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First MeeGo Smartphone Might Not Appear Until June, 2011?

Nokia (s nok) has long said its first MeeGo device would be a “2011 event,” and while many have understood that device to be a high-end smartphone, it’s looking more likely that a MeeGo tablet or netbook will come first. Steve Paine of UMPC Portal attended last week’s MeeGo Conference in Dublin, and today shares thoughts on the MeeGo timeline as it pertains to when different gadgets running Nokia’s latest mobile platform will appear. If Paine is correct, Nokia’s first MeeGo handset will arrive roughly around June, 2011: the very time Apple’s (s aapl) yearly refresh should deliver a fifth-generation iPhone.

MeeGo is an interesting beast in that this February, it became a mashup of two open-source, Linux efforts: Intel’s (s intc) Moblin Project and Nokia’s Maemo platform, most recently used to power Nokia’s N900 handset. Both companies need MeeGo, but for different reasons. With its Atom chip, Intel is trying to avoid getting shut out of the fast-growing smartphone and tablet market, currently owned by processors based on the ARM (s armh) architecture. However, Intel has no mobile platform to leverage for its chips; hence, the creation of Moblin in 2009.

Nokia has a platform for smartphones in Symbian, but the S60 interface for the operating system was shown as more utilitarian than user-friendly once Apple’s iOS platform arrived in 2007. From that point on, Nokia continued to sell the highest number of smartphones, but Apple has shown a much faster overall smartphone sales growth rate; as of September, Apple iPhone sales grew 90.5 percent in the prior year while Nokia’s smartphones managed a paltry 1.8 percent increase in the same time period.

As a result, it only took four years for Apple to become no. 4 in global smartphone sales. Although Google doesn’t sell smartphones directly, it’s nearing Nokia in terms of smartphones sold on its Android platform. Nokia recently revamped its Symbian operating system for new smartphones, but has consistently said MeeGo is the platform for even higher-end devices, which brings us back to the timeline from the MeeGo Conference.

MeeGo is currently at version 1.1, with new releases slated each six months. While some equipment makers can and have cobbled together a product based on MeeGo, the platform surely isn’t optimized yet to sell a product in any significant numbers. The German-made WeTab is a perfect example: the Intel (s intc) Atom-powered tablet runs on a customized version of MeeGo, but due to the immature platform, isn’t yet considered a serious competitor to Apple’s iPad. Paine alludes to credible devices after version 1.2 of MeeGo, expected in April of 2011.

While that doesn’t sound too far off, the next evolution of a brand-new mobile platform in April doesn’t mean consumer devices will appear that same month. I agree with Paine when he says it will take a few months more to optimize the platform and ecosystem and it wouldn’t surprise me if Nokia first outs a MeeGo tablet to gain a foothold in that relatively young market:

The customisation, optimisation and branding process takes months and for a class leading product, could easily take 6 months. Adding in codecs, optimising and branding the content stores, optismising the base applications, checking security, spicing up the interface, writing the drivers and testing is a 6 month to 1 year project. Lets assume that with 1.1, the teams were able to start the process of building a product around MeeGo. In April they will get the features needed to finalise the product and then, along with the integration of an application store, you’ve got another 2-4 months of work ahead. The first competitive products, driven by investment from the core partners, will only hit the market in June 2011 at the earliest.

If true, such a timeline presents a continued challenge to both Nokia and Intel. The longer it takes Intel to keep pushing down the power requirements for its Atom chips, more smartphones and tablets running ARM chips will be sold. Next year’s ARM chips will put even more pressure on Intel, thanks to multiple cores and significant performance boosts.

MeeGo can run on the ARM architecture, but of course, that won’t help Intel at all in the mobile space where they appear doomed to fail, says Om. And each week without a MeeGo smartphone from Nokia allows more iPhones, BlackBerry (s rimm) devices, Android (s goog) devices and yes, Symbian devices too, to be sold. It may appear that companies don’t care about the market share their mobile devices have, but along with programming tools and mature app stores, device sales command the attention and mindset of developers.

Although the situation may appear dire for both Nokia and Intel, I’m not counting either out just yet, although I like Nokia’s chances better than Intel’s. Unlike Google Android which is composed of both open-source Linux and Google’s Dalvik virtual machine and apps, MeeGo has potential as a true open-source product for consumers that want greater control over their device. And Nokia is moving developers to its Qt cross-platform framework, which will greatly reduce the time it takes to produce an application that can run on Symbian smartphones as well as MeeGo handsets, tablets and computers: up to 50 percent less time, according to some developers.

