I feel like doing more ranting today…
So I just read an article today on TabletBlog called “Teach Nokia Something,” and it got me thinking about the Nokia N810 device.
As all of my friends know, I used to work for Nokia. (I’m currently freelancing as a mobile UI designer.) Nokia is a great place to work for a lot of reasons, not least of which that you get to beta test new devices long before they’re launched. For example, I was an early recipient of the N800 device and filed a gazillion bugs & feature requests on it before it was launched. I also purchased a Nokia 770 with my own money shortly after it was launched in 2006 because it was such a cool and innovative product.
I love the concept of the N800/N810. A pocketable, infinitely expandable Linux-based computer! Plus, it’s extremely capable and a lot of fun to use!
Unfortunately, I think that the dream just hasn’t been realized with this device yet. And given the choice between a Nokia N810 or an iPod Touch, I’ll go with the Touch.
Holy cow! Did I really just write that? Oh yes, I did…
I think the N810 is missing several key features to really make it a strong competitor to the iPod Touch, which is in my opinion it’s target device to beat. The iPod Touch isn’t a true one-to-one competitor, but it’s the closest thing. And the iPod Touch has really raised the bar on what a pocket computer can be, leapfrogging the innovative N810 in many ways.
PIM FEATURES SUCK
Nokia has specifically resisted offering any competent PIM features on the device out of the box. They don’t want the press or customers to confuse the device with a Palm Pilot (ick!). Well, sure. I suppose that’s understandable. No one wants to buy a Palm any more and the Palm OS platform is dead. But at the end of the day, Personal Information Management (PIM) features like the Contacts, Calendar, and Address Book are core features of any mobile device. Purposefully under-developing those features is akin to giving your shiny new smart convergence device a lobotomy.
The fact is that convergence devices need to offer a platform-level mashup infrastructure with PIM features at the core. This is plumbing upon which third party software developers need to build innovative mashup-style products and services. All smartphone platforms offer Address Books with varying levels of open APIs (programming hooks) for just this purpose. Even the iPhone and Android have fairly open Address Book APIs! But the Nokia N8xx Maemo devices have an exceptionally braindead Address Book, lame ass email client, non-existent calendar, etc. The complaints about the native N8xx PIM apps ring loudly throughout the blogosphere ring.
And third parties have not really stepped up to the plate to fill in the gaps. The only company which was offering a competent suite of PIM applications for the early Nokia 770, Deja Desktop, discontinued its offering a couple of years ago. None of the other apps that are currently available on the Maemo.org download site qualify as suitable replacements.
Nokia, wake up and recognize PIM as the killer app suite for all of your mobile devices! It’s core infrastructure that, when well developed, makes your platform worthwhile to innovate on!
POOR MULTIMEDIA EXPERIENCEThe Nokia N8xx devices offer a fairly poor multimedia experience overall. It lacks out of the box support for a variety of common (MP4 video) and obscure fanboy formats (like Ogg Vorbis). So when I rip my DVDs for my iPod touch in MP4, I can’t also play them on an N810.
What’s worse, the media player is ugly as sin. It pains me to open the thing and look at it long enough to even launch a video or music file. The experience also doesn’t hold a candle to the rich and fun experience on an iPhone/iPod Touch.
And BTW, I’m not fond of Canola, either. It’s really pretty, but still a product with unrealized potential. It’s still too buggy and unstable for my liking.
The cheapest iPhone and iPod Touch devices ship with more on-board memory than a Nokia N810. Yeah, I know that the N810 is expandable to 8 GB, but the smallest iPhones/iPod Touches ship with 8 GB and go up from there. Up to 32 GB for the iPod Touch! The next N8xx needs at least 8 GB!
And what’s wrong with offering multiple devices where the only differentiating factor is memory? It’s in decisions like this that Nokia’s handset roots show through. Apple, the computer company, get it that you can extract lots more revenue from the market simply by offering devices with different amounts of built in memory. Nokia? Yeah, not so much. Nokia has only dipped its toes into the water with such a strategy by offering a couple of mobile phones with extra memory. Nokia, you’re not quite there yet in learning how to be a consumer electronics company!
NO BLUETOOTH STEREO HEADPHONE SUPPORT
I want an N810 to offer Bluetooth stereo headphone support (A2DP) out of the box. Yes, you can add it in as an end user with third party software while by muttering weird incantations under a full moon. But who does? The N810 needs to get to the point where a whole suite of brilliant apps and features are THERE, right out of the box! Then it will have more likelihood to become a consumer success. Hackers will always hack and it’s really cool to see what they come up with. But consumers never do. Consumers personalize; they don’t hack.
DESKTOP MEDIA MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
The killer feature of the iPhone/iPod Touch is the brilliant integration between iTunes on the desktop, the iTunes store web services, and the devices. One click and they’re all in sync! The Nokia N8xx series doesn’t necessarily need that level of integration. But it would be really nice if it were at least easier to manage my media collection on the device from my desktop! And that includes RSS news subscriptions too.
I’m sure there are more nits to pick here, but the day is getting on and I’ve got other work to do. And of course, this posting neglects to go on about all of the features I love about the device, such as the excellent browser and seamless Bluetooth connectivity for piggybacking on my Nokia E65’s data connection while on the road. The iPod Touch can’t do that!
I really love the Nokia N810 device and its siblings. But I won’t buy a replacement for my aging Nokia 770 until there’s a really competent alternative to my iPod Touch.