The Nokia N8 landed yesterday with little of the fanfare we’ve come to expect from the major mobile players. There was no big press conference and no hyperbolic grandstanding in front of awed hacks. Just a gushing press release and some swanky shots of a phone that’s been known about for months in mobile circles.
It seems Nokia is happy to let the spec sheet do the talking: multitouch support, a stonking 12 megapixel camera and most important of all, the new Symbian 3 OS. The latter is at the very core of why the Nokia N8 is so important to Espoo and how it stands up to rivals such as Windows Phone 7, iPhone OS and Android.
And the early portents are not good. One mobile blogger who laid his hands on an early sample described the future as “bleak” for Nokia with the N8 as its flagship device, decrying the changes made to Symbian as “cosmetic”. Not so, says Nokia’s David Hall, who told us: “It offers a super-easy, beautiful interface that is more than a cosmetic makeover. With a step change in the UI including multi-touch, flick scrolling and pinch-to-zoom it is a pleasure to use and really speedy.”
Of course, Hall would say that the Nokia N8 is top-draw. But comments about early builds are also easy to dismiss. The prototype that leaked didn’t have final software and wasn’t ready to roll onto shelves. But be under no illusion: the stakes for Nokia are far higher now than when the N97 finally made its way into the wild around this time last year. iPhone OS 4.0 is going to offer compelling reasons for current and future iPhone owners to stick with Apple. And more importantly, Android is now a full-on powerhouse, with more than just a couple of killer phones in its arsenal.
So it’s no lie to say that the N8 is do-or-die for Nokia. Get it wrong this time and Android, iPhone and even Windows Phone 7 will stretch out a huge lead in the smartphone space. How does Nokia see its chances? When we asked Hall whether the N8 could really go up against competition from Apple and Google, his response was a refreshingly bullish: “Absolutely, and a whole lot more of our competitors too.”
Of course, Nokia won’t be losing money hand-over fist if the N8 doesn’t work out. The Finnish phone maker is spreading its wings in the developing world, where demand for its great basic blowers is soaring, especially in India. But its status as a top mobile player here in the UK, the rest of Europe and in the US, hinges on the N8’s and Symbian 3’s success.
The N8 certainly has plenty to commend it. Nokia’s camera skills are already firmly established with the N86 8MP. And the 12 megapixel effort here, coupled with HD video should prove a winner. Hall says that Symbian 3, “…provides the building blocks to support the 12MP camera and allow picture sharing; powerful HD video and the intuitive on-board
editing and a truly rich social media experience. Oh, and there's free maps.”
The latter is huge for Nokia as it goes toe-to-toe with Google Maps Navigation. The question is, can it get Symbian 3 into other devices and share the love? Whatever happens, Nokia is confident it has a killer device on its hands.
“The N8 has a beautiful design together with an easy, intuitive interface,” says Hall. “It makes social networking simple and it is going to put really powerful HD video and photographic capabilities into the hands of far more people than have experienced these things to date.”
That might be true. But by the time the N8 launches in Q3, how many smartphone lovers will care when the new iPhone, Windows Phone 7 and a slew of new Android devices are on the market? Nokia needs to get this one right first time. There can be no slip-ups as there were with the N97. Fail to come out on top and planned domination of the smartphone market will be a pipe dream it can forget for good.