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.
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.
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.
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.