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What the N900 Means to Nokia

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n900Nokia (s nok) is hoping to recapture some of its lost glory in the smartphone space with the N900, the flagship device that began shipping today. The long-awaited handset runs Nokia’s new Maemo 5 operating system and boasts some pretty impressive features, including 32GB on onboard memory, multitasking functionality, and a 5-megapixel camera with video capability.

While the N900 may not be the iPhone-killer Nokia would love to produce — as Om opined last month — it has received positive reviews, thanks largely to Maemo 5’s web browser. Maemo-based Internet tablets have fared poorly in the U.S., but with Symbian gathering dust — and losing customers — Maemo increasingly appears to be Nokia’s best hope for catching up to its rivals in the superphone era. As Fjord’s Christian Lindholm told Om last week (see the clip below), a typical mobile operating system has a shelf life of about 10 years, and building a mobile OS from scratch is a daunting task. If Nokia can find much of an audience with its N900 and Maemo 5, it may be a first step in reversing its fortunes.

While its Symbian platform remains atop the smartphone space in terms of market share, Nokia is in desperate need of a high-end, web-friendly handset that can compete with the iPhone. The manufacturer continues to lose ground in the vital U.S. market and has watched its dominance erode in its home market of Western Europe as Apple (s aapl), Research In Motion (s rimm) and others close the gap. And Nokia will surely lose substantial ground to Android in the next few months as Google’s (s goog) mobile OS gains traction in North America and Europe. The Finnish manufacturer must continue to support its massive base of Symbian customers, of course, but Nokia’s best hope for the long-term appears to be Maemo 5.

11 Responses to “What the N900 Means to Nokia”

  1. I started using Maemo tablet since the n800. The way Nokia treat the app communisty/market is depressing. On a rough guesstimate, it has 3-5 times less apps than WM, and 10 times less apps than the iPhone (and I am just talking about the free ones.)

    I have gone back to using PalmOS phone recently. And the completely 100% dead PalmOS platform still have much more useful apps than Maemo, which is a pretty mature platform at this time. If Nokia hasn’t been able to get any app on the platform at its 3rd, 4th iteration, its never going to get any decent apps. That’s just common sense.

    Either Nokia has to rebrand it and relaunch the Maemo platform, or make it much more attractive to develop on. It’s never going to work. And I am not saying there is anything wrong about the OS. Think BeOS and a bunch of other failed platforms.

  2. I fully agree with Jason. Nokia should fully embrace Android. They keep doing fabulous hardware that is crippled with always-so-buggy and always-late-in-the-game software. With Android OS, they could push out a slew of new phones that easily beat the competition in hardware and match competition in software.

    But it may be overly optimistic to assume Nokia giving up the OS efforts it has going on. If I could decide, I would just simply axe out the OS department and focus solely on developing integrated user experience on top of Android.

  3. In my view, its not going to be enough … its not just about the mousetrap (the product alone), its about getting scale channels of distribution which are very immature for Nokia, AND its about building a healthy ecosytem around the platform. NOK hasn’t had a great history with stable developer platforms so I think its going to hurt them on this 2nd point. Might be great in Stockholm or Helsinki (probly not) but not in San Fran.

    Rich Wong
    Accel Partners

  4. Although it appears to be an interesting phone and operating system, Nokia isn’t going to win any significant marketshare “in the vital U.S. market” until the N900 is offered through a mainstream carrier–preferably Verizon or AT&T.

  5. Yes, building a mobile OS from scratch is indeed a daunting task, one which not everyone is suited for. While this will probably be viewed as violently offensive in Espoo, I still think that an N97 running Android would be one hell of a fine phone.

    The N900 strikes me as being a Finnish Pre, pleasant and full of potential (yet unrealized in the builds I have played with but I am told that the latest and greatest most beautiful ROMs are nice indeed). However, Nokia themselves can’t get their act together enough to figure out what platform they are going to use (S40, S60, Maemo….) and they are but one of many players. This is where Apple has truly nailed it, no fragmentation, no different platforms, just a very large number of good phones running the same OS and thus there IS an app for that. Much of the charm of a good platform is that there are apps and accessories available. Development on S60 is dead and has yet to really start on Maemo. Meanwhile the mobile world is converging on Android and iPhone while WinMo withers and RIM struggles for relevance.

    BTW if I can’t get Android on the N97, can I at least get Maemo? To be honest, I like the N97 hardware better than Maemo, although I am not sure if the dodgy touchscreen is software or hardware related.