Video: Nokia N900 Q & A with Jussi Mäkinen and Maemo Community guys

| September 16, 2009 | Reply

Photo by N82 (xenon flash 😉 dual LED will NOT do this in a dark room)

Jussi Makinen joined by Maemo Community guys. The vibe of the Q&A is receptive Nokia is (or attempts to be) towards the community in making a handset. Nokia seems to be pushed to make devices based on what the consumer demands, unlike perhaps some other manufacturer which tells you what you want. It’s great to know Nokia listens to the consumers (well mostly). But but it also means Nokia are constantly having to react to ripples instead of making them.

The general feeling I got (in terms of HARDWARE) is that they’re playing things a bit too safe, always “seeing how the market takes it” as opposed to sticking their neck out, with a risky device (risky because it’s trend-setting-with-desirable-features, not risky because it’s significantly sub-par compared to competitors’ devices). In terms of software, Nokia has a beautiful approach to open source.

“Open source technology is just not about the code, it’s really about the culture. How do we communicate with the community? It has forced us to be more open, not only in code, but be more social. We want to keep it fun and it’s been fun.”

The Q&A mainly focuses on the history of the tablets, how decisions came about and the learning processes Nokia have gone through. It also discusses the future of the Mobile Computer, the target audience of the N900 and several other issues.

I asked about the future of gaming on the N900, and why Nokia decided to put a 3 row instead of 4-row keyboard, resistive instead of capacitive and Dual Led as opposed to Xenon.

Questions are in black bold

Answers are in Brackets [Jussi in black, Andrew in Green, Gary in Blue, interesting points in red]


[filmed by N97 but compressed into DivX to fit Vimeo’s limit]

I’ve somehow written up somewhat of a paraphrased transcript.

