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Nokia's Open-Source MID on Tap

Nokia Maemo N900 MID
The new N900. Source: Nokia
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As speculation abounds that Nokia is prepping a high-end smartphone based on Linux software instead of its own Symbian OS, the company today added further grist to the rumor mill by introducing a new mobile Internet device (MID) powered by the open-source Maemo platform.

The Finnish mobile phone giant said today that its new MID, the Nokia N900, will deliver a "PC-like experience on a handset-sized device," and will be available in "select markets" in October.

MIDs are a somewhat nebulous category of handheld, Web-connected devices that are typically larger than smartphones but smaller than netbooks and tablet PCs. The designs often promise PC-like functionality that requires lighter-weight software suitable for their comparatively lower-capability hardware.

In Nokia's case, that calls for Linux-based Maemo.

"With Linux software, Mozilla-based browser technology and now also with cellular connectivity, the Nokia N900 delivers a powerful mobile experience," Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia's executive vice president of markets, said in a statement.

"The Nokia N900 shows where we are going with Maemo and we'll continue to work with the community to push the software forward," Vanjoki added. "What we have with Maemo is something that is fusing the power of the computer, the Internet and the mobile phone, and it is great to see that it is evolving in exciting ways."

Running on the new Maemo 5 software, the Nokia N900 lets users run dozens of applications simultaneously while also operating cellular features, according to the company statement.

The news comes at a time when Nokia (NYSE: NOK) is expected next week at a company conference to unveil a smartphone aimed at taking on the Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone that runs on Maemo rather than Symbian, according to Reuters.

Nokia sees Maemo as complementary to Symbian, which has long been its software for smartphones and the world's most-used mobile OS.

For one thing, open-source, platforms such as the Linux-based Maemo and Google-backed Android could make it easier to add PC-like features to high-end mobile devices, a space where the Finnish firm is losing ground.

"Just as Nokia continues to expand and diversify its device portfolio, so it is deploying multiple platforms to allow it to serve different purposes and address different markets," Jonathan Arber, a senior research analyst in consumer mobile at IDC, said in a statement. "While we have seen continued growth in Symbian as a smartphone platform, Maemo enables Nokia to deliver new mobile computing experiences based on open-source technology that has strong ties with desktop platforms."

The Nokia N900 contains an ARM Cortex-A8 processor, up to 1GB of application memory and OpenGL ES 2.0 graphics acceleration. The result is PC-like multitasking, allowing many applications to run simultaneously, according to Nokia.

The MID also features a high-resolution WVGA touchscreen and support for Adobe Flash 9.4. It also boasts Internet connectivity with 10/2 HSPA WLAN.

[cob:Special_Report]In addition to a full slide-out keyboard, it has 32GB of storage, expandable up to 48GB via a microSD card. For photography, the Maemo software and the N900 come with a new tag cloud-friendly user interface that works with the 5-megapixel camera.

For now, it's not certain we'll see the N900 stateside -- Nokia in its release said it would be available in "select markets" and cites a price of 500 euros, about US$711.

Spokespeople for Nokia had not returned calls seeking comment by press time.

Nokia recently made some bold moves to shore up its position in the competitive mobile sector. While the company is the No. 1 phone maker in the world, past years have seen it losing ground in the U.S. as rivals captured consumers' growing interest in smartphones.

It's also losing market share abroad as rivals Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ: RIMM) continue to do well on the strength of their iPhone and BlackBerry smartphone offerings.

Industry researcher Gartner earlier this month said that Nokia's Symbian controls 51 percent of the smartphone OS market worldwide, while the BlackBerry and Apple iPhone claim 18 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Android's share is far lower, at about 1.8 percent.

In response to consumers' increasing appetite for more powerful mobile computing devices, Nokia is planning to roll out a netbook called the Nokia Booklet 3G. It also recently partnered with Microsoft in a deal that will begin by porting Office Mobile applications to run on Symbian, and has started to sign deals with U.S. carriers to subsidize its handsets sold here.

Nokia in June also struck a deal with Intel, partnering with the world's largest chipmaker to work jointly on upcoming mobile computing platforms -- like netbooks and other small PC designs -- and mobile operating systems. The agreement also involved Intel assisting in Maemo.