Hurry up, Nokia: Your window is closing

This guest article was submitted by Chris King.

Nokia_logo

It's hard to believe it's been nearly four years, but back in 2005 something was introduced into the market that was revolutionary. At a time when the iPhone was just a pipedream and the mention of an iPod conjured up an image of a click wheel, Nokia set out to develop a small, touchscreen device called the 770 Internet Tablet. It was a strange move for the company, considering that this new device would not have any cell phone capabilities, and yet Nokia was then the largest phone manufacturer in the world.

Based on an open-source version of Linux called Maemo, the 770 was released in 2005 and suddenly became a favorite among Linux fans and those who had tired of their Windows Mobile PDAs. Its main draw was the landscape-oriented, 800×480-pixel touchscreen that came in at just below five inches, which was unheard of at the time, and it made using the Opera-based web browser via WiFi or Bluetooth a complete mobile joy.

But even with a few new models and upgrades to the OS over the next three years, Nokia has been struggling to keep up with the many new competitors over the past few years, including the rather large one from Cupertino. As we inch closer to the new Maemo 5 and hopefully a new hardware device this year, Nokia needs to get moving quick before the window that they flung open back in 2005 shuts completely on the Internet Tablet.

For those not real familiar with the history of the Nokia Internet Tablets, here is a quick and dirty rundown of the way I remember it to get you up to speed.

Nokia_770 After the 770 came out and went through a few OS updates, the N800 was introduced in early 2007, along with OS2007. The N800 had a faster processor running at 320MHz, dual SD slots, and a camera. In addition to the upgraded specs, Nokia freshened up the appearance of the N800 and did away with the slide-on, hard screen cover. Official firmware support for the original 770 was pretty much discontinued around this time, but there were "Hacker Edition" versions of OS2007 that ran on the 770.

Nokia_n800 Then about a year later, the N810 was introduced along with OS2008. This time around, the specs included a slider-style keyboard, internal GPS, and a screen better suited for outdoor viewing. The dual slots of the N800 were jettisoned in favor of 2GB of internal storage along with a MiniSD card slot. One significant milestone around this time was that OS2008 was fully supported on the older N800; in fact, the two devices are almost identical internally, and the processor of the N800 was unlocked to run at the full 400MHz speed with the new OS.

Nokia_n810 So OS2008 is where we stand as of today. There have been a few small updates, but the OS has remained largely unchanged for almost 18 months. Due to the open-source nature of Maemo, there are many users still doing great things with the tablets, but the hardware is becoming a serious limiting factor when facing the new kids on the block.

And this is what inspired me to write this article. I am a die-hard Nokia Internet Tablet fan, having owned all variations and currently still using my N800 almost daily.

Even though Maemo is open-source, there are a few commercial apps such as Skype and Rhapsody, and these are the ones I probably use the most on mine. The size of the N800 is perfect for me, not too large but not too small, and it is obvious that Nokia hit a sweet spot with the dimensions because devices such as the Aigo P8860 and even the new Viliv S5 have tried to keep similar proportions. Oh, and did I mention battery life? Usually a huge limiting factor in the true usefulness of many mobile devices, that is not the case here. The N800 and N810 can run for about 6-8 hours on average and standby for nearly a week.

But again, Nokia must hurry and address the hardware limitations of this device because not only are they now competing with the huge iPhone/iPod touch ecosystem, but with smaller devices that run full versions of Windows as well. And all of the aforementioned devices generally have more powerful processors and specs. Even though I can simultaneously run multiple apps on my N800 with maybe a stutter or two, the hardware is quickly becoming outdated. Flash 9 support was added a while back, but it may as well not even be there since sites such as YouTube and Hulu run slowly, if at all. In today's world, multimedia apps are king and not being able to use them will drive users to find alternative devices.

Debian I am pulling for Nokia on this one because, like I said, I am a long-time user of these devices. Even with the long drought between hardware refreshes, they are still very capable devices with a very strong user community. Over at talk.maemo.org (formerly InternetTabletTalk), guys like Bundyo, who makes the excellent WebKit-based Tear web browser, and qole, who has the very handy Easy Debian (see pic), have extended the usefulness of these Nokia tablets way beyond what they were originally meant to do. But it is up to Nokia to provide us with a device and an OS that can handle what we need to be able to do today in 2009. They have had more than enough time, and every day that goes by without a new device, they are losing the advantage that was so clearly theirs back in 2005.

So are there any other Nokia Internet Tablet fans out there? Chime in with your thoughts and suggestions on these devices.

Chris King (orbitalcomp) is a long-time handheld tech user, dating back to the original Newton MessagePad and then moving on to dozens of different devices over the years.  Currently, he finds himself surrounded by a multitude of touchscreen devices, including a pair of Fujitsu U-series, a Nokia N800, and an iPhone 3G.

