Nokia today quietly initiated sales of the Nokia N9 in the United States. The phone joins the PureView 808 as being a non-Windows Phone being slated for sales in the American market.
After Nokia’s controversial switch to all-Windows Phone models, the company committed to not releasing any non-Windows Phone devices in the United States going forward. That angered many, as it meant the N9, a phone Nokia committed to companies and consumers alike… would not be sold in the world’s largest high-end smartphone market.
Since then, the embattled Nokia has launched three US-targeted Windows Phone models, the Lumia 710, 800, and 900. However, other factors may have driven Nokia’s about-face.
First, is difficulty in taming Windows Phone for some of the market demands. It has been all-but-confirmed by Nokia that the PureView 808’s high-resolution camera could not function properly with today’s Windows Phone platform. The instant-photo requirements of Windows Phone are very rigid, and 41 megapixel capacities likely require extreme resources from the handset. Only a real-time operating system like Symbian, now known as Nokia Belle, can handle such tasks currently.
In pressure from European customers, Nokia’s board pressured CEO Steven Elop to back down and commit to further development in Belle. The company now has charted out Belle devices for at least the next three years. Belle platform development is also being spearheaded by software consulting giant Accenture. Hundreds of Nokia-transferees would likely be terminated in a demise of Belle, a questionable move if Nokia is struggling financially with Windows Phone. As Nokia has said their “Plan B” is for “Plan A” (Windows Phone) to succeed. With MeeGo abandoned, and Belle discontinued, Nokia would be without a Plan C.
Continuing development of Belle will give Nokia an alternative platform for low-to-mid range smartphones, if Windows Phone fails to attach in these environments.
But what does any of that have to do with the Nokia N9 launching, now?
This week, Nokia strategically timed the announcement of a US-bound PureView 808 with the CTIA technology show. It’s not a mistake that the N9 is launching stateside a day after CTIA ended.
With Nokia now admitting it needs to sell non-Windows Phone devices in the United States, in order to have a fighting chance at breaking even with technological investments in PureView superphones, the N9 then becomes okay to sell. Microsoft is not worried about the N9 being a threat to Windows Phone anymore, as the platform is now merely a skunkworks project for Nokia.
In fact, a thriving N9 actually gives more woes for smaller competitors, as it fractures the Tizen and Open webOS marketplaces, trying to be rebooted by Intel/Samsung, and HP, respectively. Still, neither Tizen nor Open webOS are on the market today. Hence, the N9 may become a haven for those looking for a sustainable, open phone environment.
The Nokia N9’s MeeGo-compatible operating system has three things that no operating system on phones today offer. First, it’s a real-time operating system. Second, it has no antitrust-grade restrictions on developer innovations… there are no walled gardens. And third, it’s unlocked to run on any compatible carrier.
It’s unfortunate that no other smartphone in the United States today, meets that criteria. Apple’s iPhone is a real-time operating system, but has a restrictive app store that puts developer innovation at the Orwellian hands of an App Store approval; Apple decides what software can, and can’t run on your
computer smartphone. Windows Phone functions on similar terms. Android permits third-party applications being sideloaded in, but is based in a virtualized variant of Java, mired in legal patent wars. Innovative real-time apps such as high-performance software (games, etc), struggle on Android, even when armed with the latest hardware.
With Straight Talk now offering SIM cards that are compatible with both T-Mobile and AT&T 3G/HSPA+ network bands, the pentaband UMTS/HSPA+ on the Nokia N9 actually was designed to shine exclusively in the American market. The N9 was literally built to run in the United States, so it’s a good thing to see Nokia finally selling it here.
Ironically, Steven Elop’s famous “burning platform” memo was written to spur the company towards Windows Phone. All along, even Elop knew that the company did have its answer to the burning-platform-problem: the N9. It was designed to operate on multiple American carriers, with a competitive software platform that could truly have tackled both Apple’s strengths, and Android’s weaknesses.
Certainly there is a niche market for the N9. Gray marketers such as Expansys have been importing the device since shortly before its launch. The question is how much beyond the niche, can the Nokia N9 extend. Sadly, it doesn’t look like very far, in its current state.
Unfortunately, the N9 now exists in a bastardized environment. Nokia is only continuing to support the device for two reasons. One, it made a commitment to customers “for years” of support. And two, Nokia appears to be using the MeeGo Harmattan platform to fuel its “next billion” initiative for smartphones in the developing world.
And, at $599 sticker price at Fry’s Electronics, it’s not clear how many people will sign on. A refurbished iPhone 4S can be found (at times) for hundreds less on daily deal sites.
PhoneNews.com has not reviewed the Nokia N9, as we refused to review the phone in protest of the cancelled US release. We have reached out to Nokia to coordinate a review of the American unit, and will report back with a full review shortly.