What IS the N900?

Posted on 11 October 2009, Last updated on 11 March 2010 by

Is it the most powerful, advanced and open smartphone on the market or is it just a geek toy? Is it the best in convergence or does it cut corners and try to be too many things at once? Is it a device for you, the ultra mobile computing enthusiast?


As the Meamo summit continues this weekend it’s becoming clear that the N900 is part of a research and marketing program that is carefully targeting itself towards a landing-point for the next generation of high-end Nokia phones, operating system, applications and services. The N900 is not really targeted at the consumer and in terms of software, is a long way from being complete. The hardware contained inside is leading-edge and expensive and won’t allow Nokia to compete at the right price level either. Nokia freely admit that software isn’t complete too. An application is needed for the FM radio and consumer infra red ports, there’s no system-wide portrait-mode support and that it needs apps. Lots of them.

The N900 is a technology showcase designed to stimulate a wide range of development activity that can be used to refine the products that will appear with the next, final, phase of Maemo. The real consumer-focused products.

It’s a brave plan that requires considerable investment by Nokia. It risks damaging the N-series brand and even the reputation of Maemo. The feedback and statistics may be from the wrong demographic and being an open project it allows others to watch and learn too.

Nokia appears to believe in this open concept though and by bringing such an advanced device to the market are offering developers a huge opportunity to get involved at a very early stage with the platform that could be driving a large percentage of the next-generation of converged pocketable devices.

Nokia understands what is happening to the market and how apps and services are quickly changing the economics. It needs to create products that are point-of-sale devices for Ovi and carrier services and by carefully monitoring what’s hot and what’s not in the Maemo and N900 program Nokia can refine the way Ovi is developed and marketed. Will users be asking for live user-user chat on the Ovi Maps application or will they just be asking for Pizza? How many apps reach the N900 from the three available channels and which channels (free on-device, web-promoted or the controlled and monetised Ovi store) are more popular with certain user types? Will anyone even bother to write that FM radio application? What percentage of downloads are for ebook reading software? Is gaming popular? Is the phone used 24/7? etc. etc. All these statistics, and thousands more, will help to refine the product range, the user interface, the services and products offered by Nokia, the carriers and their partners and of course, Ovi.

The N900 is a catalyst and it just so happens that it’s good, is going to get better and is available to all of us who enjoy the ultra mobile computing experience. It’s another great option and as a converged, pocketable, voice-capable device, the best I’ve ever used. It’s a great catalyst!

Announcement: N900 LIVE videocast with JKK and myself is planned for Monday evening at about 2000hrs CEST (central europe.) We’ll be going over the N900 on video, demonstrating some features and answering questions in the accompanying chat channel. Join us at UMPCPortal.com/live on Monday. Check back to UMPCPortal for the final timings.

28 Comments For This Post

  1. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    What IS the N900? #maesum http://cli.gs/jPvhU

  2. squirrel says:

    Along with such experiments, Nokia could also make smth finished on Cortex

  3. Vlad Bobleanta says:

    What IS the N900? http://j.mp/41dbLo

  4. johnkzin says:

    You know that that’s not really news, right?

    Nokia has been saying all along that Maemo was a five phase plan.

    The N900 is phase 4.

  5. Patrick says:

    iPhone went though that phase, Android went through that phase, WebOS is going through that phase, Windows Mobile is still in that phase (no, actually Microsoft is in stale phase :).

    I was thinking buying HTC TP2 this sumer but.. seeing the contact Maemo contact manager.. there is just NO comparison. HTC is giving absolutely no SDK for it’s interface so that means (almost)no easy way of integrating 3rd party communication tools into device contact manager (you are forced to use 3rd party software in separate software thread, for example you can only dream of having Skype call option in HTC devices directly from contact list..)
    Now if only Nokia could steal some of their hardware designers for that keyboard it would be a almost perfect device of today.. apps will come with time, when Maemo 6 sees the light of day Maemo dev ecosystem will be something entirely different esp. if Nokia integrates Maemo into cheaper smarphones and featurephones that are now the reign of Symbian and even smarbooks/umpc’s.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    >>>Phone went though that phase, Android went through that phase, WebOS is going through that phase

    WTF are you talking about?!!? I had a Nokia 770. I’m *still* traumatized by what absolute trash it was. The iPhone, any Android device, and even the Pre have NEVER been absolute crap like the N770 was.

  7. Patrick says:

    n770 was the first product on Maemo, right? That was what 3-4 years ago? Maemo 5 and you still have comparably “crap” environment if you’r not a geek with deeper pocket. N770 was like stage 1, N800 stage 2, N810 stage 3, N900 stage 4, NXXX(X) stage 5.. So yea i’m not expecting super-duper stuff currently but what i see now i really like (unless it’s bug ridden like hell).

