Maemo Summit 2009
The Maemo Summit was fun and very productive. The organization was excellent, obviously thanks to a generous budget and a dedicated hard-working maemo.org team. I met several interesting new people with whom I hope to work closely in future.
I’m very glad that this was timed with important public announcements from Nokia, so people were actually allowed to talk to each other. And the generous loan of 300 pre-release N900s made our conversations realistic.
Nokia N900 running Maemo 5 (Fremantle)
This is the first chance I’ve had to actually use an N900 in daily life. I’m not quite the target customer, because I like tiny phones and I don’t have a flat-rate data plan, but for the past couple of years I’ve been using a N95 and then a N85 (a newer model than the N95), both Symbian S60 phones, just so I can use their good cameras to snap Liam and easily upload the pictures to Flickr.
The N900 is already vastly better for my simple uses:
- The Symbian UI is incredibly awkward, even when you discover the voodoo button presses to manage multi-tasking applications and remember all the hacks to make things work properly. The UI frequently stalls for a minute at at time.
- My N85 camera crashes/hangs on every 3rd or 4th picture, or when switching between camera and video mode. So I frequently have to do a reboot to take a picture. 2 fumbling minutes is not a good camera reaction time when photographing a speeding child. My N900 camera never crashes.
- The N85 lets me upload to Flickr easily, but then the uploads get stuck in an Outbox, that’s really hard to find. Repeated requested to “Upload Now” eventually get it onto Flickr, but it’s a tedious process and I often don’t notice that a photograph hasn’t really uploaded. My N900 uploads painlessly to Flickr, offering a quick way to tag the photos as I do so.
- The N85 still refuses to upload videos to Flickr, though Flickr has supported this for a year and a half. My N900 uploads videos to Flickr as easily as photographs.
- Symbian doesn’t seem to have any general system-level concept of networks:
Individual Symbian applications often have their own network settings, so, for instance, an application will often do one of the following:
- Ask you to choose an internet connection, though you are already connected.
- Just complain that it can’t connect at all, though you are already connected. In these cases it’s generally trying to connect to some wireless network that’s hundreds of miles away.
This seems to be improving with each (infrequent) Symbian update – for instance the Flickr updater now seems to use the already-connected network, though it’s hard to know because of the Outbox problems mentioned above.
My N900 and its applications don’t have these network problems.
As well as solving these daily frustrations, the N900 has an amazing address book, which ends up being the main starting point for all communication. It brings all my SIM/phone, GoogleTalk, Jabber, Skype, SIP, and ovi.com chat contacts together in one list, allowing me to merge them together. Its use of the Telepathy framework means that even more backends will be added later – you can add some now though you risk breaking your phone by using unstable software. I do miss syncing contacts to ovi.com, though I feel sure that the feature will be added. This allows me to communicate easily with my friends via several methods, without using multiple fragmented applications when jumping between SMS or IM.
And those conversations (even SMS) are actually presented as individual conversations, instead of just a jumble of messages in an inbox. It’s great to see the conversation’s history when writing a new message.
I generally find that the Symbian phones don’t warn you when they are using the expensive 3G data connection , though this is again dependent on the application rather than being a system-level thing. I have not yet allowed my N900 to use the 3G connection, so I can’t say if it’s better. I anticipate that the use of a real operating system (Linux) can make this manageable. Unfortunately, network operators don’t want to help users with this. At some point they might realize that cheating customers is not a good strategy.
Less buggy, and bugs can be reported
I’ve found a few bugs – after all, this is not the final stable software. But even this pre-release is far less buggy than my awful Symbian phones. As a developer, I believe that Linux and its commonly-used tools has made this possible, though software development remains incredibly difficult for even the best people on any platform.
Best of all, I can report the bugs at bugs.maemo.org and track their progress. For Symbian, all I can do is whine on my blog. People like companies that listen to their needs instead of hiding from their customers. André will be swamped by new feedback – don’t try this without a bugmaster.