in Technology

Platforms as standards? 10 days with the Nokia N9.

Last week I ordered and received a Nokia N9 smartphone. You can’t buy them in stores in the UK as Nokia has since decided to go with the ‘Windows Phone’ mobile operating system.

Nokia N9 - cyan

This has led to some interesting reviews:

Essentially, they all say that the phone is gorgeous, both in terms of hardware and the swipe-based MeeGo operating system.

But.

Nokia N9 - appsThe Nokia Ovi store contains very few apps as Nokia has effectively abandoned the platform (although they are supporting it until 2015).

That hasn’t stopped me getting two significant updates to the phone in the short time I’ve had it. The latest update was awesome and included built-in DLNA streaming to devices such as my Playstation 3.

Quite why a closed app store equates to a successful mobile device is beyond me. The only two apps I’m actually missing are two you probably don’t use: Path and LastPass.

I want to credit Amber Thomas with a throwaway comment she made during our Skype conversation earlier this week. She talked of the worrying tendency of people to treat ‘platforms as standards’. Hence the title of this post. What I’ve realised is that Apple iPhone app makers love to create silos for information. It makes their apps profitable.

On the other hand, I like my workflows. And the best mechanisms for making those workflows as smooth as possible? RSS and email. Which, given Project Reclaim, is just as well. :-)

I’ve spent a small fortune on apps for Apple devices. And to what avail? I don’t need a dedicated special ‘distraction-free’ iPad app to write well. I just need to find an environment conducive to writing and get on and write. I don’t need a fancy to-do list with heatmap colours. I need a list of things to do. Paper and pen’s working well.

The N9 has apps and accounts that are integrated into the operating system itself. The Twitter app is great and the Messages app integrates SMS, Google Talk, Skype and other instant messaging platforms:

Accounts on the Nokia N9 (1/2) Accounts on the Nokia N9 (2/2) Nokia N9 built in functionality - Skype/Google Talk

Connecting your accounts enables you to import and export from almost any app. I added the Evernote and MeeIn (LinkedIn) functionality through the Nokia Ovi Store. It’s not completely barren.

This isn’t  a review of the Nokia N9. Nor is it a post comparing it with my previous smartphone: an iPhone 4. The reason for this post is to point out a couple of things:

  1. To what extent do we (myself included) treat platforms as de facto ‘standards’? Is that healthy? Is it sustainable?
  2. To what extent does our tool use affect how we see the world? Do we need to change the tools we use to see the world in a new light? If so, how often?

Finally, the change has made me think about web apps. Cross-platform, browser-based HTML5 applications. Why don’t companies go down that route? Well, perhaps because anecdotal research shows that people only tend to look in app stores rather than on the Web for such apps. And second there’s the issue of monetisation. There’s money in those iOS and Android hills.

I can’t help but think, however, that initiatives such as Mozilla’s completely Web-based operating system Boot to Gecko (B2G) will lead to greater cross-platform compatibility. As the fortunes of large companies such as BlackBerry, Microsoft, Nokia and Apple wax and wane, so too will the desire of consumers to lock themselves into one ecosystem. I don’t want to have to re-purchase all of my apps just because I buy a new mobile device.

The future is more democratic. The future is more open.

Eventually.

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  1. One of the sessions at #gtauk this week (brilliantly entitled ‘Go Chrome or go home!’) really blew my mind in terms of HTML 5 and web apps. One of the notes I made at the end read: ‘the Internet isn’t just the Internet anymore.’ I have a feeling this route will explode.

  2. Hi Doug, I liked your questions so much that I thought I should respond as I’ve been  thinking about them for a while now.

    1. Yes, I think there is a tendency to treat the platform as a standard, your comments on HTML5 point to a possible way out of this sort of cul-de-sac. As to monetising HTML5 it is possible to wrap apps for marketing in droid and mac market places but it adds another layer to the development process and feels like backward compatibility to accommodate the ingrained habits of app usage (“got to get to my app store to down load that”).
    2. Your second question about the tools we use conditioning the way we see the world is the thing I’ve been thinking about most. It reminded me of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis debate in psychology about whether the language we speak fundamentally conditions our perception of the world. Whilst it turns out that some of the examples/illustrations put forward by the pro linguistic relativism camp aren’t as convincing as they first seemed (the Inuit don’t seem to have a much bigger vocabulary for snow than people from more temperate latitudes) it does strike me as inevitable that the mechanisms we have for making sense of ourselves, each other and our environments make certain patterns of thought and behaviour more likely than others. That said, don’t you think the remarkable thing is the extent to which the technologies we develop (linguistic, informational, etc.) are so readily compatible with each other despite often being developed in competition with each other.

