Maemo Summit 2009, Amsterdam – a bit of an open-source eye-opener

Last month, Tager Communications (a customer) took me out to the Nokia-sponsored Maemo Summit in Amsterdam to help figure out whether Maemo could play a part in the national message Nokia’s marketing division puts out about its new N9xx series.

The most striking thing about being a visitor at the summit was how large the community was – at least 300 people turned up. It was later made doubly striking when I found out that almost all of those people don’t get paid to work on or with Maemo – in fact, the N900 pre-production loan we were treated to was only available to people not on Nokia’s payroll.

This was my first experience of a cohesive open source community outside of the TiddlyWiki community – it gave me much more faith in the ability of large numbers of people to work together to produce something, without needing a centrally-enforced power structure coercing them to do so. Everyone we spoke to had a very different reason for participating in the project, often because their participation gave them experience or tools that helped them sell services to other companies. Others contributed simply because they found it interesting (or earnt them wuffie).

The whole community seemed to be attached to Nokia through a single employee – Quim Gil – and, almost surprisingly, there was ’nuff luv felt for the man. It really seems as if Nokia have done a good job “stewarding” the Maemo community, filling such gaps as needed filling (graphic design, workshop hosting) and ultimately, being rewarded with a piece of software that represents an entirely different understanding of what it means to be a smart phone OS.

And that is killer with Maemo – Nokia’s N900 is obviously a competitor to the iPhone, but the experience of using it is nothing short of using a tiny computer. The “app” metaphor is nowhere near as prominent as on the iPhone or on Google Android – applications can also surface in deep integrations with other system software. As an example, the N900 ships with Skype, although you’d never know it – there is no app icon to click on. To make a Skype call you first add your account as a “VOIP and IM” account and then choose “Skype call” instead of “Cellular call” from the dialer. (Cellular? I’m sure there will be a UK localisation by the time the device is released in Blighty.)

Another departure from the standards set by both the iPhone and Android is the acceptance of web technologies as the building blocks for Maemo applications. Launching at some point in November, Nokia Web Runtime will allow packages, suspiciously similar to W3C widgets, to be installed on the phone. HTML and CSS control an application’s appearance and JavaScript controls the behaviour and taps into the native abilities of the device, such as the camera and accelerometer. The fact that these applications can also make it into Nokia’s Ovi Store will mean that the huge financial appeal of Apple’s App Store is extended to thousands times more people than the Objective-C massive.

[Update: Palm took a big move toward the web app model with the release of the Palm Pre and webOS]

The N900 isn’t going to convert many Mac fan-boys (self included), but it’s a damn fine start at a different approach. Keep an eye out for the N910.

One Comment

  1. DE
    Posted November 13, 2009 at 10:32 pm | Permalink