Why you should be excited about the Nokia N9

Why we think the Nokia N9 will please your average consumer, but not serious technology buffs
Nokia N9

Nokia N9

Earlier this week, Nokia lifted the lid on its latest smartphone, the Nokia N9. It is the struggling company's first smartphone to run the open sourced MeeGo operating system, a joint collaboration between Nokia's Maemo project and Intel's Moblin software. It's also the first smartphone from Nokia in at least three years that we've genuinely been excited about getting our hands on.

Read our detailed preview of the Nokia N9.

Predictably, the Nokia N9 was met with a chorus of disenchanted press upon its release. Although still a dominant mobile manufacturer, Nokia has struggled to compete in the high-end smartphone market against slick, touchscreen rivals. Current Nokia smartphones like the N8, the C7 and the E7 are sluggish and unintuitive compared to their rivals — including Apple's ever-conquering iPhone, and a wealth of Google Android smartphones from manufacturers like HTC, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and Motorola.

Read Nokia N9 vs. iPhone 4 at Techworld Australia.

In February, Nokia announced that it would be switching its focus to produce Windows Phone 7 powered smartphones for its premium devices. Its Symbian software that powers current smartphones, including the latest N8, C7 and E7 devices, will continue to be supported with both software updates, and a range of new models, (up to 10 new Symbian-based smartphones will be released within the next year) but Nokia's "primary smartphone strategy" will be Windows Phone 7 smartphones.

This makes the launch of the MeeGo-powered Nokia N9 more than a little confusing. Most analysts believe the success and strength of rival ecosystems like Apple and Google will leave little room for smartphones like the N9, which many expect to be a niche device. Nokia seems to be perfectly happy with that, and says the N9 aims to "showcase new ways to use a smartphone" — the company's CEO Stephen Elop has revealed that many of the N9's user interface features may be seen on upcoming Nokia Windows Phone 7 devices, the first of which are expected to hit the market at the end of this year.

Regardless of Nokia's Windows Phone 7 strategy, the fact remains that Nokia smartphones with Microsoft software are still months away from becoming a reality. In the meantime, Nokia remains well behind its competition, and simply waiting for a Windows Phone device to change the company's fortunes would be a disastrous move. The N9 seems to fill the gap in the meantime, and will at least give Nokia a credible, refreshing and new alternative.

Nokia N9 Both the Nokia N9's hardware design and software will at least give Nokia a credible, refreshing and new alternative.

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Critically, the Nokia N9 will offer a completely different user experience than Nokia's current smartphones. Its Nokia's first "pure touch" smartphone — the N9 has no keypad or home button on the front, and the only physical controls are on the right side in the form of volume buttons and a lock key. The N9 relies on users swiping or tapping on the screen for the core of its functions. The result is a phone that appears on first glance to be dead easy to use — a core reason the iPhone was so popular when it hit the market in 2007.

Unlike current Nokia devices, the software powering the N9 is focussed on simplicity. Amongst the user interface features include all apps being available in the immediate home screen, a separate screen for notifications and events, notifications on the lock screen, embedded Facebook and Twitter clients, and a unified mail inbox. The simplicity theme runs right through Nokia's press materials — the dedicated N9 Web site focuses on detailing usability, design and basic features, rather than overload consumers with technical specifications, as Nokia has often done in the past. Nokia even admitted the N9 is specifically targeted at the "style conscious consumer" rather than "serious technology buffs".

The Nokia N9 won't have the range of apps that iPhone users enjoy, won't provide the same customisation levels that Google Android phones are capable of, and its e-mail service won't rival that of RIM's BlackBerry smartphones. However, the N9's built-in Facebook and Twitter clients, along with what appears to be a slick Web browser will keep most users happy. As will Angry Birds (yes Angry Birds!), which will come pre-loaded, support for multiple e-mail accounts including Microsoft Exchange, and an intuitive, on-screen keyboard. The Nokia N9 will also provide full turn-by-turn navigation with maps of over 90 countries free to download.

Above all, we think the N9's slick and easy to use interface will appeal to the average consumer, which is much more than we can say for any current Nokia smartphone. Early adopters will no doubt be disappointed with the lack of third-party apps when compared to other platforms. And those with competent knowledge about smartphone software will probably not purchase the N9 given Nokia's decision to focus future efforts on another platform.

Nokia N9 The Nokia N9 relies on users swiping or tapping on the screen for the core of its functions, focussing on simplicity and ease of use.

The rest of us? We are just pleased that Nokia finally has a touchscreen smartphone that is pleasing to use. It's probably at least a year late, but the N9 is a nice start.

What do you think about the Nokia N9? Let us know in the comments below!