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Nokia Seeks Application Ideas For Linux-Based N800 Tablet

Living and Breathing the Internet

  • February 22, 2007
  • By Jacqueline Emigh

Nokia is now scouting about for new application ideas around the N800, its latest Linux-enabled tablet. At the same time, though, the company has no plans to stray from its choice of an essentially Debian Linux-based platform, or from its concept of the N800 as a device geared to on-the-go Internet connectivity, according to Ari Jaaksi, Nokia's director of open source software.

"The N800 is a device that lives and breathes 'Internet,'" Jaaksi said, during an interview with LinuxPlanet at last week's LinuxWorld OpenSolutions show in New York.

At the show, Nokia and Popular Science magazine launched a contest revolving around applications, scripts, services, and hardware additions for the N800, the next step beyond Nokia's previously released N770.

Weighing in at 7.3 ounces, the 5.7-inch long device comes with an 800-by-480 dpi display, intended to provide full viewing of all Web sites in up to 65,000 colors. The screen works either by touch or with a built-in stylus.

Based, like its predecessor, on Nokia's Internet Operating System, an internally developed Debian Linux derivative, the N800 handheld adds Bluetooth Specification 2.0 to the N770's WiFi support, along with VOIP (voice over IP), a new integrated WebCam, a faster CPU, and support for stereo speakers and two SD cards.

Development tools for the device are available through a Nokia-sponsored open source project known as Maemo.org.

Why is Nokia using Linux as the OS platform for its tablets? "Primarily, it's the flexibility. We could not have created the N800 so quickly, otherwise. It's easy to add new features, too," Jaaksi told LinuxPlanet.

This summer, for example, Nokia plans to bolster the N800's VOIP capabilities--which are currently limited to Google, Gizmo, and Jabber--with Scype support, said Sari Lonnquist, another Nokia spokesperson, also during the meeting.

Jaaksi also cited a number of other related advantages for Linux, from Nokia's standpoint, including costs, componentization, and the size of the existing development community.

"There are no licensing fees, so this helps us to keep costs down for users," according to Jaaksi. The N800 carries list pricing of $399.99, for instance.

Jaaksi told LinuxPlanet that, in planning the N770, the N800's predecessor, Nokia gave some thought to using embedded Linux or some other type of embedded environment.

"But the embedded Linux space is still pretty fragmented. It was much easier to go to Debian. We have a very enthusiastic group of open source developers," according to the open source software director.

"And [we're using] a distribution that's controlled by [Nokia]. It's core source. That's pretty good from a legal [perspective]."

In a presentation during a special event held in New York last week to launch the contest, Jaaksi also pointed to Nokia's use of the component-based Linux architecture to build an environment specifically oriented to Internet-based applications.

When asked to elaborate later, he said that the N800 is not meant to be all things to all people.

"Not everyone needs a PDA [or an] organizer," Jaaksi responded. "This is an Internet tablet. You use it when you're on the move."

In Nokia's home city of Helsinki, Finland, people can use wireless devices such as the N800 to access bus schedules from bus stops, and even to graphically view how the buses are running, Lonnqvist noted.

In the US and other countries, the pocket-sized device can be used for checking and answering e-mail from WiFi hotspots, getting Navigore navigational help from your car, accessing your favorite home radio station while you're on a business trip, and sending live videos of vacation trips to friends.

Applications that come with the device include an Opera 8 Web browser with Flash player v7, an RSS feed reader, Internet calling with video, instant messaging, Internet radio, and a media player, for instance.

But the N800 also includes some applications that aren't specifically all that Internet-focused, such as a writing/sketch pad, handwriting recognition, image and PDF viewers, a file manager, and backup/restore. Also integrated is USB 2.0 high-speed device mode, for PC connectivity. "We're finding the right balance," according to Jaaksi.

Nokia already sells a number of compatible accessories separately, such as an external Bluetooth keyboard, navigation kit, loudspeakers, and headphones, for example.

Jaaksi acknowledged competition to the N800 from a Linux tablet from another vendor, in addition to Windows Mobile-based Ultramobile devices. "But we're just about at the 'sweet spot," he contended.

But although the N800 now supports VOIP, as well as cellular data transmission through Bluetooth connectivity, voice calling over cellular voice networks is one capability that Nokia does not intend to add.

"There are just too many [cellular] operators' requirements that you need to meet before you can even start selling the device," Jaaksi said.

While developers present at the Nokia/Popular Science event seemed impressed with the N800, some said they envisioned using the device personally, whereas others did not.

"I already access the Internet from home and work," said Lindsay Hauser, a New Jersey-based developer.

"If you don't have [the right kind of] office [set-up], using the N800 might be difficult. I suppose I might use it on the train, but the train ride [to work] isn't that long, anyway."

But Kenneth Dombroski, a Web developer from New York City. said he thinks it would be great to be able to hop on the Web and view his e-mail from various spots in Manhattan.

"And the Nokia tablet is a lot more flexible than devices from Apple, for instance," according to Dombrowki

Jaaksi told LinuxPlanet that contestants in the Popular Science Nokia N800 Reader Challenge don't need to be developers, necessarily. "[The contestants] don't have to actually write the applications. We're just looking for new ideas," he said.

Contestants will have the chance to get their "winning innovations" showcased in an upcoming issues of Popular Science--and, perhaps, for these innovations to be integrated into a future version of the Nokia tablet, with the applications named in their honor.

Hauser said that, as a developer, he's interested in learning what kinds of applications end users would like to see. "I can write any application, as long as I know what people are looking for," he told LinuxPlanet.

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