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.

 

Author: Stasys Bielinis

While I like to play with the latest gadgets, I am even more interested in broad technology trends. With mobile now taking over the world - following the latest technology news, looking for insights, sharing and discussing them with passionate audience - it's hard to imagine a better place for me to be. You can find me on Twitter as @UVStaska'

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  • http://www.facebook.com/almira.kz Almira KZ

    please show me exactly what iphone has that outweighs N9. NFC? No. Pentaband? No. edge to edge screen? no. Unibody? no. Top of the market hardware + quality? no. microusb? no. a mind blowing camera? hell no. Real true multitasking? we can guess the answer to that as well.

    There is absolutely nothing that iphone has that can outweigh N9. Even Android doesn’t have it. This N9 is clearly a step above the competitors…oh, and iOS5 won’t offer anything mind blowing. Widgets? HA, Nokia had them for the last 5 years. And my N900 still does widgets 5000 times better than what we saw on iOS5.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    #1 – iPhone 4 is a year old device. If Nokia N9 shipped a year ago would have been a great device. That was exactly my point. Now you’ll have to compare it to the next generation iPhone that comes out. (They both will probably start shipping around the same time). 

    As for features you mentioned? 

    NFC? iPhone doesn’t have it… yet. But Android already has. They also have mobile payments via NFC already in the market. And NFC stuff they’ve shown of at I/O did everything Nokia showed – touch&sync and much more.  So Nokia again is a follower in here today. 

    Pentaband? – Who cares? Any problems connecting to networks when on the road with your iPhone or Android? 

    Edge to edge screen? – NiIce? – yes. Important – no. 

    Top of the market hardware + quality? Really? Have you used already? For a few months? How would you know if it’s so good? Because of the plastic body they call polycarbonate? Because N97 or N95-1 had such a great build quality? 

    Micro USB, true multi-tasking? Again beyond hard core phone geeks – does anyone even know what these things mean? 

    So, your N900 is great at multi-tasking and widgets. Well, the browser is great too. I know – I used it for 3 months too. How did the mighty N900 in overall market? Sales flopped despite very active promotion. A great niche device for hackers who love to tinker  with stuff. For the rest of us – thethe sales numbers tell it all

        

  • paulo

    Is Qt, not QT ignorant

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    My bad. Thank’s for the heads up. Corrected

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LKYLQULBNH4UQQJYPUIQQ6TDS4 Jake

    Actually the Nokia N9 looks pretty good.  Unfortunately people can’t get past Nokia-as-world beater, and therefore are judging a very quality effort – a highly sophisticated effort – a bit too harshly.

    And I’m not sure why – Elop has done everything he can to shoot Nokia in the foot.  By now, your expectations should have been lowered.

    Anyway it wasn’t every strategy before Feb. 11th that they couldn’t execute on – it’s every strategy, including Feb. 11th, that they can’t execute on.

    I guess you think MS is saving Nokia – why, they didn’t save Palm.   Been there, done that – it won’t work.

  • http://www.staska.net Staska

    Isn’t it exactly what I said – ‘Nokia N9 is a pretty good device”? Well, that, and also that from the presentation it doesn’t sound that Nokia itself actually believes in it. 

    As for the world beater reputation, I certainly can get and already got past that. It’s just, as I said in the post – it makes me sad to see it. N8 is a good product, but really nothing special compared to what competition has to offer this year. Even without taking into account the ecosystems around Android and iOS devices.  And without even Nokia’s own full support – N9 has a very little chance of making it beyond a small niche.

    As for MS saving Nokia or not. It’s anyone’s guess at this point – it might work or it might not. Nobody really knows and anybody who tells different – they are just guessing or letting their own bias (pro or against) do the talking. One side will be proven right next year, probably. But it would be just a lucky guess at this point    

  • Anonymous

    The N900 was an ugly brick, and honestly too complicated for the average joe. Neverthelss they sold much more than they expected (the authors sources are wrong). The N9 does not have many apps, but the Dev tools will finally be top-notch (Qt/QML/Javascript). Only MS offers similar stuff.

    The problem of the N9 is obviously the lack of support of near future by nokia, but the tech behind it is sound, and will see more of it in the future, in another form of course.

  • http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com MIP

    I just posted this in another article here, but it is actually much more appropriate in this one:

    http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com/2011/06/17/what-nokia-should-learn-from-the-n900/

  • http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com MIP

    “Sales flopped despite very active promotion”

    I disagree with statement – on the contrary I think Nokia *downplayed* the N900 (see my post above).

    But I do agree that Elop’s statement indicates that the N9 won’t get any more Nokia lovin’ than the N900 did, even though it saddens me say so….

  • Marcus Christopher McFann

    Thanks for that, MIP. NO marketing for N900, not even much manufacturing capacity dedicated to it. Was never intended for mass market. The N9 and N950 were supposed to be that, but Maemo merged with MeeGo while Qt was unified, with no mobile branch, and it set them back 9 months, thanks to balky management. These things will sell, and if they do carrier deals and Euro commercials like the N8 and X7, it’ll sell easily. The public has been yelling for the N9 for months.

  • Marcus Christopher McFann

    My nieces are under 8 years old, and use my N900 all the time. Its simple to use, and the tutorial to give you a hint on how to use it is on the homescreen out of the box. Learn how to multitask, change apps, and launch apps and homescreens, and what else is left?

  • Anonymous

    They don’t believe in meego because it won’t stand a chance on the american market. Also when MS “pays” them for using wp7 (which is a good platform from a tech point of view), why not use it? Maintaining a platform for multiple devices is expensive. You can still have meego as an R&D project. That said, the nokia brand and nice UI will help sell the N9 in europe and asia, after that nokia will probably decide to continue support and use it as a secondary smartphone platform besides wp7. Except they have something big in R&D for meego which requires full focus.

  • http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com MIP

    I really hope the N9 will sell well, and I will support it with my wallet by buying one; as I said somewhere else, let’s see for how long Nokia/Elop can keep ignoring MeeGo if it sells by the millions even if it doesn’t have an ‘ecosystem':

    http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com/2011/06/21/i-dont-want-no-friggin-ecoystem/

  • http://www.mobileinfoplanet.com MIP

    I just came across this article written by yourself 2 years ago, which I think supports what I said above:

    http://www.unwiredview.com/2009/09/05/nw09-impressions-did-nokia-underestimate-how-good-n900-really-is/

  • Wayfarer

    Well, not that you would be right in all the other points, but in one you are definitely wrong: the N900 sold very well despite of no marketing at all, even in North America.