  • 00:50  Roger: How you make some of the decisions that you’ve made? [Intro to N900]
  • 05:00   Mike: N900 more of a computer, very different to N97 [N900 is for early adopters, people looking for integration into Nokia service N97 is for them, both great
  • 06:40  Mike: How long have you been working on the N900? [N900’s phone is just a feature. It’s a computer first]
  • 07:46 -  Roger: Internet Tablet is no longer part of the name? [Internet tablet is 770, N800, N810 – those three simillar heritage. N900 is Mobile Computer – “Without the community, there wouldn’t be this product….Manufacturered by Nokia but together with the community.”]
  • 08:45 Roger: Way it uses desktop is tablet like as opposed to phone like, how did that come out to bring that forward? [UI design and product management working together is fantastic in this product.]
  • 11:05  Jay: How do you see the future of gaming in the N900? [At moment, N900 does not support DRM so N-gage is not part of that. Bounce looks really great. At Nokia World, lots of game developers really excited about the possibilities. And of course when we work towards Maemo 6, those great games will be part of this product. We will open up the Ovi Store and new games are coming.]
  • 11:50 Gerry: Form factor, why not N97’s form factor? [N97’s form factor is iconic in Nokia, something really new. We wanted to give an option for the users, some people like flip, some people like it like this (slide). Based on user feedback. Keyboard is really good. It just works.
  • 12:36 Gerry: Would you change to a flip one in future models? [Of course we can’t say anything on future models, but we’re following the feedback from users]
  • 13:05 Gerry: Difference between tech people and people who just buy phones, would people buy this rather than N97? [One thing that drives N900 is internet experience. Maemo is designed for being online all the time. N97 has great features as well. Early adopters who like Mozilla and Firefox, they want the same experience out where they go and from their desktop (Hear hear!) People who have high demand for internet usage, and computer like performance and like to install applications, and all that, this product is that great alternative to N97. We haven’t started selling this yet (in October) so we’ll have to see.
  • 14:15 Gerry: How many N900s will you make? [Number not certain but we want to make it so that all the people who want it will be able to buy it]
  • 14:30 Roger: What part of experience working with internet tablets gives you an advantage over manufacturers who have not first gone down the tablet route? What have you learned in last 3 years that you wouldn’t  have learned if you hadn’t been building a tablet? [ at time 770 got worst reviews in history, it was a new concept, no phone, not normal media function – but learnt about working in an open source way – see what kind of applications and solutions come with the community. If we see lots of a certain apps being built, we take note and we learn. We learnt about releasing earlier and releasing often, but at the same time make sure it’s ready for end users. Why we didn’t put phone earlier? Product development was faster because we made product as internet tablets. Those products are essential to get the 5 step evolution of how users can experience a computer…We haven’t been making such a big noise with internet tablets. Community was asking “why aren’t you marketing this product?”. We wanted internet tablets for a very specific audience, who can communicate with us about its development. I think we’ve done a pretty good job, we have about 25,000 members, and have given us the feedback to make this (N900). Now we’re making a lot of noise, we have good marketing going on and great venues (one dot zero) where people can see the creative potential with applications like Gary has done. Now is the time to strike. We wanted to have this specific audience with the tablets and now we’re moving into mainstream. And this fourth step is a mainstream step
  • 18:30 Roger: Any mistakes along the development path that your knowledge knows not to put in to the N900? [770 launched in 05, we have learned as the community is gonna grow, we are estimating for resource planning for web that the number of users in talk maemo will double over next 18 months.We’re now in a position to know that we can shepherd in new developers for them to realise the capabilities of the device and what they can do with it. We’ve been there for last 4 years, we can show new developers how to do things, package things and deliver them to users in an easy to use way in an expertise we’ve developed within the community, I think will help the evolution of the device.
  • 21:00 Jussi: [This thing of usability has been one thing that we’ve been really improving, so with the tablets, we draw the more stylus based usage. But now, with this really good screen technology you can just swipe with your fingers, bigger icons in UI. Finger usability, I wouldn’t say it’s a mistake, but it has come clear with this one that we’ll give users finger friendly usability.]
  • 21:40 Roger: Without your N900 coming out, and another manufacturer made one, it seems to me they might miss those learning points. [Maybe one other learning with the community; when we came out with the N810 and the software there, we didn’t support originally, so N810 could run on 770. There was a vocal noise on why it wasn’t supported. The linux way is to support all devices. But again, we learnt from that, and quickly made the decision that we wanted to make this HACKER edition of the software that’s not like officially suported by Nokai but still the guys who are willing to TINKER a bit can run the new operating system on the 770]
  • 22:30 Roger: Not supported, but tolerated and allowed. Not trying to stamp it out [Now it has been leading to Mer(?) A community based operating system. What’s cool about we at Maemo is that we support that. Because we think that a community should be able to make a new operating system based on Maemo that’s fully open. At the same time we can fully learn from those. They can develop ideas and new stuff that work on Mer and that’s easy for us at Maemo to say “hey, check out this cool feature from Mer, could we do something with it?  Could we incorporate it to our stuff and work with the guys in advance? With this product, we have a star application developer programme. We gave devices to select developers early like Gary and they hack it at very early stage. First time in Nokia that we gave devices out so much earlier than before announced. It was a new thing but with Maemo we’ve done a lot of things that haven’t been done before. Not only because we were kinda smart but because the community has been teaching us a lot. We have learned a lot from that…(I think in particular, support that Nokia has given this community driven effort to build Maemo, have it open source from top to bottom, support 770, N800, N810, SmartQ5, SmartQ7, Open Moco, SO Maemo is spreading out to all these devices and that’s driven by the community, because we recognise the good thinking in Maemo, and the good bits of open source that we can take and redistribute and pull more developers into. It’s very cyclical, Symbiotic.)]
