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MeeGo Preview Shows Why Nokia Embraced WP7

A little while back, when rumors of a Nokia-Microsoft partnership bubbled up, I wondered why Nokia wouldn’t wait to see how MeeGo, its high-end platform for smartphones and tablets, performed. Well, after Nokia’s much-publicized decision to embrace Windows Phone 7 (s MSFT) over MeeGo last week, early previews of MeeGo on a tablet are underscoring why Nokia (s nok) was probably right to move on.

Monday at Mobile World Congress (MWC), Intel (s INTC) previewed MeeGo, which it jointly developed with Nokia — MeeGo is a merger of Intel’s Moblin and Nokia’s Maemo projects — and the early impressions from several blogs paint the picture of an OS that’s still an immature alpha platform. Some say it has barely improved outwardly since last June’s preview at Computex. Now, this is an early developer look at the software running on an ExoPC slate. But most who saw it said MeeGo is far behind in the game, perhaps so much so that Nokia had little choice but to look elsewhere. Engadget said of the OS:

[I]t’s actually rather shocking how little seems to have been improved since June. Intel claims the software is now in an Alpha stage (it was in pre-Alpha at Computex), though we’re not even sure it is that. The live updating pane interface, which reminds us a bit of the webOS cards, is certainly a neat idea and it’s actually decently attractive, but it’s when you start to dig in deep that the glitches and the lack of applications Intel’s got at the moment become very apparent.”

Meanwhile, IntoMobile weighed in and came away similarly unimpressed:

The Intel MeeGo tablet UI was slow, buggy and you could even still see the cursor as the input method. There was no fluidity in the movements and interactions and the layout didn’t necessarily get me to the stuff I wanted in a quicker way. This is an amazing disappointment really, as Intel and Nokia have been working on the MeeGo operating system for at least a year and it is still not even close to being ready for prime time.

The operating system relies on a sliding-panels-based user interface, though many of the applications simply transport people out to a browser. The panels offer access to music, photos, applications, web video and friends, though the different parts can’t be reordered or customized at this point. Tapping on the panels opens full-screen applications, while long presses on items pull up a context menu, something more familiar from PC platforms. The Chromium-based browser doesn’t have pinch-to-zoom, though it apparently does offer cut-and-paste capabilities.

Taking a contrarian approach, Laptop Magazine is more positive about the MeeGo tablet experience, saying it shows some early promise:

We’ve enjoyed playing with MeeGo on netbooks, but we think we may like it even better on tablets. The panel interface has a lot of potential if both Intel and third party developers build on the promising features we saw this week.

But AnandTech summed it up well saying Intel’s aspirations fall seriously short of what competitors are putting out right now.

If Android is the target, MeeGo needs to make a great deal of progress in a relatively short period of time. These consumer facing smartphone/tablet OSes have to be ridiculously polished, they need to make mechanical toasters look difficult to use, and MeeGo just isn’t there yet.

It sounds like Intel, however, is still very much committed to MeeGo. “Our decision and resolve on MeeGo is only stronger,” said Renee James, senior VP and general manager of Intel’s Software and Services Group on Monday. Even as Nokia shoves MeeGo aside with an “experimental” label, Intel has few options but to be patient with MeeGo and hope it can mature quickly. It doesn’t have many other ways to break into the mobile game because few manufacturers are looking at Intel’s hardware. Nokia has said it’s looking at deploying MeeGo on automotive systems, netbooks, tablets, set-top boxes and other devices. But the problem for Intel is that it’s unclear when MeeG0 will be really ready for a wide deployment.

Compared to the polished look of Android 3.0 tablets, RIM’s PlayBook (s RIMM) and HP’s Touchpad using webOS (s HPQ), it’s hard to see how MeeGo can catch up this year, and that’s not even counting the high bar set by iOS (s AAPL). There’s still a chance down the road that MeeGo can evolve into a competitor, but Nokia clearly couldn’t wait that long. Elop wrote in his now famous “burning platform” memo that there might only be one MeeGo device ready to go this year. That’s been the major problem for Nokia recently: It just can’t seem to deliver new products with any urgency. Now after looking at the improvements in MeeGo, it’s becoming more apparent why Nokia felt time had run out on MeeGo. Now it’s up to Intel to keep the dream alive, but at this pace, it could take a while.

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21 Responses to “MeeGo Preview Shows Why Nokia Embraced WP7”

  1. “why Nokia wouldn’t wait to see how MeeGo, its high-end platform for smartphones and tablets, performed.”
    Personally, I suspect that, right there, is why Nokia flopped. They seemed to be “waiting to see” if Meego would somehow go somewhere without their working too hard on it, while they spent their efforts on keeping Symbian on life-support.
    I’m finding it hard to believe that Nokia couldn’t have cranked out a reasonably decent “1.0” version of Meego-for-phones if they had actually been putting real effort into developing Meego during that time.
    I’m quite disappointed, since I really wanted a Meego phone. Guess it’s either Android (and CyanogenMod is not bad at all) or maybe WebOS if HP can get some momentum behind that (They’ve GOT to be trying harder on WebOS than Nokia was on Meego…)

  2. Anonymous

    Meego is a base OS, it is not the UI. The base OS is the same everywhere (and it is basically a standard Linux distribution). There are 6 completely different UI (or UX in meego-speak) being developed, and they offer completely different experiences. The one that Nokia is doing for phones has nothing to do with the Tablet one, or with the Netbook UX or with the TV UX or with the in-car UX. They’re entirely separate.. So please, don’t use your experience of one of them to judge another… This is a like saying the Windows 7 UI is totally not for a phone, then Windows Phone 7 will be unusable (even though it only shares the name).

