What the N900 and Maemo 5 could mean for Ovi gaming

Published by Tzer2 at 14:21 UTC, August 30th 2009

The N900 has been fully unveiled and is almost in the shops. We know it will support many Ovi services, though there's no word about Ovi Store yet (but that may come in the future). Looking at the hardware itself though, what will Maemo 5 and the N900 offer gamers? See below for some thoughts...

The official N900 trailer, in case you missed it...


So, Nokia's new super-smartphone the N900 has now been made public. From a gaming point of view it has many advantages over Nokia's current crop of Symbian-based smartphones. Some of these advantages are in the graphics department which should please fans of hardcore gaming, but there are also lots of advantages for casual gamers such as better Flash support and easier porting of open source freeware from desktop Linux (Linux freeware games tend to be mainly casual genres).

Here are what we think are the main plus points of the N900 and Maemo 5 compared to current Symbian devices:

  • The N900 uses the Maemo Linux operating system, which is a variety of Linux developed specifically for mobile devices over a four year period. It's apparently a lot easier to program for Maemo Linux than Symbian, which would encourage third party publishers to release more native games for it. (Native games run more smoothly than Flash or Java titles because they're using the hardware more directly.)
  • The N900 and all future Maemo 5 devices will come with 3D graphics acceleration hardware as standard, which means game publishers will be able to support graphics hardware in Maemo games without worrying about whether the user has it or not.
  • Maemo 5's standard screen resolution is 800x480 pixels which means games can potentially look very very sharp, sharper than Symbian devices, sharper the iPhone, sharper than the PlayStation Portable. It also allows a wider range of emulated and ported games to be displayed in their native resolutions.
  • Maemo 5 devices come with TV Out as standard so you can play games on a television set. At the moment only some Symbian devices have TV Out, so Symbian game designers cannot assume it is present, whereas on Maemo 5 they could design games with TV Out in mind.
  • Maemo 5 devices come with GPS as standard, whereas only some Symbian devices have GPS. Again, this means Maemo 5 developers can assume GPS is available and are more likely to design games with GPS in mind.
  • The N900's web browser has full support for Flash 9.4, so you can play a wider range of Flash games than with the Flash Lite used on Symbian phones' browsers.
  • The N900's Linux heritage means that a lot of software currently available on desktop Linux computers can be fairly easily ported to Maemo. This could mean lots of freeware open source games and emulators.
  • The N900 supports the cross-platform development tool QT which make it easier to release a piece of software on many platforms at once (think of it as a sort of super-Java). This could increase the amount of games released on Maemo devices by third party publishers.
  • The Maemo 5 user interface specifications include official support for detecting multiple simultaneous presses of the screen. It's not quite multitouch because it doesn't directly detect where all the presses are, but it can be made to detect them indirectly, and with a bit of careful programming it can allow multiple simultaneous button presses on the screen. You can see a video of this technique in a simple demo running on the Nokia 5800. (The 5800 runs Symbian not Maemo but it's the same basic principle, though Symbian's interface specs don't officially support it.)


Will the N900 support Ovi Store?

From what we can tell the N900 won't have Ovi Store support when it launches, though it will include built-in support for a number of other Ovi services including Ovi Maps, Ovi Share, Ovi Files, Ovi Contacts etc. It would make sense for it to support Ovi Store too, and Nokia have always said they want to eventually unify all their devices' software sales channels into Ovi Store, yet the support doesn't seem to be there right now.

However, Maemo devices have always had a built-in software distribution system of some kind in the form of software catalogues, so whatever brand name it uses we know there will be at least something like Ovi Store on the N900.


Maemo 5 - thumbs up or down?

We haven't had a go on Maemo 5 or the N900 yet so we can't comment directly on what either of them are like. However, as we outlined above Maemo 5 potentially has a lot to offer hardcore gamers, casual gamers and emulation gamers too. We're very optimistic about what the N900 and Maemo 5 mean for gaming on Nokia phones.

The one big problem is the price, Maemo 5 devices like the N900 are designed for the top end of the market, which means by definition that most people won't be able to afford them.  However, because of Maemo 5 getting into the top end Nokia is moving their Symbian devices into the mid-range and lower-end market, so even people who only buy the cheapest phones will notice a substantial hardware improvement over the next few years as Series 40 is replaced by Symbian. Everyone is getting an upgrade of some kind or another, and that is going to be good for gaming.



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