The Nokia fork in the road

I've been a Nokia user since around 2000, Nokia fan since 2003, Nokia(ish) employee since 2004, and now I seem to have reached the fork in the road with their devices.

Let me be clear before my rant, I don't work for Nokia anymore, I work for Nokia Siemens Networks, which is completely split from the motherships of both Nokia and Siemens. I'm just a normal consumer at this point.

My device ownership path has been:

  1. Philips Saavy C12 & C13
  2. Nokia 3310
  3. Nokia 6210
  4. Nokia 5140
  5. Nokia 6680
  6. Nokia E70
  7. Nokia N95
  8. Nokia N800 - My current internet tablet
  9. Nokia E71 - My current phone

I even still have all the phones, mostly in immaculate condition, or at least as good condition as I got given them (the 6210 was a temporary phone). The 6680 was my favourite, and I'll always have a soft spot for it's rock-solid stability, both in hardware and software respects. The E70 is probably my least favourite one, having far too low memory for what it needed to do, although having a higher resolution screen than even some of today's top-end devices. All in all I fell in love with S60 and the fantastic applications that most developers created for it.

So, now I've presented the backstory, here's my quandary. I'm quite happy with my E71 for now (I haven't had it for all that long), but I'm already wondering about the next device, and the options are so vast, and also potentially isolating that I'm confused.

I still love Nokia and their devices, and would like to stay with them if at all possible, but I'm not going to be stupid enough to back the wrong horse again (my parents backed Betamax in it's day, I recently backed HD-DVD, I've been stung enough). My current choices are (in no particular order):

  • Symbian S60v5 - Nokia 5800, N97, X6
  • Nokia Maemo 5 - Nokia N900
  • Android 2.1 - Nexus One

Ok, so why no iPhone? I'm a Mac fan, but like many others I see the iPhone platform as an artificially crippled device because of the lack of openness of Apple.

Being a Nokia fan my eyes are glancing more in the direction of the N900 or maybe the N97, but I'm also a big user of online services, and what I'm seeing happen on a lot of sites now is a lack of Nokia-based platform support. This is mainly due to the low usage of Nokia devices within america (with a focus on San Francisco), but if there's where most of the popular web services are coming from then I guess they get to weigh quite heavily towards their chosen platform.

Maemo

With the release of the N900 it all seemed like it was going to change, and it still might a developer fan-base, and I hope it will be big enough to succeed, but then there's another issue... right after announcing the N900 they let slip that this wasn't going to be the top of the line Maemo device for too long, as Maemo6 would be released in the not-so-distant future, and the N900 wouldn't suppor it. Now, I don't think I'm the only one this rang alarm bells for, and I think it might have caused developers some confusion too, about the investment of developing for a soon-obsolete platform and device.

Add to this the latest announcement from Mobile World Congress 2010 that Maemo will be merged with Moblin to make a single platform called MeeGo, the future of N900 seems destined for a lonely existance as the only Maemo5 Device.

Symbian

So, in this category of device we've got the resistive touch N97/5800 or the capacitive touch X6. Although I like the look of the capacitive touch devices, the X6 doesn't use it to it's full (multi-touch), so the benefits are a moot point. The N97 itself looks and feels wonderful and solid, and between the N97 and the N900 it's almost just a choice of platform, at least to me.

Since I'm using an E71, I see the S60v5 applications floating around, but not too many. They do seem to be becoming about as common as the S60v3 versions of applications, which is a good thing. It's also got the WRT widgets though, which seem quite easy to develop, so maybe I could make all my own content if I was that desperate for something. Again, the issue of new social web services not supporting it is a downside, but at least from what I've noticed, the N900 seems to have gotten more buzz around it than the N97, so maybe that's enough to kill it for me.

Even if you neglect the current state of applications and hope for the best for the future, there's yet another platform redundancy issue... Symbian^3 was just announced at Mobile World Congress 2010, and that might spell the end for future S60v5 devices (apart from those already in the pipeline). It's less of a shock than the MeeGo announcement, as we knew the Symbian acquisition was aiming for a converged platform from the pieces of the contributing companies, and if history is anything to go by the shift to shipping purely Symbian^3 devices might be as late as 2012 or 2013, with the first devices probably being shipped early 2011, which is quite a long time to be left in limbo as a developer wondering when it's safe to develop for the platform.

Android

Naturally, this is the platform I know the least about. I've touched an HTC Magic, and liked the feel of the device, as well as the interface. It would take a bit of getting used to, but I'm sure I could get used to it.

For applications, I'd say it on par with the iPhone for the things I need/want, but I'm a little confused about whether I have to look for applications specifically produced for a particular version of Android, are all android applications cross-compatible with the various platform versions?

So...?

