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Thoughts from Jamie Bennett

Where will a new Maemo device fit in today?

Written by Jamie Bennett on May 26th, 2009 at 2:59 pm in Uncategorized

All the talk (and sometimes ranting) about Nokia’s so called next tablet got me thinking about the state of the potential market for a device like this today.

First lets go on a trip down memory lane.

History

Nokia released their first Internet Tablet towards the end of 2005. It was announced at the LinuxWorld Summit earlier that year and was a curious device. Not quite a phone and not quite a laptop, the 770 came before the current wave of netbooks had begun descending upon us and was met with some resistance. Many complained about its apparent slowness, but looking beyond this one could see that it had potential.

The N800 came next at the beginning of 2007 to a better reception. A faster processor, more memory and greater expandability meant that the adoption rate was much higher for this device. An improved N810 came later that year which added a keyboard and GPS but by this time other devices had joined or were about to join the party.

Elephants in the Corner

June 29th 2007 saw the release of the Apple iPhone. With its tablet like dimensions and pretty UI, Apples juggernaut redefined the mobile web experience. In contrast, Nokia’s tablet seemed somewhat pedestrian. Whist the Maemo based device gained a small community of devoted followers, the iPhone market exploded.

Now lets get this straight, the iPhone isn’t a direct comparison to the Nokia tablet; they do different things but where they overlap is in the core activities of the devices and this means they are competitors. Sales figures and blogs alike prove that the iPhone was hurting Nokia’s tablet sales.

Towards the end of 2007 saw another behemoth enter this space, namely Google with their Android platform. Arguably more of a competitor than Apple, Android is designed to run on a plethora of hardware from phones to netbooks. It has since seen a wide adoption rate with many manufacturers promising or postulating on bring out devices of their own.

A little later came the netbook revolution. Cheap and small sub-notebooks with small screens and even smaller storage designed to browse the web among other things. Two things happened in respect to Nokia’s Internet Tablets when this happened, one, Nokia now had a serious problem price-wise. These netbooks are cheap, typically well under £200 ($320) which put doubt to Nokia’s £300 launch price for the N810 (it has now dropped below £200 but only because of its impending successor). The second thing that should set the warning bells off at Nokia’s headquarters is the value for money aspect. Consider this. Joe user, which I’m sure Nokia would love to sell their hardware to, walks into an electronics shop with £300 in his pocket. Does he buy the ‘mini-laptop’ with 10″ screen, 40GB SSD, 90% size keyboard and all the bells and whistles you could ask for or a nice little ‘Internet Tablet’ that runs a quirky Linux OS, a small amount of storage and a 4.1″ screen? You could argue that they serve different markets but again, the use of such devices overlaps so much its hard to dismiss these as a serious threat to the Internet Tablet.

Worried Yet?

This alone should have Nokia worried without even mentioning the likes of the iPod Touch (maybe a better comparison?), Moblin’s recent efforts in conjunction with Intel, Canonical’s (the guys funding Ubuntu) efforts with their netbook remix designed for mobile hardware, and maybe even a smudging of the Palm Pre that just screams to be put on hardware outside of the phone space. Nokia’s next tablet enters a very different environment from the one it pioneered in 2005.

Reading Between the ‘Leaked” Lines

There is a lot of talk following the ‘leaked’ information detailing the next Nokia tablet. Most of this information you would already know if you followed last years Maemo Summit coverage but here for completeness is the list in full:

Dimensions: 59.7mmx111mmx18.2mm
Weight: 180g
3.5″ 800×480 (WVGA) touchscreen
OMAP3430 500/600 Mhz processor (Fun Trivia: Same CPU as the Palm Pre)
Bands: GSM Quad-Band 850, 900, 1800, 1900. WCDMA 900, 1700/2100, 2100
5 megapixel Carl Zeiss camera with dual-LED flash, autofocus, and sliding cover
Though the renders we’ve seen show two lens-like circles near the screen, we’ve got no word on what’s behind them. However, we feel safe in assuming that its a proximity sensor and a front-facing camera.
1GB total virtual runtime memory (256MB physical RAM, 768MB virtual memory)
Wi-Fi, HSPA
32GB internal storage, expandable up to 48GB via external memory
Keyboard variants: English, Scandinavian, French, German, South European, Italian, Russia
In the box: Connectivity cable, headset, charger, battery (1320 mAh), Video-out cable, microUSB adaptor, cleaning cloth

There are a few surprises there though, one of which is the mention of a change in screen size. Some have argued quite vehemently that a smaller screen will turn them away from the device but it has to be noted that the iPhone uses a similar sized screen and others in Nokia’s smart phone line-up do aswell.

Another thing that was a little surprise was the inclusion of a 5 megapixel camera, previously a 8 megapixel had been promised but obviously something changed since then.

All in all the new specs indicate that the device will be very similar in size to an Android G1 albeit with a slightly bigger screen (3.5 inches as apposed to the G1′s 3.2 inch) and very similar to Nokia’s own N97. So are we just seeing the Linux/Maemo version of the N97?

How can it Succeed?

Well, this is a tough question. Obviously Nokia are pretty excited about this device which indicates they have something up their sleeve yet to show us. But with the impending new device from Apple widely touted to arrive July, new Android based devices on the horizon along with version 2.0 of the software, and new netbooks being released daily it seems, how can the Maemo 5 based tablet make its mark in an already impressive market?

Well the hardware specifications don’t hint at anything special so it seems we are relying on Nokia to release some exceeding good software to go along with it. Software that makes this device compelling to buy, makes the consumer want this over what the competition has to offer, and keeps evolving to meet the ever demanding needs we as consumers are placing on the mobile industry. Most importantly, will the new Maemo device succeed or become the last in a line of good, but not quite good enough mobile devices?

I guess only time will tell.

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