  • 25:00 Gerry: Are you gonna plan an N900 hack edition for the N810? [By Nokia now supporting community, with drivers, infrastructure and devices. The community are taking bits of Maemo 5 and putting back into Mer, so Mer will run on old devices  and provide us with Fremantle APIs. So Maemo 5 applications will run on old devices. It won’t look exactly the same because they’ve not got the horse power. But many of the applications , which the community will develip will run on both N900 and N810
  • 26:00 Gerry: But is it possible to get that look on N810? [The N810 does contain acceleration hardware, but it’s not used at the moment, from what I can gather for rights reasons, but there have been negotiations, on going within Nokia and rights holders of these chips to see whether they can get some drivers released so the community might be able to do some 3D acceleration and hopefully some kind of effect like that on the old devices which will give them a new lease of life. Because they’re still fantastic little 400MHz Arm machines with 256MB RAM, lots of storage, still fantastic device. And I don’t like to throw things like that away]
  • 26:50 Gerry: I’ve got an N800. If I could see this running on it, I would definitely upgrade. (Anything that runs on N810 should run on N800 because they’re the same. The only thing different is GPS, keyboard and integrated 2GB card. The processor and supporting chips are exactly the same between the two devices)
  • 27:20 Roger: Have you found that some of the stuff that you’ve developed using the N900 you’ve been able to think of in terms of the N810? (When I started developing 18 months ago, I was on the N810, and I made something that was fast and optimised and run really really well on the N810. I love the device, it’s absolutely amazing. It does everything I want it to. Basically, everthing I’ve developed is already running on the N810. The only things now that can’t is the accelerometer. But basically the entire system, all the things I’ve done, all the peices are in place, have been optimised for several months to make sure that they will run on the N810 because that’s absolutely key. The device is absolutely outstanding. I’ve said that from day 1. Now I’ve got the N900, it just gives me even more power to be able to run even more applications and try and do things like we’ve done with the ONEDOTZERO IDENTIY. Absolutely outstanding.
  • 28:30 Roger: So you don’t find that there’s a barrier between the two like there was between N800 and  770? [As an end user, the device is —but as a developer, between 770 and N800 is a lot bigger. The apps I’ve been playing with, writing for Maemo 5 have run on N810, N800 and N900 as well. Although there’s little bits and differences which things that Mer will smooth out those API differences. In terms of your application in terms of pulling down, synchronizing contact information across multiple services, sudoku solver or those kinds of applications that don’t reqiure a lot of processing power, (unless running 10), each application shouldn’t require all the reources of the device
  • 29:00 Roger: The hardware shift, it seems accelerated, is that your experience [Once I felt the device, it’s absolutely outstanding. I’ve been able to start and think about things which is simply not possible. So there will be applcations in the future that as we develop, it’s obvious you fill out what you’ve got available. But some of the very core apps, they work really well on all the devices.
  • 30:00 Roger: Multitasking [When I’m normally using  N900 I have 3 or 4 sms conversations going on, instant messaing going on at the same time a couple of browser windows open, wherever you are. Yesterday I was in London reading my email, chatting with Gary – browsing Web and using Maps to find places. It’s hard to put it down once you have it. (It’s an always on device, it’s always on the network, always on in your pocket. It allows you to be more sociable with people who are far away and you end up being less sociable with people in the room) I think that what you said about having more and more browser windows open, having more and more stuff available at one time we truly recognize this. We wanted to make this as easy as possible, with the switch windows so users can instantly see what they have on; what they have here. You can have as many of those tasks on as you want and switch between them.
  • 32:00 Roger: There’s a sense developing that Marketing for the US, are you intending on pushing marketing in Europe mostly? [North America and Europe are our main market. We will do all that we can to get the users to understand the benefits of this product. A lot of the marketing will happen digitally, through and also through events like this (OneDotZero). Our product marketing will be to push users to have a good grasp at experiening the N900.
  • 33:30 Roger: On earlier devices can you give a proportion on sales/success of users and where they are (US/Europe) [My sense from Forums and mailing lists is that there’s probably 50% from europe,35% America, 10% South America, 5% other. And like all statistics, that was made up]
  • 34:25: Roger: Is that representative of the sales? [With internet tablet sales has been more in Europe. I think it has to do with the open source culture. It’s more from Europe, but its developing in North America. It’s an important thing and it’s cool that these devices you can tell the story not of the N900 but of Linux and Open Source, and what kind of benefits they bring to users.
  • 35:00 Roger: Has this Open Source and Linux aspect, has it been a bone of contention with American Carriers? Everyone things that Verizon won’t buy a phone unless they can break it. Make it closed [I think I’m the wrong guy to comment. I think a great user experience matters, at least for users. And if there’s a demand, if we can make a great user experience based on Linux or whatever, that’s what matters to users. And I think that excitement from users drives the need and drives how much there is a demand for it. Technology is important but user experience is more important and i think operators understand this.
  • 36:00 Gerry: Are you targetting towards having network/contract or just have Sim-Free one off payment? [I don’t know, I will need to get back to you on operator questions because they are not my expertise
  • 37:00 Jay: Why 3 row keyboard instead of 4, Why Resistive instead of Capacitive and Why Dual LED and not Xenon? [So first of all, the screen. Even though a lot of people saying in blogs , saying it’s resistive, what’s up with that, it’s not capacitive. But actually what we have done with the software is that we have optimized it so well that you don’t need to use your nail.  You can just use your finger. So of course you need a little amount of pressure but it’s really easy to do, so we have done a lot of software optimizations to make sure that it’s really good. Especially in Web usage, it’s very good to use, it’s very accurate. At the same time, we make this kind of zoom options. I have to say user experience is really good and I hope more people can experience before just say “oh it’s resistive”. I think all the people who have tested it have said , hey that’s really good. About the keyboard thing, that’s one of the things we tested with the user. We didn’t want to make any compromises with the height of the device. We wanted everything there (access to both touch and keys at same time) the three row keyboard provides best to use keyboard and screen at the same time to multitask. If it would be wider, the movement would have been bigger so it feels really natural to wright something here then go to a window here, multitask and just jump for that task.
