Nokia N9 Pre-Reflections

Though I’ve not had many posts in the past week (1 maybe), I have been paying attention to news and notes around me. One of the more interesting pieces so far has been the announcement of the Nokia N9. Being a fan of the Maemo/MeeGo platform, and an occasional contributor and commentator, I’ve been interested in seeing what Nokia would be doing with this device. Unlike some of my mobilist contemporaries, I’m more impressed than I am perplexed.

The Items That Impress

First, because the N9 has been on my list of devices to purchase, those things that impress me should probably lead any statements.

I have to say that the take on a button-less hardware design, and swipe-driven user interface most impresses me. One, because that’s not something that I would expect from Nokia. They are really well trained and behaved when it comes to things like buttons, placement, and gestures. For them to take a chance with the user interface by relegating it completely to swipes is my idea of an innovation. With the N9, Nokia seems to have taken the lessons learned from Palm’s WebOS and made the right kinds of steps forward. That said, I do agree with Christian Lindholm.’s position that the N9’s swipe UI represents a kind of plateau for the button-like software interface.

Next, I would have to say that the industrial design positively reminds me of my N8 – which I’m regarding as one of the better looking slate devices on the market today. The lines are crisp, though I would have probably went for a different suite of colors (chocolate brown, a copper orange, and possibly silver charcoal would have been nice to see there).

Lastly, I would say that I’m really geeked out by the UX Guidelines. Nokia has always been very comprehensive when they would put forth documentation, and this resource is just amazing. I’ve got reading and studying material for months here. Any one developing applications for this or any mobile platform really would gain a lot from just going through the UX Guidelines’ site and just gleaning good notes. Lots here are significantly different enough from the WebOS and iOS standards that it would make for some interesting experiments.

Other aspects such as the different capacities (16GB and 64GB), NFC, and even the developer version (N950 which has a sliding keyboard), are also solid notes here.

Items That Don’t Impress

If you’ve heard me rant before (which isn’t hard), then you know that I can be a bit hard to please. A few things have kind of got me thinking, “where was the sense in that.”

For example, it was announced, but so far there’s no (official) date nor price. Ok, so that doesn’t matter to a cash-strapped mobilist such as myself, but I do like to project for new devices and make some goals. To be upfront with things, I’m not enough of a developer (IMO) to go to the Nokia Developer Launchpad and make good enough contributions to merit a device being given to me either. I’d not say no, but it would be more honest on my part to purchase and then make my contributions to the MeeGo community here.

Along with price, it seems that the USA audience isn’t getting anything very certain about its availability. Now, I know that there are FCC, legal, and probably a few other issues here. And the N9/N950 isn’t exactly meant to be widely used/popular, but man, that would kind of burn if it wasn’t available here. Outside of my final niggle with it (next paragraph), it really could be a nice device here.

That final niggle actually has to do with the camera. Yea, I know, its got an 8 megapixel, wide-screen, auto-focus lens. But, that’s not as good as the N8. I would have expected that the N9 would have been halo-enough that it could have the exact same camera as the N8. It doesn’t, which just takes some of the ego points down a bit. I have no doubt that it would be well tuned though.

My Prospects with the N9

Here’s the thing with me and the N9 that I’d like to just put out there. An N9 would be (another) reason to get back into the Katana bible project. That project needs to get finished, and a device, along with some better/more attention from myself/MMM would go a good ways there. Do I need to own an N9/N950 for this to happen? No, not really. But investing my own device and funds towards making it happen would speak towards how much I think this project is smarter than not doing anything at all.

Until I get my hands on the N9, I cannot be sure that it would be suitable enough in a day-to-day function to be a primary mobile. I don’t think its far off though.  Much closer than the N900 was to the N97 if you will. What would be neat to see is the N8 with the Symbian Anna update (coming in August) against the fresh hardware and MeeGo 1.3 of the N9. That would be a comparison worth investigating some – even if Nokia is putting both platforms out to pasture.

One of the things that’s missing is Nokia Bots. I’d hoped that the N9 would have also made a considerable step forward in respect to AI as well as UI. I’m a bit disappointed that such isn’t mentioned as being there, though I’m sure that a few folks in their labs have been testing/playing with the idea for sometime. As I’ve said previously, we are really at the point where mobile devices need to respond to context, not just be programmed manually to be contextually aware. The N9 makes for a nice platform to see this some more.

The N9 is a closing bow for the Maemo (not necessary MeeGo) platform for Nokia. It was the device/platform by which Nokia was framing to change their entire organizational approach to mobile. I wish they’d not made the change in using Maemo/MeeGo, but times are what they are and decisions have been made. I will say that the N9 does raise the bar for Nokia when it comes to Windows Phone, and even Symbian to some respect. They are clearly making the case that more than be done, that devices can blend into our lives and enable living more than they are now. It will be interesting to see if/how the N9 evolves within an open community’s hands, and how Windows Phone learns from those lessons to be what Nokia envisions mobile to be across the board.