On the way to irrelevance, N9 shows what Nokia could have been
Almost two years after N900 was announced, Nokia was finally able to launch it’s successor – N9.
The new Nokia flagship is a pretty good device. It’s got some good specs – 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 CPU, 1GB of RAM, 3.9” WVGA AMOLED display, 8 Megapixel camera, etc; and an interesting, pretty smooth interface. It made a lot of hard core Nokia fans extremely happy. And it looks great.
But N9 is also one of the best reminders of how deep a pit Nokia has dug itself into over the last few years.
The latest and greatest flagship from a company that still is the biggest maker of mobile phones in the world? A company that used to set the world on fire with each new NSeries flagship release, defining industry trends, leaving competitors scrambling to catch up for months? And all I can say is – Well, yeah, N9 is OK? With the specs close to those iPhone 4, Samsung Galaxy S and HTC Desire HD had a year ago? Main interface innovation – having one less button on the front panel then iPhone has and swipe gesture? Main hardware innovation – NFC syncing with custom made Nokia accessories?
As someone put it, the new N9 flagship really shows what Nokia can do. And it looks pretty impressive for Nokia. Unfortunately, when compared to iOS 5, Android Gingerbread/Honeycomb/Ice Cream Sandwich, heck, even compared to WebOS 3.0– it’s pretty obvious that Nokia can’t do that much. Which makes me rather sad.
And also makes me think of what could have been if Nokia double downed on Maemo back in early 2010 and released their first consumer friendly Meego 6/Harmattan device in mid 2010, as initially scheduled. Instead of embarking on a Meego experiment, which – like every other Nokia strategic move before Feb. 11th, looked great on paper, but never panned out in real life. And took from Nokia the only thing it could not afford to lose – time.
Had this N9 come out a year ago, Nokia would have been up there with the leaders in hardware innovation, trumping competitors on many fronts. The working NFC implementation with accessories would have been industry first. Everyone would have acknowledged that Nokia finally caught up in interfaces with Apple and Android. And it would have energized Maemo and QT developer base, allowing for the emergence of that elusive third ecosystem Nokia is now looking for, together with Microsoft.
Alas. All those could have, would have, should have doesn’t help much. So what about the future of Nokia N9?
Probably not much. It looks like a really nice device from Nokia. But N900 looked even better at the time it was released, and it was a big flop for Nokia then. I don’t see N9 doing much better. It lacks a cloud infrastructure behind it, the developer ecosystem to create apps and quite a few more things that competitors have. But those probably could be overcome with enough effort. The main problem is an apparent lack of commitment to N9 from Nokia itself.
When you announce your new flagship, you usually go all in. With CEO (if he can) or some other charismatic exec touting your new product as the next best thing since sliced bread, trashing competitor products and promising that your new device will soon take over the world. Did that Marko Ahtisari Nokia N9 launch presentation sound anything like it?
What about this quote from Stephen Elop:
The real focus of the N9 was to uncover new ways to break innovation into the marketplace. Many of the innovations that you see today in the N9 will live on in a variety of ways at Nokia. The industrial design, user interface and a focus on Qt. Elements of all these innovations will be seen in future Nokia products
Does this sound like like a strong endorsement and commitment to the new product by company CEO? Or does it sound more like an obituary for something that does not have long to live?
The only wildcard here is Qt. Not a Qt on N9 itself, but the one Nokia promised to port to S40. If Nokia is able to do that well – it could open a huge new market for Qt developers and lead to the explosion of Qt based mobile apps. Which then may also run on Nokia N9. Which could significantly increase consumer interest in Maemo/Meego and N9. Which would lead to increased commitment, upgrades and new high end devices from Nokia.
But the are so many ifs, mays, coulds and unanswered questions there that I am not holding my breath.