Nokia N900 vs iPhone 3G – Part 2
February 24, 2010, 5:40 pm
Filed under: MobileTech | Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday I gave my views on the apps and services I use most often on my iPhone and compared them to what the N900 had to offer, the iPhone won 3-1, but a lot of the comparisons were a draw.

So today I’m going to tell you what I think of the hardware & the OS. I’ll point out right now that I’m comparing the N900 to MY iPhone, which is a 3G, and not the newer 3Gs

In the box are the usual wires, some headphones, a wall wart charger and a USB lead. I was dissapointed that the N900 didn’t use a standard mini USB cable like so many other devices do, it means you are tied to their peripherals much like you are with Apple’s. The box also contains an AV lead which you can plug into a TV and play your media through, very nice.

In terms of looks, the iPhone wins hands down, it’s more polished, their apps all share the same UI and follow (in the main) the Apple guidelines. The N900 UI doesn’t look as polished and many of the apps handle similar tasks in different ways.

In terms of size, the iPhone is about half as thick, 10mm longer and the same width, but they weigh the same as far as I can tell. The screen on the iPhone is slightly larger and when you’re using your fingers it’s capacative screens is much more responsive than the N900, but you can use a stylus on the N900 for much finer control.

Call quality and making calls on both devices is very easy, and the N900 has excellent audio quality, but it has dropped 2 calls in the 3 days I’ve been using it.

The Maemo OS has one massive advantage over Apple’s iPhone OS, it’s free and open source. I can download tools and develop apps for it, just like the iPhone, but I have the choice of 3 languages and 2 GUI toolkits. The latter is what causes the inconsistency in part, but the next version of Maemo will switch to use Qt as it’s toolkit. Another barrier to entry for iPhone dev is that you need to fork out $99 a year to be able to run your apps on an actual device.

I’m trying to write a better Twitter client for the iPhone, but how far I’ll get in the 2 weeks before the phone goes back, I don’t know. Development on OSX has to be done using the provided VM image, which has a 800×600 resolution and runs like a dog on older Apple hardware. I’m hopefull that developing PyQt apps will be easier though, one demo suggests you can deploy to the device just by copying the source over, which will be a great improvment.

Apple also put another wall in between the developer and getting their apps out, and this is either a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on how you look at it. It’s a good thing as it can act as a quality filter (however low they set the bar) or it’s a bad thing because it means they can refuse any app they fancy, or make an eReader have an adult rating because you can use it to read The Karma Sutra.

With the N900 anyone can upload apps to Nokia’s Ovi, which has the same quality gates as the App Store, or you can install stuff via a normal debian package, as a company you can even create your own repository and people can add it to their phones. The Ovi store is where developers can sell their apps, and like Apple, Nokia take a 30% cut of what you sell it for (minus costs) and have a €50 fee to join the store.

The documentation for Maemo is also very good, with plenty of examples, an easy to follow introduction, but these are focused on C or C++, but has some basic tutorials for Qt. MeeGo is what the next version of Meamo will be called, after it’s merger with Intel’s Moblin.

So with all these things in it’s favour the N900 is ideally positioned to explode, but there’s 1 thing standing in it’s way … adoption. Developers won’t write apps for it unless they can see they could make some money, and people won’t buy the phone unless they can see the apps they want available for it. Just look at all the apps that were available when the App Store launched, Nokia can’t rely on a build it and they will come strategy, they need to work with developers of all kinds to build the kind of apps people expect to see when they buy the phone. Offer developers the hardware & the support they need to build their apps and not just rely on creating a website and releasing the phone, “Build it and they will come” doesn’t apply unfortunatly.

So, out of the 2 phones, I think the N900 wins, it’s dev tools, better hardware spec and open source nature just beat the iPhone. If I was a new user looking at the 2 devices I’d probably go for the N900.


5 Comments so far
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Actually the charger port *is* a standard USB slot, albeit the somewhat exotic “micro-B” specification, so you *can* buy cheap 3rd-party replacements and even adapters to mini-USB if you so wish.
The real missed opportunity is that the N900 cannot operate as USB-host (i.e. you can’t attach, say, a memory stick) because of hardware choices apparently dictated by time/resource constraints.

On attracting developers: I recently joined the Nokia Launchpad project for Maemo/MeeGo (google it). As a special offer, they are waiving the Publisher fee (50E) and the annual Launchpad subscription (300E); that’s a nice step inthe right direction :) although you need to be VAT-registered to apply at the moment (this should change in a few weeks, I’m told).

Development tools are good on Linux (I had mine set up in a few minutes on Kubuntu), but basically non-existent elsewhere. Qt should change that.

Comment by Giacomo

What I meant was it isn’t the smaller Mini-A type plug that anyone with any gadgets will have a bunch of lying around the house :-) Maybe this new Micro-B style will become more popular in the next couple of years.

I still think Nokia should actively approach developers, give them the hardware to get the Ovi store seeded with some quality apps. Get EA to do a version of the Sims or Spore, get Netflix to port their software and get the social games companies like FourSquare & Gowalla to port their software too.

I’m developing my Twitter client using PyQt so that shouldn’t be an issue on OSX, and even if the phone has to go back before I finish it, I can still use the Maemo dev VM to test it. (and perhaps a friendly N900 owner Giacomo ;-)

Comment by Stuart Grimshaw

Yeah, Nokia have quite a long way to go in dealing with “classic” developers. They work predominantly with people already active in the Symbian space, which is a tiny community and very far from the “web mainstream” embraced by iPhone and Android. These people do get pre-production hardware (the N900 was around for quite a bit before it was officially launched), Launchpad members can get test devices at discount prices or just rent them for a few months, etc.
The traditional Symbian community is what it is because of a horrible OS :) with very high barriers to entry (you have to sign your apps, which costs quite a lot, and there was no real app store until Ovi because network operators wanted to do that themselves) and massive adoption rates in non-English-speaking countries, which don’t blog as much as the Yanks ;)
Apple and Google were smart in attracting US-based mindshare in a way Nokia never managed to do, mostly because they ignored the network operators requests to “manage the content”.
Anyway, this only means there’s more space for new entrants ;) I’ll be glad to test your twitter client (I use Witter but I don’t particularly like it); btw at the moment I’m working on an expense-tracker for N900 and I’d be interested in doing a betting-tracker app with somebody who knows more about betting than I do :)

Comment by Giacomo

[…] has pitched his N900 against the iPhone 3G (not 3GS) in a series of ‘fights’, and the lastest reveals a Nokia victory. It was in […]

Pingback by N900 takes on an iPhone « WOMWorld/Nokia

nice and very informative writeup keep it up.

Comment by mobiledepot

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