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On The Road To The Lumia 800, Was The N9 A Speed Bump?

By - On 1 November 2011 19 Comments

The Nokia N9 has been a somewhat difficult subject for Nokia, one that they are, and should be, immensely proud of. But one that has raised more questions than answers. When the February announcement with Microsoft came, everyone wondered what was happening to Nokia’s upcoming MeeGo phone. Nokia was quick to point out that they would indeed release a MeeGo based device. Then word started coming out that the original MeeGo device, which we now know as the developer only N950, had been canned, and replaced by a beautiful new touch only flagship.

Soon enough, Nokia Connections came and Nokia unveiled the N9. The reaction to that device was incredible, ranging from people calling for Elop’s head because of his decision to kill MeeGo, to calmer, saner voices wondering if Nokia should keep the MeeGo project going, if for nothing but just to keep Microsoft in check. Then we found out that the N9 would only be available in a handful of countries, the world was literally shocked. It made no sense, why release a product at all if you weren’t going to ship it to major markets such as UK, India, US among others. While the world waited and hoped that Nokia would reconsider, another thing happened.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit?

A device code named Sea Ray, which we now know as the Lumia 800 leaked. Infact, Stephen Elop’s entire presentation to the employees, which was supposed to be shared on the company intranet, got out. Some called it a controlled leak, while most just took the device in and didn’t care as long as the could look at an unreleased Nokia phone, specially a secret Nokia Windows Phone. The result was that a lot of the chants of ‘bring the N9 to my country’ stopped. Nokia’s policy was finally beginning to make sense, they weren’t going to release a device that looked just like the N9 in the same market as the N9, specially when that device would define their foray into the Windows Phone market.

The N9 shipped to positive reviews, mine included, but the consensus among the reviews clearly was that as much as they loved the device, they couldn’t honestly recommend the N9 to someone knowing that the Sea Ray was around the corner. But the N9’s core strengths really came through, a breath-taking design, a unique yet intuitive UI that made sense, and judging by the Maps and browser, Nokia could do software.

Finally, last week the Lumia 800 was revealed at Nokia’s megaevent with literally thousands watching. The stock market liked what they saw and the Nokia stock started climbing. A did a quick hands on and unboxing and then two days later a much more through (p)review. I really seemed to like the device.

This is when we all wondered, if we had not seen the N9 before would we have loved the Lumia 800 even more? The short answer to that question for me is yes. When you first look at that design, most people go head over heels over it and if Stephen Elop got on stage at Nokia World and showed off that design for the first time, we’d have had an even bigger WOW.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit In?

Now for the long answer, knowing that the Sea Ray was coming, should Nokia have released the N9? I’d again say yes. Why? First and foremost, the people in the countries where the Lumia 800 is going on sale haven’t seen the N9. So for a vast majority the design is fresh, new and amazing. The minuscule minority, which has seen the design before will still love it, its still less than two months old in the real world and Windows Phone doesn’t make it any less pretty. Infact, I’d say that the jazzy WP UI is a great match to the N9’s physical design.

Next, in various interview Elop’s stated that it was a great platform for Nokia to learn from, see what people like and go on from there. He’s made it clear that none of the N9’s strength’s are going away. We’ve already seen the design used with the Lumia 800, Qt is coming to the next billion and the Swipe UI will apparently make its way to Meltemi, Nokia’s now not so secret platform for low-mid range devices.

Finally, the period between February to October was long and painful. Nokia was bleeding marketshare and on top of that mindshare, which we all know can be as bad as loosing marketshare. The N9 showed the world that innovation was still alive and well at Nokia and that the Finnish giant was far from dead. The message was imagine if this is what we can do alone, think about what we’ll do with Windows Phone in a few months.

At the end of the day, the glory period for the N9 is over. Its all about the Lumia 800 now, no matter how you feel about open source versus the closed Windows Phone platform, its water under the bridge. With the marketing blitz planned for Windows Phone devices, only the die hards will cherish the N9 and don’t get me wrong, it’s a device meant to be cherished. The N9 will keep selling in countries where the Lumia 800 isn’t shipping as yet and I’m sure Nokia will provide great support for it, but its time for the Lumia 800 to hold the Nokia torch.

In The Lumia 800 Picture, Where Does The N9 Fit?

The N9 will remain a crown jewel in Nokia’s arsenal, a hacker’s phone, a Qt device to help prime the developers for the next billion. So I don’t fault Nokia for announcing it and then the Lumia 800, look at what Apple did with the iPhone 4 and 4S, those things even run the same OS! The N950 would never have been able to generate the kind of buzz for Nokia that the N9 did, it bided time for the transition and it was never a lost cause. Nokia’s goals with the N9 were just, lets say, different.

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19 Comments »

  • Shaun said:

    Nice post, enjoyed the narrative. I’ve played with a N9 and THERFORE cannot wait for the Lumia 800.

  • Kumar Akam said:

    Sure looks like watching a Microsoft Advertisement.