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Guest Contributor

Pocketables is a US-based online tech magazine that brings news, insights, opinions, and comprehensive reviews on various mobile computing devices, portable technology, and related topics to a global audience. We focus on devices that fit into pockets of all sizes, from jeans and jackets to backpacks and purses. The gadget experts that comprise our staff produce high quality articles and original features colored with real-life use of products over weeks and months, not first-impression opinions formed within hours or days.

23 thoughts on “Hurry up, Nokia: Your window is closing

  • May 15, 2009 at 3:46 pm
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    Damn good article Orbit! I think we all(ITT forum members), feel and want for this handheld to be released posthaste. However.. even though it seems that Nokia tends to pioneer and innovate.. they are damn slow to update and progress at times.. very odd mix.
    Also, as many mention on ITT.. it doesnt seem as though Nokia’s aim for these tablets is profit..simply R&D and the halfassed(from an outsider view) attention they pay to these devices definitely speaks to that assumption.

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  • May 15, 2009 at 4:39 pm
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    I’m using an N800 currently. But I’m not sure I want to continue using it.

    I love its high resolution screen, although it is not visible outdoors. I its love stereo speakers, listening to internet radios are a pleasure. Mozilla based browser with Flash support – good. Its good to know you can just buy two 16GB cards to increase the storage space.

    Things I don’t like? Slow CPU: You need to re-encode movies. So you must watch blurry movies on that gorgeous screen. Limited third-party software support is another problem. I’m not interested in terminal-something software. And I’m not a fan of horizontal-only usage style of the device.

    There are some things I have trouble understanding. Maybe “Internet Tablet” was a good idea four years ago. But the famous device from that fruit company looks like a better “Internet Tablet” than Nokia’s.

    – Although it has no Flash support and the screen resolution is lower, it is easier to browse web using the iPhone.

    – Where are the special programs for online content? I mean the programs like Wikiamo on the iPhone. I think its not enough to have a “desktop-class” browser to be an internet tablet. This is a mobile device. I have no time to stop and click tiny links. I need my Facebook application.

    – Do I really need a separate device for internet? A “companion” to my phone? Like the dead Foleo? Sure N800 is a lot smaller, but I don’t have much space in my pocket. Some devices will be left at home. And that may be the device with no PIM software. And no viewer for Word documents. And no voice recorder (I know there is that Maemo Recorder but do you think it is really usable on the go?).

    I’m planning to buy an E63. On the paper, it looks like it has everything I need except the high resolution screen. I think my N800 will stay at home most of the time.

    (BTW, I’m not an Apple fan. And Nokia Internet Tablets are not sold in my country. I bought it from an internet store even though its onscreen keyboard does not support my language.)

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  • May 15, 2009 at 4:52 pm
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    I’m a huge fan of the NIT. I just wish they’d get that update out and price it aggressively.

    There was a time that the tablets had no equal, but that time has passed. Nowadays, full web browsing is available to anyone using a smartphone. If you’re going to have a device, pretty much, devoted to the act of browsing the web, it needs do it a lot better than anything else out there, otherwise it’s pretty difficult to see the value. I believe the competition is coming from more than just smartphones, though.

    One thing you failed to mention in your article is the rise of netbooks. When the original NIT was released, there really weren’t many inexpensive options available for on the go web browsing. I realize that there is a considerable size difference between the two devices. However, I think when consumers weigh the differences in value between a netbook and a device like the NIT, they more often than not choose the netbook, because there is less compromise, and often times the netbook is more affordable as well.

    Basically, I think Nokia needs to get a new NIT out quick, and they need to make it more affordable. The world has changed since they released their first tablet. If they’re going to price it similar to previous generations, they may as well not even bother.

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  • May 15, 2009 at 6:34 pm
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    The N810 was released in early fall of 2007. Diablo was an update to OS2008.

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  • May 15, 2009 at 7:00 pm
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    I wish new NIT would come soon as well, but I would have to disagree about closing window =)

    There is no “over” in this game!!

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  • May 15, 2009 at 7:31 pm
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    I love my N800 but gave up on it months ago. The internet experience was good but, not with all the web sites. It just couldn’t open them. So i heard rumors of nokia n900 going around, got me very excited, but also sad due to it wasn’t from nokia direct, no real information about the device, only few specs were revealed but nothing special.

    So i decided to make a change and bought an Archos 5, and the internet experience is, i will say at least 5 times better. Its really fast. The only problem is it’s not open source. But that’s about to change, on June 11TH Archos will show its new Internet tablet running Google’s Android in Paris. So looking forward to that.

    Nokia has to make a strong move, and has to make it very quickly or it will probally lose alot of its shares in that market.