  3. Even assuming that MeeGo is not mature it remains unclear what Nokia is getting from the Microsoft deal. WP7 is hardly a credible contender in the smartphone market (suffice comparing sales of WP7 and Symbian). At best it could constitute a temporary alternative mostly for the US market. Indeed WP7 is a half-cooked platform designed to leverage other MS services (zune, hotmail, x-live, etc.), however most of these services are poorly developed or simply unavailable in many EU countries. Without them WP7 hardly qualifies as smartphone in functional terms – it lacks proper multitasking, cannot decently sync with Outlook (only via hotmail and with too many limitations), cumbersome content loading, etc. Office mobile in its new version is extremely limited – no outlook mobile, no editing features in PPT, limited features in XL. By comparison and apart from the lack of a proper UI for touch screens (something that HTC had largely addressed with SEnse) windows mobile 6.5 was far better than WP7.

    I do not see a future for Nokia with this deal (and the investors seem to share my scepticism)

  4. Is there a difference between an operating system and user interface? Should Linux be judged on the Tivo UX? Perhaps an architecture diagram would help readers understand why “Nokia Phone Meego UX” is not “Intel Tablet Meego UX”, being derived from the innovative 2009 “Nokia Phone Maemo UX”.

  5. But Windows Phone 7 does not offer much customization of its tiles.

    WP7 tiles can only receive notifications from Microsoft. The apps can’t directly send a notification to the tile. It all has to go via Redmond, in such a convoluted way that nobody is taking advantage of it (apart from a weather app).

    MeeGo has the Google Chrome browser, with Firefox on Maemo not far behind. Windows Phone 7 has no Webkit browser. You’re stuck with the horrible IE.

  6. Catchy headline – “MeeGo Preview Shows Why Nokia Embraced WP7” but wrong. Intel demonstrated their tablet UX which is NOT the handset UX that Nokia has been working on. How good is Microsofts WP7 tablet UX? That’s right they don’t have one!

    The majority of Nokia’s efforts have been understandably spent getting their UI for phones ready and it is far more polished than this. Let’s not forget that Meego’s tablet UX is an afterthought and all the focus has been on getting handsets ready and we’ve not seen a proper demo of one of those yet!

    Intel and Nokia have accomplished much in their efforts to build Meego. An OS is more than just a UX/UI and the two companies how done well to create a platform on which to build mobile computers. They may have missed the boat on tablets but you can’t compare an unfinished tablet UX to a phone UX not when Meego has a phone UX and it’s very good.

  7. Vancouver-web-development

    Knowing where Both Nokia and Microsoft are in the smart phone market, it kind of makes sense to join forces. Nokia could see a chance in Microsoft new mobile platform, to regain the smart phone market share in North America and Europe, while Microsoft really need a large hardware manufacturer to run its new platform.

  8. Is this Intel’s UI for tablet? I don’t know how their partnership works, surely UI design should be largely handled by Nokia? I don’t think this is the latest version for smartphone Nokia was working on. You can’t judge Meego based on this.

  9. Nokia should have convinced HP to share WebOs with it. HP is no Apple, and they will have a very difficult time getting WebOS widely accepted on their own. It’s a great OS, and would be competitive with iOS and Android, but with only HP as a platform vendor, they will have trouble attracting developers. A broad developer community is necessary for success in smartphones, and HP should view licensing WebOS to Nokia as a cost of building that community.

    Nokia nixed Android because they didn’t know how to differentiate their devices from other Android vendors, but they only way that won’t be an issue with WP7 is if all of the other manufacturers abandon WP7 because it is not good enough. Then they might as well be using their own software.

    • Anthony Droege

      My thoughts exactly, actually a HP deal would have had many advantages over the MS deal but it seems like nobody at nokia thought of it. It seems too obvious to miss, whats up Finns?

  10. Peter Mullen

    I really kind of feel for Peter Skilman who recently left as Palm’s head of design to lead UE at Meego, only to have Meego relegated to a design concept. He did a fantastic job at Palm.

  11. It totally smacks of an improved N800! Dashboards are really not a mobile paradigm unless you have very specific needs. Feeds are lovely, but my experience is that the amount displayed is often too little. Settings on the top layer! Ick.

    If you asked the question, what can I accomplish and engineering manager is likely ready with the response, “anything you want!” Wrong answer…

  12. Yup. One can now see why Nokia went for an external OS given the state of this project. Frankly it was a huge mistake to go into a joint venture with Intel in the first place.

    Best thing they can do is take it back in house, rebrand it and work on it for a future OS release so they’re not entirely dependent on Microsoft. Kind of what Samsung are doing with Bada.

    • Yeah, I’m not sure Nokia should throw all their eggs in MSFT’s basket. If that doesn’t work, they’re toast. But for right now, MeeGo doesn’t look like it can hack it. It’s going to be an fun next couple years for Nokia.