The Nokia N950 was a milestone in Nokia's history, playing an important role in the demise of its smartphone business. The N950 was ultimately only ever released as a developer device, and only few thousand pieces were produced. However, the device was originally designed as the Nseries flagship that would lead the transition of Nokia's mainstream smartphone business from the Symbian operating system to a Linux-based portfolio. The N950 was supposed to be launched under the commercial product name of Nokia N9, indicating that it would have been at the top end of the Nseries portfolio.
Nokia's faith in the N950 changed when a senior manager who had previously worked at Apple joined Nokia in the fall of 2009. He convinced Nokia's product portfolio leadership team that a successful flagship device must have a touchscreen-only design, rather than the N950's more complex design with a slide-out keyboard. Nokia switched the order of the portfolio to ship the touchscreen-only design first, which was already under way using the codename Lankku, Finnish for "board". The Nokia N9 label was reassigned to the Lankku project and the Nokia N950 got a new, final product name.
This change in the portfolio strategy was one of the two major hitches in Nokia's shift away from Symbian to a more competitive user experience powered by Linux. The other was a redesign of the home screen user experience. The resulting delay of up to 12 months in the launch of a flagship device launch was one of the reasons why Stephen Elop
, who joined Nokia as CEO in September 2010, called out the company's failing smartphone strategy in his infamous burning platform speech
Nokia announced the N950 as a developer kit alongside the N9 at the Nokia Connection event in Singapore in June 2011. By this time, Stephen Elop had decided to build Nokia's smartphone future on Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system and the line-up of Linux-based smartphones was cut down to two devices: the N950 and the N9.
The N950 was intended to serve as an application development device to create a viable application ecosystem powered by the cross-platform technology Qt
. The Qt software development platform allowed developers to develop applications once and deploy them on devices running MeeGo, the brand of the Linux-based platform powering the N950, and on Symbian-based phones. Later, the Qt framework was extended to Android and iOS. The device package of the Nokia N950 featured a Qt application which, when implemented, represented the core of a Twitter application.
The Nokia N950 was never sold commercially but provided on a free loan basis to application developers such as members of the Maemo, MeeGo and Qt communities.
The industrial design of the N950 was based on concepts that also inspired the N9
, the N8
(the N9's Symbian sibling), the E7
(the N950's Symbian sibling), the Lumia 800
and other Lumia devices until the Lumia 1020
The Nokia N950 had a slide-out qwerty keyboard, a four-inch TFT LCD display and 3G technology onboard. Some hardware characteristics were disguised to avoid stealing thunder from the N9: the N950 was originally intended to be issued in a brushed metal finish, but this was changed to matt black in the developer version. The phone had an aluminium body rather than the N9's polycarbonate (plastic) body, and a 12-megapixel sensor rather than the N9's eight-megapixel camera, but the N950's camera was never pushed to its final commercial capability.
The operating system powering the Nokia N950 was called MeeGo
1.2 Harmattan, and was only distributed in beta quality. MeeGo was the brand of a joint initiative between Intel and Nokia that merged Intel's Moblin
and Nokia's Maemo
projects into a single software stack to fight the rise of Android. However, neither the N950 nor the N9 actually ran a full MeeGo operating system as intended. Harmattan was the internal name for the software release that would have formed Maemo 6. In order to avoid undermining the new MeeGo initiative, it was decided to proceed with the MeeGo 1.2 Harmattan release name.
The Nokia N950 user interface was dominated by an all-new Swipe UI, which pioneered concepts that were resurfaced by Apple and Google years later in their own interfaces. The Swipe UI allowed users to trigger interactions by swiping from the edge of the display. This allowed for a device design without a home button, a concept that Apple repeated in the iPhone X in November 2017, six years after the Nokia N950.
However, the Swipe UI was not the interface design originally planned for the N950. It was supposed to feature a widget-based interface running on an extensible canvas, as planned for Maemo 6. Nokia redirected development of the home screen to be based on icons (like an iPhone) instead of widgets (like Android) in early 2010. This caused a significant additional development effort.
The history of the Nokia N950 is full of dramatic changes. Designed as a breakthrough flagship device, delayed for many months by product and portfolio changes, and rendered insignificant by Nokia's leap from the "burning platform", it was never allowed to prove its commercial value.
The Mobile Phone Museum features both a silver-finish prototype as well the final black version. Only a few hundred of the silver version were built for development, testing and pre-sales efforts, and a few thousand black variants for release to developers.