    • Hi Ian, now you’ve got me thinking! The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis came up in my Philosophy of Mind class as an undergraduate, so I probably had that at the back of my mind (as it were).

      I’m probably due a follow-up post expanding upon the ‘pre-literate gestures’ I mentioned in my recent TEDx talk: http://bit.ly/dajbtedx

  3. Having just returned to Nokia (although the windows phone platform) I agree with the points you make. It is only a short time (well it feels it) since I got my first mobile phone on Orange, before cross network SMS existed. When I think of this, and watch my six year old niece use an iOS device I wonder what future platforms will look like. I don’t think we are there yet… )

  4. Really interesting post Doug. It links to some of my recent thinking about mobile devices too. I agree with your point that some can see platforms as ‘de facto’ standards and the fact that it is easy to get sucked into ecosystems. I think the best example of this is Apple and I extend this to other multimedia too. For example, I have purchased films and TV series using iTunes because it is the only service available to me which lets me have a download of the film/TV series. One downloaded I only have the option to watch on an Apple device or piece of software. Apple have therefore become the ‘de-facto’ standard for online film/tv downloads in the UK. There are no other options and Apple hold all of the cards in this respect. This isn’t a rant against Apple – I own their products and really like them but it baffles me that the content I have purchased is only supported on a small number of devices which Apple has chosen.

    The same can be said with data and the ‘silos’ of information stored in apps which sometimes cannot easily be shared outside of the app. Obviously this means the services become confined to the bubble of the app. Android addresses this to a certain extent with the ‘Share’ feature which allows users to share information from apps to another app or service. I think this is a step in the right direction. Although I agree with the fact that a move towards HTML5 web apps would be a good one. I do wonder if the ‘average’ user prefers the closed nature of the apps and services – the fact that they ‘just work’ within the confines of their app bubble and the fact their is an icon on their homescreen (links to the ‘there’s an app for that’ advertising campaign).

    Android is an interesting platform framed within this debate. The ‘pure’ version of Google Android featured on devices such as the Galaxy Nexus work in a very similar way to the N9 (you can add various networks/services in the same way as above). Of course when you factor in the Android Market (sorry now Play Store) you add the profit aspect. In addition the fact that Android is open source means that manufacturers attempted to create their own brands and selling points with Android. HTC for example add their own platform (HTC Sense) on top of Android and Amazon have changed it completely (Kindle Fire). So we even have fragmentation within the same platforms.

    These were my initial reactions – feel free to disagree or debate!

    •  Oh I very much agree. What I find bizarre is that I’ve seen a couple of people in my Twitter network (reflective edtech types) buy an AppleTV *because* they’re locked-in to the Apple ecosystem. Crazy.

  5. An interesting read Doug.

    I absolutely agree with your argument that we need to be wary of giving over our data to ‘silos’ from which it is hard to escape. We need to be more aware of the apps and web platforms that we use, how these store our data, and how easy/hard it is to extract our data and move it elsewhere. We need to ask important questions like ‘How is this platform funded? Am I buying a product or service outright? Is my data generating income for someone via advertising?’. Tools, platforms (and standards) will, inevitably change. What matters is our data, and maintaining an appropriate level of control over that data. 

    I don’t quite get is the connection between this and the N9, thought! You seem to have taken the slightly contrary decision to buy a phone based on a dying platform. Your argument then appears to be ‘hey, it’s not as bad as you might think’. Maybe that’s true, but is Meego really a better choice than iOS, Android or Windows Phone in providing access to tools that allow you to be more productive?

    • Hi Richard, thanks for the comment. :-)

      You’re probably right about the connect between two ideas that are
      slightly disparate. I need to get the article on ambiguity published
      somewhere so I can reference it – this is definitely an example of
      generative ambiguity…

      I suppose my argument is that I’m implicitly *rejecting* the notion of a
      ‘dying platform’ (which, after all is a construct). There’s a whole
      other follow-up post here about the perceived need for ‘apps’ to make
      you productive.

  6. Hi Richard, thanks for the comment. :-)

    You’re probably right about the connect between two ideas that are slightly disparate. I need to get the article on ambiguity published somewhere so I can reference it – this is definitely an example of generative ambiguity…

    I suppose my argument is that I’m implicitly *rejecting* the notion of a ‘dying platform’ (which, after all is a construct). There’s a whole other follow-up post here about the perceived need for ‘apps’ to make you productive.