  8. Pinkeman says:

    I can tell you one thing the Nokia N900 is:
    it is staying at the store, as long as its European price is € 200 higher than its listed price at amazon.com.
    (Though my Nokia N800 could do with a replacement).

  9. Oli says:

    That´s actually something that you´ll need to take up with your tax authorities then, as the Amazon.com prices are without taxes, and whatever you see in your store in Europe is with taxes.

    Not to mention that sales tax in the US is calculated differently and is lower than in the EU.

    Nokia has no control over taxing.

  10. pan.sapiens says:

    I’m not in E.U., but that much of a price difference isn’t tax. Manufacturers sell to (and often contractually bind) distributors to different prices in different regions. Here is Oz tax is 10% but it is common to see a 40% markup on certain catagoeies of consumer goods (hi-fi components and mucical instruments are the worst). They also sometimes contractually bind U.S. sellers to not sell to markets where the prices are marked up. I don’t know if nokia does this, but it does happen.

  11. xemone says:

    Fact: Maemo is a completely new OS, but what is unclear is whether it’s meant for smartphones with larger hi-res screens (WVGA/3.5″ or higher/larger) or for smartphones in general regardless of their screen size and resolution. This might not seem like much but I think that was one of the downfalls of the Symbian OS; it was too general. The same OS on 2″ and 3.5″ screens are worlds apart. Also mobile applications are mostly web-based and I think now is the time for Nokia to decide on the minimum hardware requirements for this new OS before lackluster hardware tarnishes Nokia’s smartphone reputation. Honestly, it’ll be like someone making a snapdragon-based device with a 2.8″ QVGA or VGA screen; that’ll just be ludicrous. Take Windows Mobile for example, since Microsoft increased the max screen res. to WVGA, almost 90% of recent devices have had WVGA screens, about 80% with 3.0″ or larger screens and roughly 70-75% with 3.5″ or larger screens.

    I think the N900 is trying to do what other devices are already doing. I know the Maemo team have promised more improvements but so far the only difference I’ve observed (from chippy’s web-browsing video) is the incredibly smooth web browsing/experience. But I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s another touchscreen smartphone; with a new OS!

    Trying to decide between the N900 and the HTC Touch Pro 2 or HD2 won’t be easy and could leave me confused. That’s bad because for a device that is mostly about connectivity and social networking, the N900 promises a lot.

    Now if the Maemo OS were to be running a device like the Nokia E90, with that extra-wide high res screen it’ll be the king of smartphones. It’ll have to be slimmer though. The E90 is almost an inch thick!

  12. xemone says:

    To me it’s a smartphone but if it’s supposed to be something else like a mobile computing device it’s STILL TOO FAR FROM THAT!

  13. Patrick says:

    It’s actually a pocketable MID with a mobile phone option. I will try to port KEmacs on it, there is Emacs port already but it’s more of a hack than a mobile version. There is a ton of linux applications that can be ported already to Maemo but will need to get GUI adjustment for such small screen and weaker processor but you would be suprised what OMAP 3 can pull off with. Just check out beagle board, specs for it are same as for n900:


    demo of capabilities:

  14. Mike Cane says:

    >>>The N900 is a technology showcase designed to stimulate a wide range of development activity that can be used to refine the products that will appear with the next, final, phase of Maemo. The real consumer-focused products.

    Except they’re still CHARGING people to beta test their crap!

    Nokia should damn well pay me damages for all the crap I put up with that 770!

    Bah! Dead company walking.

  15. Patrick says:

    LMAO!! Their money machine are dumbphones & featurephones (they sell the tune of cca. 450 MILLION UNITS per YEAR) , not everyone can afford 600 € “mobile computer”.

  16. Carl says:

    There’s always the option of not buying it if you’re only interested in a 100% complete product.

    Assumedly from the amount of interest the N900 has attracted, not everyone is so limited.

  17. chippy says:

    They are charging a lot for the phone but are also giving a huge amount of support to the dev community, passing work back upstream so it can be used in other linux projects, supporting developers with free phones and the 3-day conference was free!

    Nokia wouldn’t be able to move forward by just developing an OS for 4 years without platforms to test it on.

    The hardware is definitely not Beta standard. The current software is extremely stable too. The price is right for such a device. (iPhone 3GS costs much the same BTW)

  18. Dennis says:

    I used to own an N770 Internet Tablet but skipped everything since then. I’ve owned an iPhone 3G since its release. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts, which are probably mostly accurate.

