iPhone for Nerds

June 28, 2007

Remember my rant from January about how Nokia sucks? I was basically really upset about the fact that Apple could enter the phone business with something as cool as iPhone when Nokia and others have been making these really crappy phones for decades. Well, couple a weeks ago I got a new phone; Nokia N95.

Two Alike

There are not so many real competitors for the iPhone. By real competitor I mean a phone that could be seriously thought as an ”iPod-killer”, a multimedia (video, imaging) device and a smartphone with good networking capabilities. Nokia N95 is definitely one of those few devices. While it doesn’t have a pretty UI like the iPhone, it does, however, pack an impressive feature set that outperforms iPhone in many areas.

Much of the criticism against the iPhone is about its price. Compared to N95, iPhone seems almost cheap. Well, almost. The less expensive iPhone is yours for $500 bucks. The high-end model sets you back $600. And Nokia N95? It’s around $750. That’s sevenhundredandfifty dollars – for a phone. So please, iPhone is not the only expensive phone on the market.

(For the record, I’m not that rich. In Finland you can get a N95 with a two year contract for _zero euros_. I love contracts :)

In addition to rich feature set and high price point, these phones do have at least a one more thing in common: their battery life is ridiculously low. Of course, no one knows exactly how long the battery will last on the iPhone, but it is obvious that during intensive use it’s not going to be days but hours. And when it’s not days, it pretty much means that you must charge it every single day. Which sucks big time.

Nokia N95 In A Nutshell

  • 2.6” screen (320x240)
  • 160 Mb onboard memory, support for up to 4 Gb microSD card
  • Dedicated keys for controlling media playback
  • Really Good 5 Mpix camera
  • Wlan, 3G (UMTS)
  • Built in GPS (with Nokia Maps)
  • Runs on Series 60 3rd Edition FeaturePack 1

For a nerd, the most significant differences to iPhone (other than the UI, of course) are N95s better connectivity features, built in GPS and the fact that Series 60 platform is absolutely great for hacking. (And there are lots of free and open source software available. Real software.)

By the way, the Safari browser on iPhone is using the same open source Webkit-engine that is powering Series 60 browser too.

Mobile Hacking

Apple issued a press release earlier this month stating that ”evolutionary iPhone™ will run applications created with Web 2.0 Internet standards”. Yippee! So, for iPhone you can build shitt.. err. shiny interfaces on web applications and link phone numbers from them. (Want to know a Big Secret? href=”tel:+5551234”). Man, that’s so cool! Or at least it was back in 2000.

I really don’t know which puts me off more; Nokia and others making really bad UIs and half-baked software on top of a decent operating system, or Apple making uber cool ”runs on OS X” iPhone and crippling it with no SDK.

Series 60 phones have their downsides, but for developers the platform is wide open. In addition of dozens of open source programs that you can learn from, there are things like Python for Series 60 that lower the barrier for mobile development significantly. Furthermore, projects like Apache 2 port for Series 60 have opened amazing possibilities of which almost none have been explored yet.

Nokia alone has many other cool open source projects running and there are lots of people working on all sorts of cool hacks. (For example the RaccoonOnMap, which is a Mobile Web Server and Google Maps mashup that puts your phone on a map).

Getting a developer certificate for Series 60 3rd edition is, albeit free, a bit pain in the butt. But now that I have one (after few hours of installing stupid win-only software on Virtual PC and fighting trough the registration process), I’ll definitely try some Python hacking on my N95. I still think it’s a shame that you cannot do anything like this on an iPhone. Sure, it’s a smartphone ”for the rest of us”, but if it really runs OS X, why not open it up for developers?

Until that happens, I guess the N95 is the iPhone for nerds.

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