  • 38:42 Jay: And what about not having Xenon as opposed to dual LED? [Really good question, I think experiencing with different kind of lights here we make a lot of tests, what would be better. Have you had a chance to take pictures with it? So anyway it works really well. We’re really happy with it.]
  • 39:20 Jay: Would you say it’s better than the N97’s flash? [I wouldn’t say which one is better or worse. In Nokia there are multiple product programmes. And some go with other options and some go with other. I think they’re all connect with different feature with how we buld device
  • 39:40 Jay: As an N97 user, I know that the Dual LED doesn’t perform as well in terms of actually lighting up something, Dual LED isn’t enough [OK, I understand. I think again, we will listen to feedback from the market when it’s out, and we’ll see what kind of pictures people will do. Again we ill make it better]
  • 40:00 Neil: Nokia appear to be playing catchup with the likes of iPhone and Android with having a touch flagship device. Is that seen as Nokia’s response to match them? [I don’t think that at Nokia we’re playing catchup.  We have a strong portfolio with many touch product, not only running on Maemo. So in that, we definitely don’t see us palying catchup. Maybe outside in blogs it has been seen so, but at the same time..]
  • 40:48 Neil: Is the N900 going to be your flagship Nseries handset? [It’s one of the flagships, together with N97, as I said in different segments. Playing catchup is maybe the wrong word because..]
  • 41:00 Neil: is N900 response to iPhone/Android? [Of course we monitor how our competitors do. We don’t go like this [see video] and with the user experience, some people like other things.  I think all the knowledge that we’ve been getting by making multiple touch products has been whatever is the latest we put together all the knowledge that we get, so what comes latest with the Maemo software we think that with this we’ve done a really good job.
  • 42:00 Neil: You said at the beginning it was aimed at the tech enthusiasts, so it’s not really a mass market phone? [It has mass market appeal, but who are the kind of guys that are most happy with the product, we think that they’re the kind of early adopters and tech leaders and tech enthusiasts as they can appreciate the things that our community appreciates with the products and the Nokia has the strong portfolio for other kinds of people. I think those are who will be most happy with it. But of course with this kind of segmenting, it’s always  if opinion leaderslike you speak good about the product there will be people who will be interested in it. And when we have been demoing Gary’s onedotzero Identity, people have been amazed “What is this device? How can it do all that stuff?” I think it has a mass market appeal, but again that’s what we see in the rest of the year. I think our marketting efforts has really stretched out for this kind ofusers on devices who are more comfortable with using internet and having web as part of their everyday life. That’s the point, people who want to do their web task, no matter where they are. What’s interesting when you said it’s a device for firefox users who’s aware enough of technology to know that there are alternative browsers and that some are better than others, FireFox or Chrome users lets say, who are aware that there’s options are there. So they don’t need to know what command line is or how to recompile the kernel, but be aware that there are options and that they can get a better experience by looking around at other options. [The idea of installing applications, there are people who will just get a device and that’s what they get. With this there’s an infinite amount of possibilities you get with the community. When you buy the device, it’s just the beginning. It’s a matter of what you make of the device , not what comes out of the box]
  • 44:50 Gerry: Internal memory is only 65MB of free. [That’s something the community has noticed as well, Nokia have responded to. There’s a thread on the mailing list where the lower level architecture design guys like myself who are professional software engineers as their day job, are collaborating with Nokia in a very open way to find a solution to this. There is going to be a solution, along the lines of installing to mem card as N800 but out of the box. We’re just discussing where the work happens. Is it with community packaging applications or do we try with Nokia and get a solution that will make community’s life easier….in terms for end user experience, there will be at least 1GB. This is just an example of how we collaborate with commnity. When we get feedback that something needs to be done, and there’s always a guy from us who listens to ideas. Yesterday evening , we were discussing this, how we could help you, and get feedback more efficiently from you. I think it’s so valuable of the work that the community is doing because even before product is out, we can test it out and throw ideas back and forth. Like  said, being critical, being constructive, that’s one of the main points of this community, not to say that we have learned a lot on how to collaborate. Andrew was the chair of the community council. That was one idea that came (2008) to make a community council to make an interface with Nokia nd community. These kind of things, we learn all the tim, to follow the community. I think it’s super usable for us who work with Maemo, but also giving back for the community and at the end it’s all coming for the benefit of the users.
  • 47:35: Mike: You’ve currently got these two different phones for different markets, N97 and N900 with N900 for tech and N97 for mass market. Do you see the two devices converging in the future or will you always have this separation with super early adopters and mass market adopters. [Convergence is a good word because there’ll definitely be convergence of user experience of phone and computers. But that’s what we have at this moment and in the future, we will follow what kind of feedback this gets from the market and where is our product development going, but of course, Nokia is strong on this kind of portfolio of thinking. We’re adjusting our portfolio on what is the best device for the best use cases. That’s where I know that Maemo is for high end, best internet experience, best computer like experience.
  • 48:40 Roger: Are you seeing a migration of developers from Symbian and ForumNokia to Maemo? [There’s certainly been informal stuff happening on community forum, where we’ve had a lot of people from Symbian development coming into forum to say “how do I get started/there should be an app like this” and we go “actually you don’t need an app like that”, you can talk via MSN…installing pluggin and so forth.

Wrapping up

“Open source technology is not about the code, it’s really about the culture. How do we communicate with the community? It has forced us to be more open, not only in code, but more social. We want to keep it fun and it’s been fun.”


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Category: Event, Linux, Maemo, Nokia, Nseries, Video

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