    It is more like Nokia and Microsoft used N9 to get attention to Nokia and then trashed it and introduced Windows phone that stole the attention that N9 received.

    I think if Nokia had introduced Windows phone without N9 release, people would say:
    What?
    No front camera?
    MicroSIM?
    No MicroSD?
    No Multi-tasking?
    Ugly Square buttons?
    Virus?
    Why?

    So Nokia used the sexiness of N9 and its OS to release inferior Windows phone.

    And for not releasing in USA, UK and India (and other countries), I am sure Microsoft demanded that and blocked Nokia from selling it in those countries. There is no other explanation for that. This was the only way to stop N9 from succeeding.

    Message about N9 not having apps and no future was in every statement introduced to make sure it will not succeed, because they were afraid if they introduced it first, it may sell more than Windows phones.

    I think even now, if it is given a chance it will sell more than any Windows phone.

  • Napier said:

    Did Microsoft PR dept write this for you? You couldn’t recommend the N9 because the Sea Ray was around the corner?
    Lumia will carry Nokia’s torch? A crippled device lacking the functionality of the N95?
    It’s always depressing when people just destroy their credibility and become mindless fan boys.

  • stephen flo said:

    full of M$FT speak. Oh well. There they go again. As if MS on dominance on pc market isn’t enough, we now have them on mobile too.

    And leaking a COPYCAT N9 just days after its announcement isn’t questionable?

  • Andrew Flegg said:

    You seem to consider that people are Nokia fans, and actually care what Nokia‘s flagship is. I’m not, and I don’t. I like a nice device.

    Nokia have stuck Windows Phone in a nice case, but it’s still a me-too phone; the likes of which are being made by all other Windows Phone manufacturers.

    The N9 case is striking enough to make an impression, but it’s still “just” Windows Phone under the covers (c’mon, does anyone really think maps are a differentiator? Maybe from other WP7 manufacturers, but not iOS or Android). All the Nokia bloggers are falling over themselves to praise Nokia now (mmm, freebies? ;-)) but what was it about Nokia which made them such fans? Is a Nokia device running Microsoft software even the same Nokia they fell in love with? (Compared with the S40 and Symbian efforts)

    It’ll get some press, and the advertising effort behind it is huge. But why does that mean I should care less about the N9, which is far more interesting to develop for; and far more powerful? At least the other Nokia platforms (and Android, and even iOS) can run the Qt apps I write for it trivially.

    Things to consider:
    * What would’ve happened if the N9 and its Linux-based successors had had even half of the marketing budget currently being thrown at Lumia?

    * For an OS with a perceived time-to-market problem, there’ve been two devices (with wildly different form factors and not inconsequential hardware differences under the cover) shipping before September. Whereas the new flagship device nicked the shell from something already in development and is still shipping a couple of months later? And still not in the US?

    Nokia’s board got cold feet on the strategy which was finally making sense for a portfolio of device platforms linked by a single software platform (Qt). They hired a guy knowing he’d take them on this path. Shame.

  • Kasi Viswanath said:

    @Andrew,

    Agree to each & everything you just mentioned.

    It really fells sad to know that the N9 was deliberately killed.
    You said half the marketing budget of the Windows Phone, I would go a bit further and say atleast the willingness to push N9 wold have been enough.

    I secretly wish Nokia to release few more devices based on the maemo/Harmattan (don’t like to call it MeeGo) platform and make it widely available. For sure, Microsoft wouldn’t like it but that will definitely put Nokia in control of the things and not act like slaves!

    Btw, I was a Nokia fan for their excellent hardware and their boldness. No, I don’t consider Nokia going with Windows Phone was a bold act at all.

  • Vaibhav Sharma (author) said:

    I’m not sure how this went from what I intended it to be (a post arguing for the introduction of the N9) to a Microsoft loving piece. But one thing that I do seem to have done is saying that the Lumia 800 has a beter chance of succeeding than the N9, and I stick by that.

    First, the N9′s fate become a foregone conclusion the moment the strategy shift was announced in February. Yes, Nokia’s Qt strategy (bridge between Symbian & MeeGo) was finally seeming to bear fruit, but once Nokia pulled the plug, there was no looking back.

    As Stepehen Elop puts it, its a war of ecosystems and not devices, so even if the N9 is a marvel, the Meego ecosystem wasn’t going anywhere. There are a few dedicated and extremely talented developers such as Andrew who would support the devices, but none of the big brand apps were coming. The number one question I get asked about the N9 is support for WhatsApp, as that’s a deal breaker for a ton of people. The N9 for all its plus points doesn’t have it. Next is Facebook, yes it has an inbuilt facebook client, but honestly not a patch on the experience the Windows phone variant offers.

    As far as the US launches go, Elop again made it clear that its not just about waiting for the right time or the carrier partnerships etc to be in place, its also about raming up production, localisation and obviously getting LTE and CDMA devices ready. If Nokia wants its Windows Phone to be a carrier flagship in the US, these days it must support the cutting edge network speeds and clearly those devices aren’t ready yet.

