I have my stupider ideas late at night/early in the morning, so will admit right up front that this may well be one of them.

There's this video going around of the Nokia N8 running the leaked Symblan Belle release. And it looks pretty good. At a superficial level I'd have to say that the UI/UX looks better than stock Android 2.3, even though it's running on hardware that'd be considered very low-end on a 'droid.

And the battery life of the N8, while not as awesome as Symbian phones used to be, is still far better than typical Android phones. In the GSMArena review they're claiming about two days of moderate/heavy use on a single charge -- a typical droid will get a day. And this is on the original Symbian^3 release, one may perhaps hope for some improvement in Anna and Belle.

It's not lost on me that this is the second Nokia OS release this year that's really knocked my socks off. If WP7 doesn't work out for them, or there's another coup at the top, they've clearly got more than one direction they can go.

So, yeah, I'm looking at this and can't help wondering if an N8 running Belle might not be just the ticket for the next year or so while the dust settles on just where Android and WP7 are going.
Looks like my wild guess that the N9 hardware was suitable for Windows Phone 7 wasn't too far wrong. "Sea Ray" has been leaked, and it's physically it's pretty much the same as the N9, but with a camera key and the WP7 soft-keys at the bottom.

GSMArena has more info. If you watch the video on the Hungarian source site from the start, Elop also says they're going to use the N9's MeeGo UX in future products -- sounds like maybe WP7 is going to wind up getting some of that swipe-y goodness.
Yesterday Nokia announced their first MeeGo smartphone, the N9. It may well be the last, too, but I'll leave that to one side for a moment.

Hardware-wise there's a lot to like. It's a unibody polycarbonate unit with 3.9" AMOLED display using Nokia's ClearBlack whatsit and a Gorilla Glass front. The radio looks very nice, one of the few penta-band UMTS devices out there (it'll do 3G on 850, 900, 1700, 1900, and 2100). The CPU is reasonable, an ARM A8 at 1GHz, and the GPU is a PowerVR SGX530. It has plenty of memory (1GB of RAM, 16 or 64GB of storage).

Stick a shutter button on it and add a couple of soft-keys on the front at the bottom, and it's pretty much all set to be a Windows Phone 7 unit. So even if you think MeeGo is a complete dead end, the device itself isn't necessarily a waste of their time.

There are a couple of videos demoing the MeeGo interface, and they look pretty slick. What they don't show is the email or messaging applications, or the soft keyboard. Which seems like quite an omission.

There's got to be stuff missing from MeeGo. If it were really feature-complete now, the announced move to WP7 would be completely crazy. Whether you like their decision or not it's unlikely that it was taken lightly.

Given that the hardware work is likely applicable to the longer-term WP7 strategy, leaving this going on the back-burner is not a particularly bad idea for Nokia. It's likely only eating a small proportion of their R&D budget -- bear in mind that Nokia spends a lot on R&D, so even a small slice is still Real Money -- so there's no great harm in letting it roll along. Then if the WP7 gamble doesn't pay off, well, they've got a platform all ready to go.

I doubt I'll be buying one, but the hardware bodes well for the eventual WP7 devices, and the software does look interesting. I'd happily give one a go if I wasn't paying...
There's been a lot of commentary about the announcement this week that Nokia is dropping Symbian from their high-end devices and putting MeeGo into a sort of "experimental lab" status. Most of it has been pretty scathing, with those who'll even admit that something had to be done rather loudly (and often incoherently) talking up Android as having been the obvious choice.

I'm sure it'll be a great comfort to the Nokia CEO that some random blogger on the Internet thinks it isn't automatically the biggest disaster ever, but that's broadly my take on it.

Symbian needed a lot of work. Nokia put quite a lot of time and money into trying to get it up to par with the competition and still hasn't got there after several years. MeeGo is apparently not ready yet. Having shown that the company simply isn't capable of getting the software right, they had to do something.

The "buy Palm" ship sailed a year ago and they weren't on it. No point crying over that one.

So the options left were:

  1. Give up on high-end smartphones;

  2. Android with a really great overlay;

  3. Windows Phone 7.

So let's take a look at each, eh?

Giving up on the high-end wouldn't be completely crazy, but it'd be a huge admission of defeat. Nokia makes most of its money from the low-end feature phones where it pretty thoroughly dominates. They're good at building robust, reliable, cheap handsets. But there's an argument to be made that having the prestigious high-end stuff can help maintain the position at the low-end, a sort of "halo effect".

If they'd gone Android -- and apparently there were talks with Google a while back which didn't go anywhere -- then they'd have needed to differentiate, likely in the usual Android way by writing their own custom overlay and apps. If they can't do this in-house for Symbian what makes anyone think they could do it for Android?

And once you do this with Android you've got a support nightmare. Either you have to kill support for old models very quickly, or you're stuck having to port all your custom code, including QA and UAT, every time Google drops an update.

Google are not exactly forthcoming about roadmaps and typically pick a new partner for each release. If you're not the lucky company this time around you automatically start behind the curve, both for getting updates out for your existing models and releasing new ones.

It's a mess, in other words.

Windows Phone has the potential (and I have to stress that right now that's only potential) to be a happy medium between the control-freak single-vendor iOS approach where there's effectively one device available and if you don't like it then you can sod off, and the Android approach where there are many models and many varying interface designs, with the attendant update and fragmentation issues.

There's a single OS vendor and only one interface available. That OS vendor has committed to keeping control over updates, just like Apple, but there's room for differentiation on hardware. Within limits, anyway. You have to meet a minimum spec, and that minimum is right now pretty high-end.

There are a number of manufacturers producing WP7 devices, so you'd think it's a bad deal for Nokia, but the platform is new enough abd Nokia's hardware good enough that they might be able to stand out from the Android crowd if this "special relationship" talk manifests something real.

Doing nothing wasn't an option. None of the choices available were ideal. In an ideal world they'd have been able to get their act together with Symbian or MeeGo and there'd consequently be more competition in the high-end smartphone OS field. But Nokia has been dysfunctional for years, they couldn't do it, and in my view this was the least-bad option open to them.

Whether the end result will be obscurity in five years or the resurgence that the execs are clearly hoping for, that's unclear. And anyone who tells you they know is either lying or an idiot.


Abort, Rephrase, Ignore?

October 2011

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