The Nokia N9 has a strange story. It’s an exciting story. It’s a sad story. It’s an amazing story that is still unfolding.
But if you walk today into any of the shops of Amman’s “mobile phone district” near the 7th Circle, you might not even feel that there is a whole saga around the Nokia N9.
To the casual observer, the N9 was, for the past few months, simply Nokia’s newest flagship phone. It is, till the date of this writing, being heavily promoted with huge posters and stickers in almost every big or small mobile shop in town. Try to browse the web in Jordan and N9 banners will pop up here and there.
Normal, you think. This is Nokia and it is trying to sell its latest flagship..
But nothing could be farther from the truth.
Ask any serious phone geek about the N9 and the word “orphan” will immediately be used. The N9 has NOTHING to do withe the N8. And if Nokia sticks to its declared strategy, this N9 will have no brothers, sisters, sons or daughters.
Here is what happened in a nutshell. Around a couple of years ago Nokia realized it is in deep trouble when it comes to smart phones. Apple, then Google’s Android, have eaten their lunch. Their Symbian operating system was a total mess and they seemed to be hitting a wall.
But, Nokia had something up its sleeve. Namely an operating system called Maemo which they used on some niche-market “internet tablets” but also on one phone: The legendary N900. Anyone with any sense could see that if Nokia wanted to save itself it should place all its bets on Maemo, a modern, fast phone system that had the potential to rival Apple’s and Google’s offerings.
But Nokia, being a big corporate giant and all, decided they need another step before unleashing Maemo. They partnered up with Intel to merge Maemo with another similar system called Moblin to create something called MeeGo: a linux based, open source 21st century mobile operating system.
This whole thing was taking too long. Nokia got nervous (for a good reason. They were being hammered by Apple and Google). The CEO and other big managers got shown the door and an ex-Microsoft executive, Stephen Elop became Nokia’s boss. He decided the mobile war was getting too big and that Nokia can’t fight it alone. So he threw the entire weight of Nokia behind Microsoft’s Windows Phone system. In the mobile world this was like an earthquake. It is like a superpower country declaring that it is giving up its sovereignty. Nokia, which at one point the absolute mobile superpower, was getting out go the phone operating system business.
But for some reason, maybe a miracle, or a mistake or something, the MeeGo people were allowed to finish their work. What they were working on was something amazing. Something very beautiful, something pure. That something was the N9.
During the past three weeks I lived with a black N9 review unit. I read countless articles about it. I even looked at some of the blog posts written by the some of the phone’s engineers. What an experience it must have been! At one point working so hard on what they thought was Nokia’s future, then at one point being told they are not Nokia’s future anymore, but still somehow they were allowed to bring out this one phone that showed their work to the world.
I really think a Hollywood movie should be made about that team and that project!
Do you understand now why it is strange that Amman’s mobile shops are heavily promoting this phone?
It is a phone, we are told by the experts and by Nokia itself, without a future.
A phone without a future means a phone without new applications. Mobile app developers will not waste their time writing software for a platform that has been abandoned.
I actually find it outrageous that Nokia isn’t even willing to treat MeeGo as a serious hobby, like Apple treats the AppleTV, or like Samsung treats its own Bada operating system. I mean, OK Nokia, go to war with Microsoft as your fighting buddy. But why not put a little bet on your own innovation. My goodness!
Anyway.. so the question is: should you buy this phone. After all, who wants a “dead” product?
But wait a minute. There is another way of looking at the N9.
This “dead” product has an amazing industrial design. Extremely modern, made out of a slab of hard plastic with an amazing screen embedded in it. With the N9, Nokia can teach Samsung a lesson or two in original industrial design. It doesn’t look like the iPhone. It doesn’t imitate other Android phones. The N9 has its own powerful personality.
This “orphan” product has a really, really great looking and highly functional operating system. It doesn’t have any buttons on the front. It uses one natural gesture, a swipe, to do things like moving between home screens, closing applications or chucking them out of view. Nokia can teach Android a few lessons in user interface design here.
The “lone” N9 has a great, very fast, 8 megapixel camera. Nokia are well known for their great camera phones. This is no exception.
This “abandoned” product has great Twitter, Facebook and Skype integrations. It even comes with a Foursquare app. Hell it even has a copy of Angry Brids on it!
This “dead end” product has the best map and navigation solution for the Jordanian (and maybe even global) market. The Nokia Amman map is great and voice navigation works as it does on other Nokias.
Who should buy this product?
If you are a mobile gamer and you always want the latest games, don’t buy this phone. Go buy an iPhone.
If you are someone addicted to certain mobile apps don’t buy this phone. Get an iPhone or an Android phone.
But if you want a very distinctive smartphone to do web browsing, emailing, messaging and some social media stuff, you can actually consider it, especially if you are the kind of person who wants to be different. This is simply a modern smartphone that is well connected to the web, email and social media. Read some review before you buy it then decide for yourself if this could be a phone for you.
Then there is another kind of buyer for the phone. The total tech rebel. This phone is more open than Android. It’s basically running Linux. I actually got in touch with my inner geek last week: I rooted the N9 (for you who are not geeky enough to understand what that means, well, that’s your problem!) and installed a Debian file manager on it.
MeeGo as a project (which by the way co-run by a Jordanian Intel manager called Imad Sousou) lives on in the form of a new project called Tizen. Who knows where all of this will end up, but the N9 would be a great machine for experimentation. Read this inspiring article about the N9 to get a taste of the geeky thinking of some of its fans.
One of the comments I read about the N9 said that one should not worry about the N9’s “deadness”. Whatever phone you have today, will probably be replaced in a couple of years anyway.
At around JD 430, this is not a cheap phone. I personally would consider getting one after the price drops, maybe a a second phone. Or maybe just a souvenir cult object!