Photos of Nokia's upcoming Maemo 5 device have been leaked, and they reveal that it is likely a smartphone and not just a tablet. The device reflects Nokia's growing commitment to Linux.
Nokia first unveiled its vision for a next-generation Internet Tablet device when it announced plans for Maemo 5—a new version of the Linux-based tablet operating system—at the Open Source in Mobile event last year in Berlin. Early plans indicated that the OS would be paired with a device that would include 3G connectivity and an OMAP3 processor. Ever since that announcement, mobile Linux enthusiasts have eagerly anticipated the arrival of an actual Maemo 5 device.
A Nokia product codenamed RX-51 recently cleared FCC approval and has now appeared in leaked photos that made their way onto the Internet; it appears to be the long-awaited Maemo 5 product. The source code of Maemo 5 provided some early clues about the RX-51 last year. Maemo fans have been poring through it and documenting various technical details that provide insight into the hardware.
The new pictures also seem to indicate that the device is a phone, and not just a Web tablet like its predecessors. This would be a major step forward for Maemo and could reflect a more Linux-centric mobile strategy for Nokia. The handset maker announced a project earlier this year called ofono, which seeks to build a complete telephony stack for mobile Linux platforms. The emergence of ofono and Nokia's move to make Maemo a viable smartphone platform has raised a lot of questions about the company's commitment to its other mobile OS, Symbian.
Nokia acquired Symbian last year; its phones ship with its own S60 variant of the OS, which is increasingly anachronistic compared to modern smartphone platforms. Nokia's plan of opening the Symbian platform appeared to be part of a move to modernize and strengthen it. Several reports have emerged this year, including one in the past few days, saying that sources close to Nokia are suggesting that the handset giant sees Symbian as a dead end and is preparing to move entirely to Linux.
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about Nokia's long-term platform strategy, but it's still far too early to say whether Nokia is switching entirely to Linux. As we have recently described, the Symbian Foundation has launched a number of far-reaching initiatives that aim to address the platform's weaknesses. The resulting user interface and development improvements could make it much more competitive. The announcement that Symbian is getting a mobile version of Microsoft Office also suggests a long-term commitment.
It's also important to keep in mind that Nokia has a harmonization strategy: the Qt toolkit, which it obtained through an acquisition of Trolltech last year. Nokia is bringing Qt to S60 and plans to make Qt the foundation of the Maemo user experience in Harmattan, the version that will follow Maemo 5. This means that developers will be able to use Qt to build software that can run on both mobile platforms. This addresses the potential fragmentation issues and makes it practical for Nokia to continue using both platforms, targeting each to contexts in which it's appropriate.
Maemo products have traditionally been developer-centric and somewhat experimental, but it's likely that we will see the platform move into the regular consumer market as it matures and Nokia boosts its commitment. If it ends up being a viable and compelling replacement for Symbian, we could potentially see a transition over time. But Symbian is the world's dominant smartphone platform today, and its considerable momentum means that there is still a strong business case for modernizing it and moving it forward alongside Maemo.
Nokia has recently partnered with Intel to build a somewhat mysterious new class of mobile devices. In addition to delivering Maemo on Internet Tablets, it's likely that we will see Nokia pushing Maemo in whatever those products turn out to be, while Symbian remains the standard platform for the company's more conventional smartphone handset lineup.