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Nokia Tosses Another OSS OS Into the Mobile Mix

Nokia Tosses Another OSS OS Into the Mobile Mix

Even though Nokia's Symbian mobile OS is the most dominant smartphone operating system in the world, the Finnish phonemaker has opted to fit its new touchscreen smartphone, the N900, with Maemo. Maemo is a Linux-based operating system normally used in Nokia's tablet computers.

By Richard Adhikari
08/27/09 10:36 AM PT

Nokia on Thursday announced the N900 smartphone, a mobile device running the Linux-based Maemo operating system that the company typically uses for its tablets.

The device runs a Mozilla-based browser and offers still and video photography, an FM radio and 3.5G and WLAN connectivity.

Maemo is the operating system used in Nokia's tablets, and the Finnish handset maker's description of the N900 shows it's moving to converge the computer, the Internet and the mobile phone.

Finding Maemo

Nokia sees the Maemo OS as driving its new technology, and the N900 as merely the hardware to contain the OS. "Nokia today marked the next phase in the evolution of Maemo software with the new Nokia N900," reads a statement the company issued.

Nokia N900
(click image to enlarge)

"What we have with Maemo is something that is fusing the power of the computer, the Internet and the mobile phone," said Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's executive vice president of markets.

Maemo is an operating system developed by the Maemo open source community, which was set up by Nokia. It is based on Debian GNU/Linux, according to Wikipedia. Most of the technology for its GUI, frameworks and libraries come from the GNOME project. Maemo uses the Matchbox window manager and the GTK-based Hildon as its GUI.

In 2007, Maemo released a development version of a Web browser based on Mozilla 1.9, and it has continued to use Mozilla as a base since.

Inside the N900

The Nokia N900 has a 60 MHz ARM Cortex-A8 superscalar processor and up to 1 GB of memory. It uses a 3-D graphics accelerator with OpenGL ES 2.0 support. OpenGL ES is a subset of the OpenGL 3D graphics API (application programming interface) designed for embedded devices such as mobile phones and PDAs.

The N900 has 32 GB of internal storage, expandable to up to 48 GB with an external microSD card.

Other features are 3.5G and WLAN connectivity; the ability to transfer data over a cellular network at 10/2 Mbps (megabits per second) and over WiFi at 54 Mbps; Flash 9.4 support; and full-screen browsing.

The N900 also has an integrated A-GPS (assisted GPS) receiver and works with Nokia's Ovi Maps, which are pre-installed.

Other Capabilities

The N900 has an 800 by 480 touchscreen display, a fully integrated QWERTY keyboard and a removable battery.

It also has a 5 megapixel digital camera with Carl Zeiss optical lens, dual LED flash and 800 by 480 video recording capability.

Users can add widgets to their desktops and create multiple desktops for different people. The N900 has a dashboard feature that lets users run multiple tasks and switch tasks much like a PC.

Users can make calls by rotating the device from landscape to portrait mode. They get free Skype-to-Skype calls, although they may have to pay data charges.

Symbian Rules the Roost

Will Maemo replace Symbian on Nokia's smartphones? That's not likely -- Maemo, in fact, complements Symbian, Nokia said.

"Symbian is still the most dominant mobile OS player, with about 50 percent of the global market," Julien Blin, principal analyst and CEO of JBB Research, told LinuxInsider.

"Nokia bought Symbian a few years ago to become a leading player in the smartphone market and mobile OS areas, so it would not make sense to give up on Symbian," he added.

Maemo will likely target high-end mobile devices, Ramon Llamas, senior research analyst at IDC, told LinuxInsider. "Symbian will continue as it is; what remains to be seen is how much and how hard Nokia will pursue the high end."

Is Convergence a Winner or a Loser?

In a larger regard, Nokia's focus on the convergence of the Internet, PC technology and mobile telephony may not pay off, Carl Howe, director, anywhere consumer research at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

"Actual consumer behavior doesn't indicate any rush toward converged devices," he said.

Yankee's 2009 Anywhere Consumer Survey found that 82 percent of respondents who owned an iPhone also owned an iPod of some type, Howe said. "The fact that both devices can play music doesn't mean that consumers see no value in the more specialized device."

Taking on the iPhone?

With its functionality and its Linux-based OS, the N900 could be seen as possible competition for the iPhone.

"Because the N900 is one of Nokia's first devices using Linux rather than the Symbian OS, it comes to market with many capabilities that may rival the iPhone, simply because they share a common heritage and system philosophy," the Yankee Group's Howe said.

However, that doesn't mean the N900 will pose a threat to the iPhone. "It has the software muscle to go head-to-head with Apple," Howe said. "The big question is whether the user experience Nokia has developed for it is similarly polished and appealing to consumers."

The Nokia N900 will be available in select markets starting in October at about $713. It's not likely to come to the United States any time soon.

"Nokia has other things in the hopper for the U.S. market, namely growing its presence and building smartphones for CDMA networks," IDC's Llamas explained. "It could be a while until we see the new devices here."


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