To be honest, I'm torn between the N900 and an Android device. Symbian has lost most of it's spark from an applications point of view, at least until they come out with a new flagship device. I like a hardware keyboard (my experience with the N800 on-screen keyboard isn't good), and for that the N900 one would do nicely, but then again, the Motorola Milestone (The Droid in America) has one, but I don't know if I like the look of the device overall (even neglecting the fact it's a Motorola device). On the developer adoption side I know I should be leaning towards Android, but I love the look of the N900 screen and UI a lot and know that apps could look great on it.

Any thoughts? I'm open to good arguments either way.

Comments

Well, I'd see it like this;

- The Android devices are great and have improved a lot. I like Google's open approach but from my experience unless you are using the Google suite of applications you're going to loose a lot of the talked up features. I've seen people who use Microsoft Hotmail who are completely stuffed on Android (the same can also be said for Microsoft Hotmail users who pick an iPhone). The other downside of Android is the sheer number of versions of it - each Android device has it's own bespoke version of the OS meaning that each App has to be tweaked for each and every version of Android.

- I should imagine the N900 is an incredibly reliable device and Nokia are the last of the old school mobile phone producers. If it's been like a lot of recent Nokia phones it'll only come good after two or three firmware releases which, sadly, has been also true with Android.

There is of course the dark horse that you haven't mentioned BlackBerry. The two flag ship models being the Bold and the Storm 2 with only the Storm 2's touch screen to separate them. Screen response, on the Storm 2, is up with the iPhone and Android handsets although the feel lags a little behind both. Supports a lot of standard protocols, I'm currently using a Curve and have it syncing my calendars and things directly from Google. Everything is push, nothing is pull and they're very easy to setup but secure and solid. Thanks to some clever marketing user base is growing globally and because of that the BlackBerry App World is growing with both Paid and Free apps.

It may be worth a quick check up on.
Tuesday 16 February 2010 21:10 | user icon Dave Johnson
Having been a BlackBerry user as well as iPhone and soon Nokia user, if I had to choose again I would go BlackBerry, but because I'm a heavy user of Apple's MobileMe service for push mail, calendar, contacts, bookmarks and the most important feature to me 'Find my iPhone', I would go with another iPhone.

Having to agree with the other Dave.. Three years being a 'CrackBerry' user (BlackBerry Curve) mostly for work, was ideal. Synced up nicely with my work calendar, contacts and mail in both Lotus Domino, and when eventually migrated, Microsoft Exchange. I even took advantage of BIS (BlackBerry Internet Service) which allows for push Gmail, Yahoo, etc. even POP3 and IMAP. Okay, it's not real push, it's RIMs servers polling.

What with Nokia's new messaging platform (part of which I am now responsible for deploying) this will work very much like RIMs BIS service, push mail. However, it doesn't provide syncing of calendars or contacts just yet.. well, I think Ovi does.

If you're tied to Google (email, calendar, contacts, etc.), go with Android. If you're tied to Ovi or perfer Nokia Messaging, go with Nokia. Of if you're like me, tied to MobileMe, iPhone. Everything else, BlackBerry.
Wednesday 17 February 2010 03:32 | user icon Dave F
I completely agree with other Dave in his summary.

Just some further thoughts for you. Nokia have, today, announced that the N900 will receive MeeGo once it's ready - there are suggestions that it won't be until the 2nd half of 2010. So if you want to stay in the Nokia camp you should be safe.

Take a Saturday morning and visit either Orange or Vodaphone as they offer the Big 4 phones (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and N900) try live phones for things you're going to do most often then make an informed decision and search for the best deal. When I was sorting out phones for myself and girlfriend I found I was in a strong position to negotiate.
Wednesday 17 February 2010 20:31 | user icon Dave Johnson
Thanks Dave and Dave. I'm not a RIM fan, so BlackBerry isn't really on my list... if I wanted something like a blackberry I'd stay with my E71 (which I probably will do at least for now).

Unless the monthly subscription outweighs the unlocked phone price, I'd be very tempted to bypass the whole operator choice, since work pay for my calls and data plan. I'm still perfectly happy with O2.

It's nice to see that MeeGo will be available for the N900... I'd be interested to know how that's going to work out, since it was announced before that Maemo6 wouldn't support it. The other thing that's making me nervous with MeeGo is that it's an RPM distro rather than Deb, but that's just a technicality I guess.
Wednesday 17 February 2010 23:01 | user icon Duncan Sample

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About the author

Portrait of the author

On weekdays I'm a Technical Lead at Comparethemarket.com, having previously been a Solution Architect at Nokia & Nokia Siemens Networks, creating creative software solutions for mobile operators around the world.

In my spare time I'm an avid new technology fan, and constantly strive to find innovative uses for the new gadgets I manage to get my hands on. Most recently I've been investigating Mobile Codes, RFID and Home automation (mainly Z-Wave). With a keen eye for usability I'm attempting to create some cost-effective, DIY technology solutions which would rival even high-end retail products. The software I develop is usually released as Open Source.

I have a Finnish geek partner, so have begun the difficult task of learning Finnish.


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