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  • May 15, 2009 at 8:47 pm
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    Oh, i suspect we will see a new device by the end of this year.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 5:44 am
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    Thanks, Phen0m…it is hard to get a read on what Nokia has planned for the IT. It’s nothing like it’s bread and butter S60 phones, which they are also slow to innovate.

    Here’s hoping that 2009 finally gets us our new device!

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  • May 16, 2009 at 5:51 am
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    Yeah, I didn’t even mention netbooks because I really don’t consider them to be i the same class. But I can see how a regular, non-tech consumer would see a mini-laptop with a keyboard a better deal.

    Hopefully Nokia can keep the N9XX at about the same price that the N810 sells for today, which is around $250 or so.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 5:52 am
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    I was just going off memory, so thanks for the correction. I knew Diablo had been out for quite a while now…

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  • May 16, 2009 at 6:47 am
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    No problem. I enjoyed the article. :-)

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  • May 16, 2009 at 8:54 am
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    I don’t consider them to be in the same class either. However, I think most people who are non-enthusiasts only have room for so many gadget purchases.

    I’ve seen a lot of talk on ITT and eeeuser from people trying to decide whether they should buy an Eee Pc or a NIT. I believe this is a pretty good indicator of the thought process your average consumer goes through when considering these devices.

    Of course, around here we tend to think of things a little differently. A lot of us will be buying the next NIT regardless of what gear we already own.

    I do agree with you on the pricing. If they can hit the 250 dollar mark, or around there, they could move a lot of these things. Of course, this is Nokia we’re talking about here. Chances are, it will carry a premium price tag. I’d guess this thing will be closer to four hundred dollars, than two hundred fifty dollars.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 9:00 am
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    yeah seriously, just look at palm and the new pre. They were an inch from death, and now are almost back on top of the world again! I’ll bet nokia could do it with the tablets too if they wanted to.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 9:12 am
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    I would have bought one of these in a second if it could be used as a phone i.e. Constant connectivity skype doesn’t count. Nokia….not a phone…stupid.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm
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    Good article. Unlike some above, I also agree about the closing window. The pre illustrates that’s possible to wiggle your way back to relevance… with a BIG enough splash. But Nokia hasn’t been making those kinds of splashes and efforts with the NIT platform so far. The IT/MID market is no longer a niche though, it’s an emerging market, into which Nokia has not made a name with the newer MID customers.

    And that’s just what they need to do. And soon. Otherwise, they wont be a fore-runner keeping control of the market, they’ll be a has-been trying to struggle to get back into relevance (just like palm, which, as far as I’m concerned, has only re-asserted its name, not its leadership).

    As for me and my N800/N810 … I stopped carrying it when the G-1 came out. The main problem I have with the NIT is that I only really want to carry 1 pocketable device, not two. So, my NIT needs to be functional as a phone (and my phone has to be functional as a pocket computer, as well).

    The combination of the “N900″ with 3G built in, and Google Voice, might make up for that … but, really, that’s a hack/kludge. I want a 4.1” screen version of the N97, running Maemo … fully functional as a phone and SMS/MMS messenger. Not just a MID with 3G that I can pretend is a phone, via Google Voice and similar services.

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  • May 16, 2009 at 5:23 pm
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    Great article, and some great comments. (I notice the signal to noise ratio here is outstanding for the web). I bought a Nokia 770 a few years ago, and loved it, in spite of a LOT of flaws. The potential was incredible in my mind, and as an ebook reader it was a delight.

    but….. as some very perceptive indiviguals pointed out (perceptive meaning “thinks like I do”), I don’t want to carry a dozen devices around. Don’t get me wrong, I used to and was as happy as a pig in a truffle patch, but one: it’s a pain in the butt, and two: you only need one occasion when you can’t remember where you set the bag when you’re out to scare the crap out of you, considering there’s a couple of thousand dollars worth of electronic gear in it.

    So here I sit, relatively happy with my iPhone despite all it’s glaring flaws. It mostly does what I need: phone(not an option), GPS, ebook reader (soooo necessary for me), voice recorder, camera, PDA, and mp3 and video player. And it fits in my shirt pocket. Not to mention all the developers happily creating apps for it, which are continually increasing the value of the entire iPhone-iPod Touch ecosystem. Compare this to the companies that dump out their product, don’t support it, charge far too much for it and are astonished that people don’t line up in droves to be shafted.

    What delights me is all the competition at this point. The Pre is announced, suddenly the iPhone is getting cut & paste, and now, maybe, the ability to run apps in the background. The screens just get better and better and every device is more powerful, and cheaper.

    I’ve been doing this stuff for over 25 years, my first portable computer was a Compaq luggable that looked like a piece of luggage, weighed 28 pounds, had a 9 inch monochrome screen and ran DOS. I never thought I’d see the devices that I can fit in my pocket, not in my lifetime. Don’t get me wrong, I KNEW they were coming, but didn’t expect it so bloody fast. Who knows, those Singularity people might have a point after all.

    anyway……. sorry for the digression. I hope Nokia pulls a rabbit out of their hat, and comes out with something new that blows us all away and for a change doesn’t overprice it. But I’m not counting on it.

