Nokia's running an ad for its N8 phone at the moment. It shows the N8 on a remote-controlled helicopter and a toy train, playing Snake on a tower block, and controlling a wall of video screens, among other things. The tagline is "What will you do with it?"
Impressive though the ads and the phone may be, I'm not entirely convinced about the "open" credentials on display. The ad reminds me of one by electrical retailer Comet (see below), which appears to offer an open and inventive approach to buying white goods.
In my view, the ads are designed to appeal to a certain demographic. But I wonder whether the companies aren't just going through the motions, safe in the knowledge that it doesn't matter if they don't truly make their products open and "hackable", because the target audience is never actually going to put an expensive smartphone on a remote-control helicopter.
It remains to be seen whether Nokia's strategy will actually work, but it does show that "hacker friendly" devices have brand power if they are sold as aspirational rather than pragmatic choices. The danger is that veteran open-source developers, who can be a vocal bunch, will see through the hype and turn away from Symbian (which powers the N8) and MeeGo (which is slated to run on Nokia's high-end phones).
Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux distribution, is currently mounting a similar charm offensive for Ubuntu. But there's an important difference between Ubuntu and MeeGo: Ubuntu is based on Debian, so even if developers reject Ubuntu, chances are they'll just go over to Debian and Canonical will still benefit from their work. Now that MeeGo isn't based on an upstream distro, they have no such safety net.
I'm left with the suspicion that people are buying into open source because they want to be "free", and they want to be a "rock-star programmer". Products like MeeGo and Ubuntu seem to satisfy this demand, in the same way that SUVs appeal to people who want to head off into the wild country, but will never leave suburban streets.
I'll be in Dublin later this month, joining MeeGo developers as they work out the platform's future. I'm looking forward to seeing what they have to say.