Market Viability Questioned as Nokia Releases MeeGo-based N9 Smartphone

by Matt Klassen on June 22, 2011

It is considered the culmination of Nokia’s goal to “design a better way to use the phone,” it’s just too bad the only ones buying Nokia’s long awaited N9 smartphone will be mobile geeks and technophiles.

With its 8 megapixel camera, its innovative no button 3.9 inch AMOLED screen, and its unique curved glass no scratch screen, the N9 is indeed a worthy entry into the smartphone market, a notable accomplishment for a company that has struggled mightily to compete with the likes of Google and Apple.

But I’m still amazed at just how deep Nokia’s incompetence runs, as the N9 will clearly be another spectacular failure for the Finnish company, not because it’s a bad phone, but because Nokia has already given up on it.

What I mean is that for once it looks like a Nokia smartphone is going to fail not because it can’t compete, but simply because it won’t be a viable consumer option due to the fact that Nokia has already publicly stated its intent to no longer support the N9’s mobile operating system, MeeGo.

With Nokia anticipating the first smartphones running Microsoft’s WP7 OS to hit store shelves later this year, the reality for the Finnish company is that its 2011 profits will continue to be largely generated by both Symbian and MeeGo devices; it’s just too bad that Nokia has already publicly scuttled both its other mobile operating systems.  

To be honest, the N9 is the first smartphone from Nokia that has actually caught my eye, with its unique no button user interface and, of course, its interesting Linux based MeeGo OS. Unfortunately for Nokia that means it will be people largely like me, the mobile geeks of the world, who will be the only ones who actually consider purchasing this phone.

But aside from a desperate cash grab in an otherwise disappointing fiscal year, why release the N9 at all? From a technological standpoint, releasing the N9 may in fact have little to do with MeeGo, but instead Nokia will use it as a trial run of sorts for features and technologies we may see later in Nokia’s WP7 line-up.

Aside from its unique no-button setup, the N9 is one of the first Nokia phones to feature near field communication (NFC) technology, now used in the burgeoning mobile payment market, and other UI features like ‘swiping,’ an easy way for users to swipe their finger across the corner of the screen to return to the home screen. I would guess that Nokia will use the N9 as a litmus test for how these technologies survive in the wild, writing off the inevitable failure of the phone as simply an R&D project. 

Another reason why Nokia didn’t abandon the N9, it was simply too advanced and expensive to scuttle that late into production. As Will Stofega, a program director at IDC, stated, “My sense is the process around this device was probably too advanced to abandon. Production had probably been ramped up and allocated,” going on to say that people “may buy the N9 as an interesting piece of hardware, but they’re probably not going to be mainstream users; they’re probably going to be geeks playing around with it.”

Despite Nokia’s OS indecision and the inevitable failure of the N9, this may not be the end of the MeeGo OS itself, as several smaller vendors are toying with the notion of developing MeeGo based devices. Should the N9 see any success whatsoever, I would guess that we’d see an influx of MeeGo devices, perhaps making Nokia regret yet another of its many missteps in the mobile market.

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