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  • May 19, 2009 at 2:51 am
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    I have had the N810 for a while. but gave up on it, haven’t touched it in almost 2 years. too big to use for a mp3 player now. My problem is not with the device itself, but with the dev community. I have been turned off by some of the developers. say one thing negative about the n810 and they rip you apart. if you don’t think the n8xx is the best device ever, you just don’t “get it”. or, well this device just isn’t targeted to you, so f*k u and go buy an ipod you twit! the n810 has so much potential, its a shame everything that was every developed or ported over to it (besides maybe canola2) looks like a half assed attempt, or an after school project made by high school students. (which they are most likely are). A dev community minus User interface / graphic designers. its almost completely useless. as much as the n810 community will try to convince us that its better to look beyond aesthetics, and focus on functionality. It’s really not, people want pretty things that just work. and the n810 is neither pretty nor works (without having to spend hours becoming a pseudo hacker).

    one thing you would assume would be simple to install and use with ease:

    an MSN client (pidgeon doesn’t work for me anymore)

    yawn… I knew it would end this way. I posted my concerns on the n810 form a year ago.

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  • May 19, 2009 at 4:02 am
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    That’s a good point, actually. The crowd over at ITT tends to be a bit touchy about the NIT.

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  • May 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm
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    Yeah, but I think that’s true of any dedicated brand/device fansite. Mob mentality and all that.

    Personally, I don’t understand why people get so bent out of shape when a stranger doesn’t love what they love. I mean, if I think something is great and someone I’ve never met think it’s pure crap, who cares? Actually, even if it’s someone I *have* met, it still doesn’t matter.

    Funnily enough, I’m working on an article about fanboys right now.

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  • May 19, 2009 at 4:25 pm
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    but its the people who do the complaining that push for real change/progress. to be honest, it was alot of fun at the beginning with the n810. doing all that redpill/blue pill stuff. sudo gainroot and all that jazz, to get programs to install, or actually work. but after the rush of learning all these things, getting the hang of it all, it almost feels like a novelty item. as I posted on ITT before, the device itself and the software feels like a work in progress. everything that has been released looks (and probably is)in beta limbo. the community is 95% developers. aesthetics aren’t on the top of the list of priorities apparently.

    I wasn’t ripped apart to bad on the ITT forum, well, not really at all, because of the way I voiced my opinions/concerns. rather than starting a thread and just saying ..”nokia sucks.. omgwtfbbq” which just makes you come across as a troll. I said my piece and asked if anyone could offer their solutions. they were kind enough to help me out on many occasions but after a while they gave up on me, followed by me giving up on them. but yea, there are always fanboys who act like they designed the n810 or get paid by nokia, its kinda ridiculous.

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  • May 20, 2009 at 11:39 am
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    Someone mentioned Palm Pre as an example of reborn phoenix, i bet you it will be out of picture in 6 months. Agree or not NIT is basically dead already, it never reached to the consumer level. What setting apart from those niche products like NIT, Apple ‘s semi-open apple store makes huge difference. Without “Nokia Store” or huge dedicated open source community support, a success of N9XX is a fantasy, at most just a developers’ toy.

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  • June 14, 2009 at 12:40 am
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    I loved my N770 – bought one of the first ones available in the UK, before Xmas 2005. They got everything right – screen, wifi, dedicated OS, price – except stability. The various updates (& hacked updates) that followed brought much more improvements, but still the crashed plagued the device.

    Despite this, I did take it on a journey to Japan in 2006, and managed to blog the trip from the device using a BT keyboard. Despite wifi hotspots being rare outside the big cities.

    The N95 with Wifi was my next revolutionary purchase – wifi meant the device was used a lot more, since data didn’t cost anything. The N770 was therefore used a little less.

    I held back getting a N800, and before long, the N810 was announced… dropping the price of the N800. I pondered for a bit, but then feared the N900’s imminent release, and then finally tried an iPod Touch (a number of months after their release). Although the screen was lower in res, the experience was just right – and I didn’t even miss flash as much as I thought I would – Most importantly – no more crashes. For consuming info/media – it’s a great device, and the size is unbelievable. I still use my N95 as my phone, since it’s superior to the iPhone in many ways, and not as wide! – i use it to tether my ipod touch, so I get the best of both worlds, but as for the N770 has been put in a drawer from the moment the Touch came home.

    If a slick N900, with rock stable OS, Firefox & Full flash functionality & an App-store way of getting all new apps was released, would I be tempted… maybe – but it’s a crowded market with netbooks, umpc & MID’s abound. I think the door may already be shut.

    Reply

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