Nokia's MeeGo to take on Android, iPhone

Nokia's director of MeeGo, Valtteri Hallawith Nokia's director of MeeGo, Valtteri Halla

As director of Nokia's MeeGo effort, Valtteri Halla has been tasked with developing the platform that Nokia will use to challenge Android and Apple. And since Nokia is today the world's largest handset and smartphone vendor in terms of global market share, it's a challenge not to be taken lightly.

Unveiled earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, MeeGo is the combination of Nokia's former Maemo and Intel's former Moblin platforms. Based on Linux, MeeGo is an open-source platform that is free to any and all licensees. Nokia has said it will use the platform in all its high-end, Nseries devices (and promises to release a MeeGo-based device sometime this year), and will reserve its existing Symbian smartphone OS for its mid-range phones and its Series 40 platform for its low-end devices.

Nokia boasts of wide-ranging support for MeeGo: Carriers including Orange, Telecom Italia Mobile and Telefonica, device vendors including Acer, silicon companies including ST-Ericsson and software providers including Novell have all voiced support for the platform.

Further, Nokia is working to develop several flavors of MeeGo. The company has already released the "netbook user experience" of MeeGo, and plans to release the handset version of the platform by the end of this month. Nokia is also planning iterations of MeeGo for in-vehicle computer systems, connected TVs and "media phones."

Interestingly, MeeGo shares many of the same traits as Google's Android: It is based on Linux and it is freely available to licensees. The main difference? It will not carry Google's services, such as Gmail or Google Maps. For some handset vendors and operators, that might stand as a significant selling point.

However, MeeGo faces a dramatic, uphill battle. The platform will face heated competition from the likes of Android, Apple's iOS, Research In Motion's BlackBerry, Samsung's bada and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7. FierceDeveloper Managing Editor Mike Dano spoke with Valtteri Halla (who boasts a thick Finnish accent) about Nokia's plans for MeeGo, the platform's strategic position in the market, and what to expect in the future.

FierceDeveloper: Why did Nokia need to do MeeGo? Meaning, what does MeeGo provide that Symbian is lacking?

Halla: MeeGo is more geared toward the high end of performance and functionality. The platform is really an uncompromised Internet experience, having support for the latest innovations there. Having support for the top-of-the-line browsers like Firefox browser and WebKit-based Google Chrome and these types of browsers, and many other applications. ... Linux provides a more scalable alternative to create devices for future needs, and also beyond the handset category. The categories of devices like the tablet or the car multimedia, or consumer electronics devices like Internet TVs, and things like that.

FierceDeveloper: And to be clear, MeeGo is available for free?

Halla: Yes, MeeGo is completely free of charge. MeeGo is an open-source platform, and I would compare it to Android here. So, we have a completed platform created out of open-source components. So we are assembling roughly a thousand components to create MeeGo as an operating system platform. ... So you take the software and you use open-source licenses as they are, and there's no add-on license, there's no additional code. ... You just have those licenses as they stand today. And we are making a set of components and they mesh well together and they provide a general mix for companies who want to create commercial and differentiated products out of that assembly. For example, Nokia is taking MeeGo and we're adding on top of MeeGo a Nokia proprietary applications suite. ... You can mix and match those things. You can get anything out of the open-source parts, but then you can add those differentiating parts as you wish. It's a pretty good deal.

FierceDeveloper: So it's fair to say that Nokia and Intel are positioning MeeGo as an alternative to Android?

Halla: Yeah, I think that's fair to say, yeah.

FierceDeveloper: So is Nokia worried about fragmentation between Symbian and MeeGo?

Halla: No, we aren't worried about fragmentation. Although it's true that Symbian and MeeGo are different platforms in their own right. Both are different platforms. But we're both using, in Symbian and MeeGo, similar technologies as we go forward, and the APIs are based on the Qt developer toolkit and API, and the Qt SDK, so that provides a really broad basis of commonality between the two platforms. So application developers can download the Qt SDK, create applications, and then have some of those running even as such on both platforms. ... Qt is providing a fair degree of commonality.

FierceDeveloper: So with MeeGo, will there be an applications store for the devices?

Halla: MeeGo is providing choice there. So we have the Nokia Ovi Store for Nokia devices, and then we have the Intel Atom store that can generate solutions for any MeeGo device. And we have technical interfaces and protocols that are the same for both stores, so if you have a MeeGo device you can use any of these stores. It's like having a product in K-Mart and Wal-Mart--you have two stores but essentially the same product. For consumers there's choice, and for developers also there's the best way to publish and sell through both channels.

FierceDeveloper: Where exactly is MeeGo targeted? Is it an enterprise or consumer play?

Halla: MeeGo really starts with the consumer angle rather than the enterprise angle. ... There's two ways to see MeeGo. One is the applications development platform, but MeeGo is also a device creation platform. So the ecosystem is, in that sense, having two angles, two phases. ... So [MeeGo is] primarily for consumers, and device categories, and providing a really good starting point and opportunity for business in diverse markets.

FierceDeveloper: Executives from a number of carriers have bemoaned the current state of smartphones, in that there are too many platforms to support. What is your argument for MeeGo?

Halla: I think it really comes from this fact: We need great devices and we need an application offering which is competitive and big enough today. I think today we are seeing two really credible software platforms. There's the Apple platform and the Android platform, which are really able to create and sustain the application installed base and application stores, and a community of developers, and to create really compelling and good devices. We have great devices from Nokia, and then the application platform and that sort of thing is still needed. So something in a way is needed in this space. And we have the Apple offering, of course. It's just that the Apple story--from an operator point of view--that's not very convincing. Of course the devices are great, but there's no share or story in the service side for the operators.

When it comes to Android, sure there are great devices [and] there are many vendors, you can have the vendors compete and so on, but then the service story is really geared towards running the Google services and the Google advertising business and so on. ... MeeGo is providing a more multi-lateral environment, where there will be the great devices through companies like Nokia and others in the future. So great devices is one thing that operators want, but they also want freedom in the service offering, and to build services they like. ... They want to select the services they're shipping in their markets, so MeeGo is providing more choice in that sense. ...

But I think really we see three platforms that are viable for the mobile operators going toward the future: That's [the] Apple platform, Android and MeeGo.

FierceDeveloper: What will MeeGo look like in the next two or three years?

Halla: Two or three years from now, MeeGo has been established as a leading operating system brand. ... MeeGo-compliant application stores are shipping hundreds of thousands of applications that are running on a number of handset devices, tablet devices. There are applications which are specific for these categories and there are applications which are also general to these categories. We have basically a leading group of ten or more device manufacturers shipping MeeGo-based devices in handsets. We have similar a similar group in the car and other areas. ...

In the handset industry we see Linux taking over there in the smartphones and in the high-end handsets. We have, of course, [the] Apple platform there with great share, but then Android and MeeGo are really driving the Linux effort and leading the high end. And then there will be certain cooperation and convergence between MeeGo and Android going forward. There's an interesting opportunity to share that investment and commonalities and compliances there over time.

FierceDeveloper: You mentioned possible cooperation between Android and MeeGo. Can you talk more about that?

Halla: Well you asked for some visionary views and opportunities, so there is really no cooperation right now that we could refer to. But there was this notion of both of the platforms being based on Linux, so there's lots of commonality, and there's opportunity to find alignment and synergies in the future. So I would expect that some rational evolution is taking place there.