MeeGo has the right attributes for potential success, but Nokia and Intel both have to deliver a compelling flagship product the first time around in order to make headway against the newest and more mature iOS and Android devices that are capturing consumer dollars and smartphone profits.

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14 Responses to “First MeeGo Smartphone Might Not Appear Until June, 2011?”

  1. Hello!

    This is quite misinformed. Nokia has its own version of Meego with its own UI, and it’s a lot further ahead than the public version you’re talking about.

    It would be good for US-based tech blogs to talk to people based in Finland, for example, to get the facts straight about Symbian and Meego.

  2. The smartphone market is still open. Not for that much longer but today it is. All the existing platforms have their issues. IOS and Apples total control. Google and the distrust of the telco’s. MS have their history.

    Nokia and Intel still have a significant opportunity.

  3. eric Chan

    one simple question … why would anyone buy a meeee goooo smartphone over a well established android or iphone …

    unless nokia answers that question compellingly, theyll be deader than dodos

    and no the normal “well theyre on symbian now so theyll always be on symbian” aint sufficient

    MS thought the same thing with windows mobile … so did BB … lol

    • I think some people are loosing their perspective now. Just a while ago Nokia dominated the world and basically everything mobile is still heavily based on their, Ericsson’s and Motorola’s technology – particularly Nokia’s. And everybody thought this is it, world is ready. Then came iPhone and made it’s dent to the industry – viewed by some as a revolution – but is now reaching it’s possible share. Just a while ago nobody knew anything about Android and now it is making huge waves. And again, so many people think that Android and iOS have established and the world is ready.

      No it’s not.

      • eric Chan

        most industries work towards consolidation … the question is at what point does it become clear

        autos, jet planes, desktop computers, internet search, etc … mobile is no different

        at what point is a product here where new entrants have no greater relative advantage to the consumer vs. the existing

        i feel we’re approaching that point in mobile, the cycles are shortening for every technological advance

  4. Lucian Armasu

    Poor Intel. I pity them. Do they actually expect that people will want phone and tablets with fans in them? Or that manufacturers will want to let Intel have a lock on the market the way they have in netbook market and quite a bit in the laptop market, too. And why would they choose Intel even if it was similar in performance, energy consumption, and price? I’m willing to bet at least one of those won’t be competitive with the ARM chips.

    Just because Intel wants very badly to succeed with x86 in mobile devices, doesn’t mean they can actually make it happen. The ARM chips are disruption in its purest form against Intel (and AMD). They only way they are going to ensure they will be part of the mobile market is to buy a big ARM manufacturer, which should’ve happened years ago.

    As for Meego, Nokia won’t let it succeed. The right strategy for Meego is the Android and WP7 strategy, which is getting as many phone manufacturers as possible to make Meego based devices. Nokia won’t do this, because if Meego gets used by all manufacturers, then “it will be like peeing in your pants” according to Nokia itself.

    They want total control over it so they can “differentiate” through the OS itself from the other OS’s. The problem is Nokia by itself can’t turn Meego into a very popular platform because they won’t sell that many dozens of millions of devices in a timely manner.

    The differentiation factor takes a step back to the popularity factor. If the platform is not popular enough with developers and customers, it’s irrelevant how “different” it is. They think that by having a differentiate OS, they can sell phones with higher margins. That won’t happen because from the consumer point of view, they will go with a phone that uses a popular platform. When Nokia’s phones won’t sell because their platform isn’t popular enough, they’ll have to reduce prices, which kills their initial higher margins argument.

    • What a silly argument about MeeGo. Nokia would have no issue cross licensing the product to other manufacturers because they control the product. This is quite different from, say, Nokia using Android because they wouldn’t, which is where the ‘peeing in your pants’ analogy comes from.

      Your argument makes no sense at all.

  5. Time is everyone’s problem.

    The mobile space is like a goldrush, with everyone trying to stake a claim before the space is taken.

    However, jumping in with an unfinished product is actually worse than arriving late. Look at Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. It has an endless list of missing features, including very basic OS functions such as proper multi-tasking, and Copy-and-Paste. Customers know it is not feature complete, and sales have been lackluster.

    MeeGo already has these basic OS functions working. The platform has a lot of potential. I think it will do better than expected.

    • “jumping in with an unfinished product is actually worse than arriving late.”

      Completely agree – it’s a fine line between getting too far behind the competition and waiting until you have the best possible product to deliver.

  6. a nokia meego branded device will appear alot earlier than that. i imagine feb 2011 at the latest. nokia’s meego/maemo6 hybrid is alot further along than the main project… and has a completely different (and superior) user interface