THE MOBILE operating system market is rather full, and users of different devices may find themselves plunged into new ways of interacting with their phone whenever they switch handset.
Handset popularity seems to be the keen driver in consumer usage and marketshare graphs clearly suggest this. According to StatCounter figures, Apple's OS and the Symbian equivalent dominate the list with between 30 and 40 per cent of the market share. The other browsers, WinCE and Sony Ericsson's included, are bottom feeders by comparison and all scurry around in the dark with under 10 per cent.
With such a divide already you have to wonder whether there is room for another. Nokia thinks so and recently began talking up its use of the Maemo operating system - which it now favours over Symbian in the high end N Series - and the many exciting possibilities it offers for smartphones. However, it will have some hoops to jump through as it tries to distinguish itself from the other alternatives. It's use on a few hot-ticket items including the N900 smartphone may help here.
Maemo was developed in-house by Nokia, and is made up of a number of open and closed source bits and pieces, including Debian Linux. It draws much of its GUI, frameworks, and libraries from the GNOME project. The much anticipated N900 is the flag bearer for the OS, and Nokia is already running a 'fun' competition designed to highlight its possibilities.
On paper Maemo impresses. According to Nokia staff in Finland, it brings the PC experience to the mobile device. It comes brimming with a number of on-board apps including the Mozilla-based MicroB browser, Flash and Skype. Want support for a wide range of files? Take your pick because almost all file formats are represented while a whole range of third party applications including Office type tools are waiting in the wings. Importantly, and this is where the PC-like experience comes in, it can also run multiple applications.
Peter Schneider, head of marketing for Maemo Devices at Nokia, said that Maemo's inbuilt Dashboard technology was designed with multitasking in mind, explaining, "This dedicated UI element is called the Dashboard which is the central place where people can see what happens in which app and they can switch to another open application. In addition, we optimised the application memory allocation to run many applications in parallel on a pocket-sized device".
In his keynote at Nokia World this year, the firm's big cheese Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo was more vocal and called the N900, "the first true computer grade performance and functionality on a compact device". He added that it was the "best browser device ever", presumably since the 5800 was released.
Kallasvuo was also keen to point out the openness of the system, as the firm is pushing to encourage both user and developer adoption. "We have to make life easier for developers and operators. By working together we will create applications that people will demand."
Schneider concurs adding, "[The] openess of the software platform and the use of open source code in general is a new way of building software we believe is the most powerful today. It allows us not only to rely on our inhouse R&D and partnered solutions, but also collaborate with individual innovators."
Ari Jaaksi, vice president for Nokia Maemo Devices, has been quoted as saying, "Our vision is to bring the innovation, quality, and end-user participation into the consumer mainstream," suggesting that users will have the chance to put their own personality and applications onto their desired unit, and others going forward.
Carolina Milanesi of Gartner agreed that this element would appeal to users but added that the platform was very important to Nokia for other reasons. "Nokia is using the platform to differentiate the N series," she said. "The firm does very well in marketshare but that comes from the mass market - they have lost their edge in the high end devices. The N Series is supposed to be its flagship and they want to set that part of the portfolio apart - Maemo gives them that."
Milanesi said that the openess of the Maemo operating system and the similarities its shares with both the Android and iPhone open source platforms would encourage external development of applications and thus could provide some interesting applications for it. She added that users looked for a rich experience in their mobile devices particularly if they use them in a number of different ways. "It will appeal to business users - any users that like links to their services - people who want more than just a smartphone but don't want to carry around a netbook."
A statement echoing Schneider's views, who explained that internally Nokia believes that Maemo is the better fit for mobile computers with a user experience that resembles more the use of a PC than that of a phone. "The focus in Maemo is in bringing any service from the cloud, may it be from an operator or somebody else, in a well integrated experience to consumers," he said.
However, it is not a platform for everyone, according to Milanesi, who suspected that it was more of a showpiece for Nokia. "The N900 does not give Nokia something that could be compared to an Iphone," she said. "It has no appeal to someone who just wants a phone - its about developers. It's a PC first and a phone second, its design is not something that will appeal to many people. It is technology for the sake of technology, but it's very encouraging as a platform going forward. It is not fixing the problem. It is more of a proof of concept". µ
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