Contact Management, Account Presence, Sharing
One of the things I really like about Maemo is that they bake a lot of services directly into the OS. For example, I can add my email account, skype, Gtalk, and several other communication services to the device, and all of my contacts from those services will flow into the contact manager on the N900. While this will certainly create a huge mess for anyone not willing to sort through it, it does provide some awesome functionality for the person who will take the time to straighten everything out (merging contacts and consolidating friend’s services into a set of single contact information). One can set their availability right from the status bar on the N900’s home screen, and you if your services are set to available, you’ll be able to receive IM’s and calls through any of the services that you have set up.
For example, I can set up a contact and add their email, phone number, Skype account, and IM account. Then I can stick a contact shortcut on one of my desktops. At a glance, I can see if they are active on any IM networks. With one click, I can see which IM accounts they are active on, I can call them through Skype, or call them with Skype credits, send an email, SMS, or just call them through using the N900 as a phone. None of this is managed through some secondary application — it is built directly into the system, which makes it easy to access as well as system-wide. There is a cool little LED on the bottom left of the front of the device which gives you email/IM/etc. notifications by flashing.
You can also share several things from your device rather easily as long as you’ve added some accounts. I could add my flickr account to the N900, snap a picture, then click â€œShare with service inch and click my account. Off the picture goes to flickr. That easy. The same goes for Facebook and a lot of other sharing services. This is one of the things that is done well on the N900.
I feel that web browsing is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, part of the N900. The built-in web browser is a Mozilla based application called MicroB, and it is designed with web standards compatibility in mind. When I test devices, I take a lot of short notes in Google Docs. This is the first mobile device that I’ve used where I could reasonably have my Google Docs note document open in the background, and continue to use the device, and simply take notes as I go.
I’ve even used the N900 to take a video, then uploaded that video to YouTube, directly from the N900’s web browser. This is seriously awesome. There isn’t even a file browser on the iPhone, and yet here is the N900 which can upload videos to YouTube without any special software whatsoever. Very cool.
The combination of a fully web compatible browser and the ability to multitask effectively really make the N900 feel less like a MID or a phone, and more like a pocket computer (a ultra mobile PC if you will). While this has many advantages, it also brings with it the issues that come with having a tiny computer. Hold that thought as we segue to the next section.
Appification vs. Web Compatibility
Since using the N900, the two sides of this argument have been fresh on my mind. Allow me to remind you of the issues:
On one hand, we have phones like the iPhone in which the primary way people interact with the phone is through applications. These apps are often just specially designed interfaces which link out to websites or web services. The advantage here is ease of use. The application is specifically designed with the phone in mind and the way that the user will interact with it. Thus, they can provide a much more user friendly experience than if the user attempted to use the site, that the app communicates with, directly. The disadvantage is that a specific application needs to be created for each and every platform out there, and everything starts to become proprietary. That means that if Facebook wants to provide a Facebook app for many of it’s users, it needs to invest the time and money into creating an individual application for the iPhone, Android, Blackberry, Palm WebOS, Maemo, etc. But they might only want to invest in a few of these platforms. If you happen to be on a platform that they don’t care about, you won’t get an app to provide a good experience for that site. And if your device lacks a fully compatible browser necessary to use that site, then you miss out all together.
The other side of the coin is that without this â€œappficiation inch of the web, companies don’t need to create many different versions of applications. Everyone can access the same site as long as they have a fully compatible browser (like the one on the N900). The issue here is that web-sites are evolving into web-applications. I mentioned being able to use Google Docs right on the N900. That was a great experience, but when it comes to a highly complex web-application like Facebook (now with it’s own in-line instant messengerâ€¦), the experience is much worse on the N900 than if there was a well made app made specifically with the N900 in mind, despite the fact that the N900 can handle the site very well through it’s browser.
The best example of this is probably YouTube. The N900 has full flash support in it’s browser which is great. You can see all flash content right where it was meant to be. But you have to bust out the stylus just to click the full-screen button on the player, and it’s often hard to tap the play/pause button when you want to because the site simply wasn’t designed to be interacted with on an 800×480 screen with touch input. If I could have it my way, I’d rather click the video and be popped out to some application which pulls up the same video with a finger friendly interface.
I still don’t know exactly where I fall in this debate, but I will say that attempting to use complex sites, while definitely possible, is hard on the N900 — Expect to be using stylus (*cringe*).