Nokia's N9 Smartphone: Like an iPhone, but Less Brave

Nokia N9

Apple's designs are almost always instant classics, and often push the boundaries of the genre's look and feel. Nokia's designs, of late, are not, and do not. At all. So how is Nokia hoping to make its N9 smartphone a success? By aping Apple.

Data on the N9 surfaced back in June, even though the N8 was actually Nokia's hottest smartphone news at the time, and has yet to actually go on sale. It's a QWERTY-keyboarded slider phone, with a large touchscreen and a sleek metal-chassis design that's a stand-out in Nokia's otherwise pretty traditional phone format thinking. Now there's evidence from China that the phone is pretty certain to be real, and though the newest leaked images are of a prototype that still departs somewhat from the latest design decisions, it's pretty close to what the final phone will be like.

And here's where things get funny: Look at the N9. All-metal chassis (possibly aluminum) with nary a seam or piece of technical frippery in sight--check. Smooth exterior shape, with only a few "feature" pieces of plastic--check. Black chicklet-style QWERTY keyboard with neat white legends--check. Large screen with prominent black border beneath the glass edge, and logo at the bottom--check. Cleverly designed, simple, concealed hinges--check.

macbook-proNow think about the all-metal iMacs, Mac Minis, and even the Mac Pro desktop machine. And then look at a MacBook Pro, and run off that exact same checklist.

Yes, they match. The N9 is fabulously Apple-esque. But where some firms (chief among which you may finger Samsung) have chosen to ape the iPhone in their iPhone-challenging smartphone designs, Nokia seems to have thought differently, and looked at Apple's computer offerings. And run with the design ethos of these instead. Apple fans and Nokia skeptics will have a field day with this too, because imagine that back in 2006 Apple had decided to make a smartphone like the iPhone, but that Jonathan Ive's team had balked at pushing the envelope so very far with a unibody format that abolished a keyboard and embraced all-touchscreen design (i.e. the future). The resulting phone could easily have looked exactly like the N9.

Oh, Nokia, the N9 is so 2007.

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2 Comments

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    p.s. Your title was smack on by the way. It is "like an iphone but less brave". I think that's an accurate summary. Like our left and right brains working together. Sometimes we must make leaps of intuition, and sometimes we must make small incremental changes based on logic and feedback to be successful.

  • Nate O'Shaughnessey

    I like the phone anyway, pending capabiliies, construction etc, I might even buy it. If the price is right.
    But with technology, I'm more of a utilitarian scavanger than a connoisseur. I appreciate good design, original or not, the only thing about design that separates the originator from the followers is the ego of the creator. Don't get me wrong, I admire good designers, a lot, so if we're judging the designers for their skills and capabilities, by all means, give praise(and patents) where praise is due. But just because this might not be completely original, does that mean that it's not good design? Maybe not newsworthy, but judging it's actual design alone, its a nice phone. In my completely subjective opinion.
    Henry Ford saw a good design, altered it for his purposes, and developed it for the masses, for open use and availability, for people to tailer to their needs. He wasn't elegible for an award for his design work, but you have to admit, a product's success is more than just it's design.
    "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery"
    The designers at Apple should be flattered. They still get the design credit for what originality they brought to the market, but a product's success is more than the aspects of it's design.
    On a purely design note, someone can paint with the same pallet and not necessarily create the same artwork.
    Also, from a usability point, I prefer a seperate qwerty, just like i'm typing this without looking, it is much faster to type with individual physical keys than on a touch screen, or a smooth key pad. it lets your fingers differentiate the keystrokes rather than your eyes. That's just my preference though, i can dig it if people prefer the touch only, there is something to be said for simplicity in design.