Nokia to Stake Its Future on Maemo

Nokia (s nok) is inching closer to declaring its allegiance to Maemo, according to unidentified (but loose-lipped) executives, and will ditch Symbian in favor of the Linux-based OS on its flagship N-series handsets by 2012. But given the massive head start Apple’s (s aapl) iPhone, RIM’s (s rimm) BlackBerry and the Android OS are enjoying, Nokia will have a lot of catching up to do.

Members of the Maemo marketing team let the plans slip at a London event last night, forcing Nokia to respond with an official statement that any speculation about its road map for 2012 is “completely premature.” But we’ve heard that kind of talk before from Nokia, and it appears the manufacturer is simply paying lip service to its established OS as it steps up its Maemo agenda.

Nokia spent $410 million last year to buy out the remaining shares of Symbian, and the company earlier this year took a $630 million loan from the European Investment Bank to help develop the operating system. Also, it clearly must continue to support Symbian given the massive footprint it has built around the world.

But Nokia continues to lose ground in the U.S. market and is watching its dominance erode in its home market of Western Europe as sexier, more user-friendly phones gain traction. The company has received solid reviews for its N900, a Maemo-based phone that started shipping last week. If the Finnish company is to become a real player in the era of the superphone, it will do it on the back of Maemo.