Thursday, August 11, 2011

Meet MeeGo Harmattan -Nokia N9

The smartphone market is crowded (or, 'healthy', you could say); we have iOS and Android in the top spots, and a range of competitors like Windows Phone 7, Symbian, BlackBerry 7, webOS, Bada, etc. iOS, Android, WP7 are on the ascendency, most other things are static or in decline.


What you often find though, is that you can tell the good ones apart by how consistent and pleasant to use they are. Pick up a webOS device, for example, and you instantly see a pretty OS with many great UI concepts. Use it for a little longer, and you start to see how shallow that veneer actually is - user experience nightmares, terrible performance, half-finished designs, etc. The sliding three-pane UI in webOS 3.x is a great example of this; drag the divider and the panes will judder across the screen, the main pane not resizing anything until you let go, at which point it snaps to the new position with no animation or feeling. Compare with the Twitter for iPad UI and how fluid it feels, and you would be appalled. It's such a pity, because webOS is a great concept and implementation - it just doesn't have the final 10% to make it feel like you're using something more than a pretty-looking webpage. I believe it's here to stay, however, unlike Symbian, BlackBerry OS, etc.

iOS is the king, so far, with consistency of user experience. You'd have to make a conscious choice as a developer to create an app that breaks the inherent UX niceties and animation in the OS. I like to call this the 'soul' of the platform. Android, on the flipside, is a hodgepodge of inconsistent UX, where even Google's own apps decide to feature new styles and concepts in between OS releases (the App Marketplace, for example, has been redesigned twice in recent history, with neither style matching the rest of the OS). Windows Phone 7 also has a quality UX, until you reach the third party apps, where everything degenerates (the third-party apps, being Silverlight, have no relation to the native software that comes on the phone, which is all C++ and using the same frameworks).

Recently, Nokia announced the N9, the first (and perhaps last) of their MeeGo smartphones. Where does MeeGo fit?

N9
Long awaited, the expectations were really high for this device - MeeGo was originally supposed to be the savior of Nokia, their modern smartphone OS to replace the aging Symbian. When Nokia announced in February that they were instead going to move to Windows Phone 7 as their primary platform, most took it as a sign that MeeGo was simply never going to be ready, or competitive. The open-source version of MeeGo for handsets is so barebones that it would take another year at the least to build a compelling user experience on top of it, so it was understandable that Nokia would focus their efforts on WP7 instead.

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