Thursday, September 16, 2010

No, Series 40 Actually Really Is The Future

So many other things I wanted to post, but I just wanted to react to John Gruber's article on What Is Next For Nokia, now that they have a new pure-software CEO. In it, Mr Gruber outlines why Nokia's current phone operating systems will not do, and what the alternatives are.

He forgot one OS, though. One that works really well and Nokia has been engineering for a long time: Series 40, the bread & butter "low end" Nokia phone environment, that has amazing stand-by and talk time and uses its resources conservatively.

But wait, weren't we talking about smartphones here? Yes we were, but you can innovate simple systems up to be very powerful, and Nokia does keep innovating Series 40. Yes it started as a two-softkeys-and-a-rocker shell for black & white phones, but it just keeps going and going. You can make applications for it using J2ME and sell them with the Ovi store. It has a fine browser for simple sites, that can be expanded and made better. Nokia has shown all kinds of features that talk to the hardware can be added to it, like FM radio. And recently, Nokia pushed it even further: it added a touch screen and called it Touch & Type.

And it just works. And is ridiculously cheap compared to an iPhone.

Notice something about this beauty? It has fewer keys than a standard mobile "dumbphone". Touch & Type manages to actually simplify a standard mobile phone by adding the most natural gesture of bypassing softkeys and rockers and just hitting the screen. And word from my sources at Nokia World is that of all the new devices, this one was just simply pleasant. This is a smartphone for people who are comfortable with phones, whose love is for phones, not computers, and will recoil from Android screaming about what kind of geekery this shit is.

Nokia can innovate from the bottom up. Smartphones are about taking computers and smashing them into a handheld form factor as best we can, but Nokia's strength is making phones. Nokia started losing its way when it though it had to make "pocket multi-media computers", but it has the promise to come back using its core strength and make amazing phones that end up smarter and nicer and simpler and and cheaper and having longer staying power and thus a larger global footprint than anything else.

In my last post I wrote about that using somewhat dismissive language of retreat, but after looking at Nokia's options and at what Series 40 can do, I am actually thinking it could be a triumph of re-focusing.