Gadgets, maemo, Thoughts

Why my next smartphone will probably be running Android - confessions of a Nokia fanboy

It's no secret I am a huge fan of Nokia phones. Every mobile I've ever owned has been a Nokia, for over a decade no other manufacturer has come close when I've looked for my next phone. A couple of years ago I got a Nokia 770 internet tablet and really started to get into mobile computing. My upgrade to the n810 was great and just further cemented my addiction to having some serious computing power with me wherever I went. Most recently Nokia released the N900 which changed direction a little from the Maemo devices before it. Being a smartphone, it is smaller than the internet tablets and seeks to be the 'all-in-one' device. To allow you to leave behind the laptop, tablet, mp3 player, camera etc and just carry one device. A phone which does it all.

To be honest I was a little unconvinced, when I first bought a tablet it was cheap (who can resist a touch screen computer for £75!), when I got the n810 it was in stiff competition with a netbook. I was balancing more power over truely mobile. With the n900 I wasn't sure that something small enough to be a phone could meet my needs for mobile computing. But with the N900 they have convinced me. This is the one device I need, it is with me everywhere, it is always on line. It's a camera when I need one, a gps device in the car, my music player, I write this blog from it, read the news, download and listen to podcasts, the list goes on and on and on.

But...

Because of this success Nokia have opened my eyes to the world of smartphones, and there is serious competition. As a long time linux zealot, I would not consider another Microsoft OS on anything I own, so windows mobile is out.

I also can't bring myself to buy into the locked down eco-system of the iP* selection. They look great, work great, and hold not inconsiderable appeal, but they don't play well with others, and Apple want to control what you do and how you do it. I understand their reasons for doing so, but I like enough freedom to get myself into trouble.

Which brings me to Android.

No it's not as open as Maemo. Yes I'm restricted in quite what I can implement on the device, and in what language. But I think a little control on a smartphone is probably a good thing. Some reuqirements that force apps to be good citezens when an actual phone call needs to happen and resources must be diverted seems like a sensible architecture. My N900 can really struggle to bring up the phone 'app' when someone calls me, if I'm busy in half a dozen running apps. I'd actually rather have more structure and requirements on me as an app developer, if the benefit is knowing the app will play nice with everything else that needs to happen on a phone.

But none of this is why I really think I'll be switching.

It all boils down to business models, and what the implications of those business models are for me.

You see, Nokia make money when I buy their phones. But that's all. Sure ovi store is theoretically coming and they will take a slice, but right now they have little incentive to improve my experience on this device. They have made their money, their only motivation from now is to convince me to buy the next device.

Apple makes money when I buy the device, and when I buy apps & music for it. So iTunes gets massively updated. It's apparently a great app, and of course it is. This is how Apple continue to make money from you, it is in their interests for you to want to use it, to find it intuitive and easy. But at some point, they are ultimately in the hardware business. They need you to buy the next device, they lock you in to their eco-system to make it harder for you to switch away on your next purchase.

Google don't need to make money selling phones. The money they make from you buying a Nexus one is insignificant compared to the money they make from you *using* that phone to access their services. This is why lots of people sell android phones, Google care that you use android, not that you buy hardware. This is because Google make money through advertising. The smarter they can do that, the happier everyone is, you get relevant adds, advertisers get more bang for the buck. The fact is, companies pay google lots of money to show you adds whilst you use their service. It is in googles interest for you to *want* to use their phones, and so they have cool and interesting technology in them. The more you use it, the more you wind up using their services, the more other people pay them.

Basically advertisers are paying google to keep their customers happy with interesting toys and technologies, whilst also showing them ads for stuff they probably actually want. And as a geek, I crave the cool cutting edge tech. I want to play with google goggles, and voice to text input, and layar augmented reality browsing etc etc. At the moment it doesn't seem like Nokia can compete with that. Which is a shame because the n900 hardware really is awesome.

So the main thing I'm waiting for this year is news of the nexus two. Unless much changes in the next few months, that will probably be my next device. (Sorry Nokia)