    If the N9 was given the kind of marketing blitz that the Lumias will be given? It wouldn’t have been good. Sure, Nokia would have sold a ton of N9′s but what after that? When it was time for its customers to upgrade from the N9, what would be waiting for them? Nothing. When the customers would demand apps like Whats App, would Nokia then again send developers a mixed message and get them to drop their WP plans for while?

    So from an individual’s perspective while it does seem as if Nokia killed the N9 and it did to an extent, but its reasons from the company’s perspective are justified.

    If Feb. 12 hadn’t happened, then I’m totally with you, the N9 had all the potential Nokia needed.

  • blert said:

    “Windows Phone doesn’t make it any less pretty.”

    Got to dissagree, always have felt WP7 was an ugly dog. I feel seeing it on identical hardware beside Meego(which is looking incredably beautiful in Nokias incarnation) really shows it up. It just looks dull.

    Perhaps being one of those who dont feel that the open vs closed isse is just “water under the bridge”, and still a very major issue clouds my perception. But I dont think I am happy to admit iOS is largely(there are some niggles)very attractive, even if I wont use it.

  • blert said:

    “So from an individual’s perspective while it does seem as if Nokia killed the N9 and it did to an extent, but its reasons from the company’s perspective are justified.

    If Feb. 12 hadn’t happened, then I’m totally with you, the N9 had all the potential Nokia needed.”

    But was Feb 12th justified, I thought not then, before seeing the N9 and belle, I think even more so now.

  • ET said:

    The saddest thing is Feb. 12th happened.

    NOKIA did put lots of effort on N9
    http://conversations.nokia.com/2011/11/02/where-do-nokia-ringtones-come-from/
    “4. Looking back over the last 12 months, what accomplishments are you personally most proud of?”
    “I’m particularly proud of the sounds for the Nokia N9, which the Nokia Sound Design team together with some external designers.”

    To me, as NOKIA fans and N900 owner, the board of NOKIA sold the soul of the company…

  • Andrew Flegg said:

    For the record, it was February 11th :-)

  • Nrde said:

    Andrew, Nokia maps is very different from Google maps, being offline and having voice guidance for almost 200 countries.

    Also although I haven’s seen lumia 800 in person, it does not look as good as N9, simply because the tiles make it look out of balance in pictures.

    My opinion about Feb 11. hasn’t changed. I still think it was stupid decision.

  • Napier said:

    Worse than stupid, it was cowardly. Despicable.

  • Vaibhav Sharma (author) said:

    This article was written with the premise that Feb. 11 (as Andrew correctly points out! :) ) has happened and that we must go on from there. Whether that was justified or not is a separate question, but after announcing what they did, what is next is the small question that I was meaning to highlight.

  • Deadcoder said:

    Vaibhav visited Nokia world so obviously he just like other die hard nokia blogers like jay etc singing all songs about lumia and wp7 mango…you bloggers have now become microsoft’s pr guy …fortunately though all Nokia fans still know which os is good and which os is crap
    Nokia recently posted poll question on facebook about “nokia 800 lumia:what are you most excited about?
    http://www.facebook.com/questions/10150339697507397/?qa_ref=qd
    Beautiful seamless design? or
    The UI: Tiles for everything!
    about 8000 people voted on option 1 while only 700 people voted on option 2
    and obviously Nokia 800 lumia is nothing but Copy cat of N9 design with slight modification so obviously Nokia users dont give a damn about wp7 os so wonder if Nokia release N9 worldwide then No one will buy lumia 800 because the fact that most of people hate tiles ui

  • Vaibhav Sharma (author) said:

    Deadcoder, I would have loved to separately reply to your comment here, but I think Jay has very succinctly described how I feel about this whole thing.

    http://mynokiablog.com/2011/11/03/video-vaibhavs-15-minute-hands-on-with-nokia-lumia-800/comment-page-1/#comment-254472

  • stephen flop said:

    I heard this phone doesn’t perform wake-up alarms. :D

  • Per said:

    Nokia will fail on the WP7 track. Microsoft don’t have the skills and resources to develop the system. When WP7 gets the windows 8 kernel they may succeed.

    WP7 doesn’t support screens larger than 800×480, no true multitasking, limited suport och other technologies.
    Bulding apps for WP7 needs to be done with C#

    —-

    The ECO system for Maemo Harmattan is huge because it is Linux and runs native C++ code. All linux applications that doesn’t need special hardware should be easy to port (maybe just needs to recompile).

    QT are able to build apps for many different operating systems with the same code base.
    Maemo Harmattan will soon be able to run Android apps. It just need a compatible java vm and I think that is ready.

    I think the main reason for forcing Nokia to skip maemo is from large stockholders that wants Microsoft to dominate.

  • Richard Thomas said:

    Was the N9 and speed bump on the way to the Lumia 800? That’s the wrong way around – the Lumia 800 was a dagger to the heart of the N9!