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#1 N900 Wish? Full Portrait Mode... And I Told You So!!

Thursday, 15 October 2009 07:06

Written by Chris McFann

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n900_topOver the past few years, I've been able to work with software developers and the mobile computing community to create new features and applications to make mobile computing easier and appealing to a larger audience. It brings a real feeling of satisfaction to see a normal user have a great idea and watch the software community bring the thought into a tangible experience, quenching the thirst of the mobilist. I try to closely study the usage models of today's mobilist, and have a forward view towards what mobile computing will become.

When the N900 was unveiled, I immediately recognized its potential. The debut of the Maemo 5 geniusphone (it's too precedent-setting to be called a smartphone) had the makings of a future mobile computing standard, something that has been slowly taking place over the last decade. With a few tweaks, this OS, and the N900 along with it, could become a legendary consumer homerun, the biggest of those being universal Automatic Screen Rotation, and hence universal Portriat Mode support.

Since Maemo is an open source OS, I sauntered over to the official forums of the Maemo developer community, Talk.Maemo.org, or "The .Org", as I'm sometimes known to affectionately call them. I introduced myself as a contributing voice and member of the Symbian-Freak and Maemo-Freak communities, and made short order of letting the Maemo developer community know that the N900's lack of ASR and ubiquitous Portrait Mode support would be a bugaboo amongst a large portion of the prospective buyers.

I figured getting the word out before the release could be the catalyst to getting a head start on a future solution. Boy was I in for a surprise! Not only did my suggestion get little initial support, but I was also met with suggestions that it was inaccurate that most users would want to use the device in Portrait Mode, it was a mostly useless feature, and users wishing to use a device in such a fashion were more suited to a lower-end device like the N97 or even a Blackberry! (say WHAT?!)

Things went from a simple feature request, festered into a nasty debate, and exploded into a volley back and forth of a few choice words and verbal threats (from me, I'll admit. Hey, I'm fiery. Sue me.), nothing close to what I expected. Some developers were upset that new user suggestions would make software development more difficult, something no one wants. It was a big eye opener when forum threads dedicated to NOT wanting features I felt would be wanted by prospective N900 users, turning my suggestion into an all out political campaign, with mudslinging and vitriol all thrown in. I was immediately identified as a polarizing figure, either as an advocate or an arse, depending on the messenger. I had to make myself scarce for a time to avoid disrupting the flow of the forums.

Then Nokia Conversations posts the results of a poll they held recently asking which features users would like to see added to the N900. And what was the most wanted feature? Portrait Mode! Only I wasn't shocked. I felt somewhat redeemed, but wondered why it wasn't so obvious to the developer group.

I learned alot from that entire experience. The biggest lesson is to be patient with the developers. They're in a totally new environment with an entirely different audience joining the traditional incumbent community. It will take awhile to get the synergy necessary to exploit the Maemo OS agility via open source. I probably should've had the hard data like Nokia Conversations did with its poll data, instead of hoping they'd take my word for it alone. Until the Symbian and other smartphone OS bloggers are better known in the Maemo.org circles, the developers have no way of knowing how much credibility or knowledge such a voice has in the community.

Second, I realized that Maemo has been developed mostly in its own vaccuum until now, for purposes that never had a focus on telephony and an always on connection. Maemo's developers have some learning to do now that the newest NIT is a geniusphone and not just a tablet. The N900 is a Linux geniusphone, something that has never existed until today. This is going to basically Linux Mint 7 with a touchscreen and phone capabilities and always on internet in your pocket, which is something unfathomable just a couple years ago. This device will be in its users hands more than any previous Nokia tablet, will revolutionize mobile software development and computing, and usher in more usage models from the smartphone world, imposing on this ecosystem and developers all in one fell swoop. We all must learn to adapt, and recognize the winds of change blowing in this space.

The "fourth step", as Annsi Vanjoki refers to the N900, is an evolution of the ecosystem as well as the audience to the software. New needs, killer applications, and features will emerge that were mere passing fancies on the previous first three steps. Also, regardless of how the N900 is positioned, the large majority of N95 users unsatisfied with its successors see the N900 as its genetic upgrade, and expect not a slightly improved experience, but a totally upgraded experience. The Maemo developers have to be more in tune to that new group of users, and the first step in making that happen is by embracing the existing smartphone communities, and valuing their input.

I've buried the hatchet, and made a concerted effort to be more patient and diplomatic (no more threats and arguing, promise.). The newly elected Maemo Community Council is full of a group of wise community members with the smarts, patience, motivation, and experience to make the community relations better than ever. I look forward to watching our communities grow alongside "The .Org", working together to mold Maemo into the best OS and device family in the space. But right now, I'll say one last "I told you so", let it go, and move on. We all have better things to do...


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