MeeGo to Windows Phone at Nokia

Rodney Gedda

Rodney Gedda is the former deputy editor of CIO and former editor of Techworld.

It’s been a big week for Nokia. The roots of its smartphone technology evolved into a consumer product and details of its first Windows-based handset have hit the headlines. Where to now for the once-mighty mobile maker?

Firstly, Nokia announced a long-awaited handset running the MeeGo operating system, the N9. Read the TechWorld coverage here.

It’s hard to believe the N9 – from a software perspective – has been so long in the making. Nokia began engineering a rich media tablet interface as far back as nearly a decade ago. In early 2005 the company released the N770 Internet Tablet which began a succession of devices culminating with this week’s N9.

See Wikipedia for details on the N770, N800, N810 and N900 devices. The latter being the first in the series to feature GSM phone functionality.

If you’re wondering what that long chain of events has to do with the N9, it’s all about the software.

These devices all have one thing in common – Nokia’s Linux-based operating system dubbed “Maemo” before the 2010 collaboration with Intel and “MeeGo” since.

The question remains why has Nokia taken so long to produce a handset like the N9? Some observers say the reason is because “MeeGo wasn’t ready”, but that’s difficult to believe given the long history of its development. Perhaps “Nokia didn’t focus on it” is a better explanation. Any OS can be made “ready” by vendor committed to bringing it to market. Was Windows Vista “ready”?

Incidentally, we still seem to be getting conflicting reports about the future to MeeGo at Nokia. At the Sydney launch the Nokia rep said MeeGo will continue as a high-technology “challenger” operating system, but media reports from the US indicate it will be completely phased out by Windows Phone. It would be good to get a definitive answer from Nokia on this.

This leads us to the other news from Nokia this week – a demo of the company’s first Windows Phone 7 device was held at an apparent internal meeting.

Hardware wise, the WP7 handset looks similar to the N9, so the focal point goes back to software again.

As I’ve said in the past, strategically there’s not a lot of difference between Nokia adopting Windows or Android. Sure there’s the matter of money from Microsoft, but that won’t mean much if Nokia can’t shift handsets. Will a Nokia Windows Phone handset be that much more compelling to a consumer than one from HTC or Samsung? We’ll have to wait and see. Pricing and carrier marketing plans will have a lot to do with those decisions consumers eventually make.

How can observers make head or tail of Nokia’s strategy given these two events happened in the same week?

I, for one, am starting to doubt the claims that MeeGo wasn’t going to work. As mentioned, anything will fail if it is neglected (as Maemo was), but it remains free to deploy on any device Nokia cares to throw at it.

Looking at both operating systems, it seems Nokia’s problems go far beyond Symbian or MeeGo. The company is struggling to turn around products fast enough to keep pace with the competition – no matter which operating system they use.

Nokia needs to test the water more with MeeGo. Get as much feedback as it can from the N9 and make an N10, or equivalent, even better. It may even be pleasantly surprised by the number of people wanting an alternative to the iPhone and Android.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

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Tags: Microsoft, Nokia, Android, meego, wp7, maemo

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