Angry Birds, Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare to name a few), but more are available in the OVI Store. Apparently, porting existing Symbian QT applications over to the N9’s MeeGo environment is quite a trivial exercise, so hopefully a few more applications will appear over time.
From what I’ve seen, and read, the Nokia N9 is not only a solid device, but a desirable one as well. It’s not often that you’ll see hardware and software compliment each other in this manner. In my humble opinion, the N9 goes back to Nokia’s roots of solid, reliable, intuitive devices. It’s a shame, then, that the N9 is the first and last of its kind.
The Nokia N9 will be available in South Africa from November 2011 at an estimated retail price of R5 999. For more information, visit – and keep your eye on the Nokia South Africa blog.