Nokia's MeeGo - Smartphone OS face-off

nokia meegoWhat it is: Unveiled earlier this year at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, Spain, MeeGo is the combination of Nokia's (NYSE:NOK) former Maemo and Intel's former Moblin platforms. Based on Linux, MeeGo is an open-source platform that is free to 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 is working to develop several flavors of MeeGo. The company has already released the netbook and handset iterations of MeeGo, and is planning versions for in-vehicle computer systems, connected TVs and "media phones."

Watch it in action: The handset version of Nokia's MeeGo platform was released June 30. The company provided this video:

What we know: Nokia's Anssi Vanjoki provided a handful of MeeGo details in a post to the company's website titled "The fightback starts now."

"The current phase of MeeGo development is looking awesome," Vanjoki wrote. "From the ground up, MeeGo is a computer operating system. Working with Intel, we've combined our assets to create a software platform that completely integrates mobile elements such as GPS, Bluetooth, NFC and more. This will offer developers a rich environment to create new possibilities for users."

He added: "For consumers, it will mean true computing power in your pocket. Something that can deliver everything you want, but be with you all the time."

"I don't think anyone doubts that the core code base should be very robust," said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart. "The browsing experience is superb."

Added ABI's Michael Morgan about MeeGo: "It's not their [Nokia's] first rodeo. ... They understand a lot of the design principles" for smartphones.

What we don't know: "So far I've seen very little," conceded ABI's Morgan, explaining that Nokia has only provided a handful of screenshots and a video of the platform so far. Basic functions, including how it will manage contacts and applications, remain to be explained.

"You've got from now to the end of the year to build a usable product," said Current Analysis' Greengart. "That's a tall order, especially considering the competition."

Perhaps the most important outstanding question is the level of support the global wireless industry will lend to MeeGo. Nokia boasts of MeeGo backing from carriers including Orange, Telecom Italia Mobile and Telefonica, device vendors including Acer, silicon companies including ST-Ericsson and software providers including Novell. However, it's unclear whether U.S. carriers--which have showed nothing but ambivalence toward all things Nokia and Symbian to date--will warm to MeeGo, especially considering the range of platforms they already support.

The bottom line: "They've got a whole host of challenges," said Greengart. "Why would I buy a MeeGo phone? The answer right now is that I really and truly don't know."

And how exactly should Nokia approach this project? "I think first and foremost: Don't look like Symbian," said IDC analyst Ramon Llamas. Nokia "needs to establish itself as a forward thinker rather than a follower."

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