So Nokia have finally announced the shiny new N9, the next in their Open Source line of devices, and maybe the last. Allowing for a fairly normal lead time, it should hit markets about two years after its predecessor, the N900. (Though Nokia is not famous for getting devices out for due dates, something their new Powers That Be claim to have fixed.)
What’s it like?
Well, most industry bloggers tripped over their feet in rushing to put finger to keyboard to extol its virtues. Even Engadget liked it! The BBC, notorious Apple fans, managed to say it was quite a good device, then pour negativity over its future.
The community seems pretty divided. Those who are willing to embrace something new can see its potential. But many people who came on board with the N900 are disappointed at the very different feature set. If you chose your device for the feature set, I can understand disappointment with the change of feature direction.
So what do I think?
Mostly, I think I like it. And more importantly, I think Nokia have made the right moves with this device. Unlike any of the maemo offerings, the N9 is first and foremost a consumer device. It follows current consumer fashions, and puts Nokia’s own spin on them. Which means doing what everyone else is doing, only better.
What makes N9 a consumer device?
* Nokia have streamlined hardware and concentrated on form factor. The N9 is a fashionable keyboardless ‘monoblock’ device with a capacitive touch screen. Whereas the n900 was stuffed full of every piece of hardware you could think of, some of which shipped without software – left to the community to create, the N9 has more or less only those hardware features which are tried and tested in the market: it does what most people expect a phone to do, but there’s no FM radio (receiver or transmitter) and no IrDA. But the items that are there are are high quality and polished. The camera may only be 8mp, but it’s got quality software, and of course that Carl Zeiss lens that keeps some of us coming back to Nokia devices. The new idea in the block (rather than on the block!) is “Near Field Communication” – how useful that will prove will depend on whether other devices have it too. Great for pairing with your Nokia headset, but what I really want is to pair with a friend’s Sony Ericsson so I can swap photos.
* The second thing that Nokia appear to have got right is the performance. Judging by the videos, this baby has enough juice in terms of processor and memory to comfortably multi-task a large number of apps while still being able to play those animated transitions. You slide off a video, and the half screen continues playing. It’s paused in the background when you go to the ‘open apps’ screen, ready to pick up where you left off.
* And while we’re mentioning the animated transitions, please can we give a huge cheer for the UI guys this time. I was chatting to a client yesterday about Open Source and his comment was “My problem with Open Source is that they tweak stuff and make it very hard to use”. I replied “It’s not that they make it hard to use – most Open stuff is written by enthusiasts who don’t worry too much about polishing the interface. On the other hand, go look at the N9!” Because if the N9 has done anything right, it’s that nifty, user-friendly attractive interface that makes even die-hard resistive screen fans like me want to try it out. It may not be easy for us furry fingered types to get our paws round the capacitive typing, but that UI makes me determined to try!
* Did I mention the marketing? I confess I wondered what Nokia was about launching so far from home in Singapore. Though of course, they have huge markets over there – a fact often forgotten by the journalists and bloggers who think that Europe and N America is the centre of all things mobile. The launch went smoothly, the excellent website was ready to go live – and it didn’t crash! The Excitement was all over the web within 5 hours of the announcement. The ads are smooth, the information enough without being overloaded – it looks like it’s all been aimed at the consumer who was just waiting for the next big thing.
* And then there’s the N950. Just when you wanted to bitch that Nokia has sold out their MeeGo project to the consumer and forgotten their loyal developers and community, there’s the n950. A device just for the developer. There won’t be many around, and it’s not designed with glossiness in mind – but it has that all-important hardware keyboard for on-device programming. Actually getting your hands on one may not be terribly easy. If you think you could justify being awarded one for some project or idea you have, now is the time to sign up to the community devices programme.
Anyway, those are my first reflections on the new N9. Ideally, I’d like to check I can type on that screen. But this bear of very little brain is counting her pennies (and waiting for a release date) as I think I’d rather like one of those. In pink.