    Initially the idea behind the Internet Tablet was to be a companion device to a (Nokia) feature phone. Instead of owning a smartphone, with limited screen resolution, the consumer could keep whatever phone they were using and BT tether a high-resolution internet tablet to it for data on the go.

    Since the N770, “unlimited” data plans and mobile browser usage have become more mainstream, and Nokia has moved more towards the idea of a pocket computer device (i.e., ‘don’t call it a phone’).

    Getting to the N900, it represents, as someone just mentioned, phase 4 of 5 in the development of Maemo. In terms of hardware, the N900 is benefited by the continued development of lower power consumption, more powerful CPUs and faster cellular data networks that benefit all mobile devices. It continues the tradition of an 800×480 screen which initially was touted as a requirement for surfing the ‘real’ internet.

    On the software side, Nokia has shown its continued commitment to the idea of the ‘real’ internet by including Flash support, which as we know is difficult enough of a task to be impressive. It also demonstrates Nokia’s awareness that surfing the ‘real’ internet is actually less important than it used to be — e.g., widgets for social networking.

    I think the major obstacles facing the N900 are as follows:
    1) Battery life. We are seeing a revolution in cellular network speeds, always-on or always-available networking, better mobile CPUs, a better market for mobile software applications, cheaper flash memory, and cheaper LCD screens. What we are not seeing is a revolution in battery capacity or the amount of battery power needed to support network access and real-world usage of these new, more connected, more powerful mobile devices. One of the failures of the Internet Tablet was that as a PMP, its battery life was never even close to that of a PMP, nor did it have the form factor to support those functions in a mobile setting. The iPhone, Android phones, and the Palm Pre could all use about 50-100% more battery life for most power users.

    Power users would ultimately like to play games, check multiple email accounts, and stream internet radio (and scrobble if possible), all at the same time. They would also like free IM and VOIP compatibility. All of that put together is a major problem for battery life. And the closer these devices get to being able to perform all those functions (the N900 and possibly the HTC HD2), the more people will complain about the battery life.

    2) Software development community. Maemo has always attracted the interest of hard-core open source software developers, but not much more than that. Nokia has not been great about bugfixes for previous versions of Maemo, and the open source developer community has picked up some of that slack. One way in which Apple led the way is by setting up a software development community around monetization. But the concept of a layperson consumer relying on a hard-core open source community has so far simply not worked well.

    3) Nokia’s relatively slow pace of development. What makes all of this interesting to watch is that Nokia has all the pieces of a corporate infrastructure that can fully support ‘pocket computers.’ It’s just that they seem to be moving at a snail’s pace. Five years ago they bought the company that wrote software capable of synchronization between Nokia phones and online contact services (Yahoo to be specific). They have N-Gage for games, deals with recording companies for music, and now the Ovi store. But they haven’t yet come out with one flagship device that brings all those pieces together.

    Maybe they’re being smart in working things out gradually. But when it comes to consumers, anyone interested in a high-performance multi-function smartphone is going to be tempted by the N900, but ultimately is going to be looking forward to the successor to the N900, the final phase of development, etc.

    Of these, the biggest obstacle is developing a structured software development community, IMO. I don’t know what structure it should have, but it needs more than it’s got.

  19. Joseph Clore says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing: That's bad because fo.. http://bit.ly/19Fd3A http://bit.ly/dTpVi

  20. safnest says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing http://bit.ly/IRE4x

  21. iNestdia says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing http://bit.ly/IRE4x

  22. classic2mac says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing http://trim.li/nk/oqA

  23. Blanche says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing http://bit.ly/IRE4x

  24. Vakeros says:

    N900 seems to be to be trying to be jack of all trades without being good enough.
    Keyboard: check – but only 3 lines, NOT good enough. Should be min. 4, but preferably 5.
    Screen: 3.5″ check – but NOT big enough!
    Compare this to the HTC HD2 or Touch Pro2 and it isn’t as good.

  25. Steve Michaels says:

    What IS the N900? | UMPCPortal – Ultra Mobile Personal Computing: iPhone went though that phase, Android went t.. http://bit.ly/VbaQg

  26. oɟuısʍǝuɥɔǝʇʎɯ says:

    The (Nokia) N900 is not really targeted at the consumer and in terms of software, is a long way from being complete http://is.gd/4eGMi

  27. Digital ESP'er says:

    RT @mytechnewsinfo: The (Nokia) N900 is not really targeted at the consumer and software, is a long way from complete http://is.gd/4eGMi

  28. Steve 'Chippy' Paine says:

    @mikecane Information Week don't understand that N900 is just a dev teaser. Real devices come much later. http://bit.ly/4BXDI8

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