Nokia Ships Its Lone MeeGo Sailor, The N9

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) may be hard at work right now trying to ensure that its first Windows Phone devices are beautiful and perfect when the go out the door at the end of this year, but today it’s focused on a product that is a throwback to a time before Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) entered its life: today it began shipping its first, and possibly only, MeeGo-based phone, the N9.

Nokia has had a bad rap over the last several years for failing to capture certain markets (such as the U.S.) with its Symbian-based devices — something that became accentuated as competitors using Android, and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) of course, began to flood the market with other smartphones and feature phones that started to eat away at its market leadership.

So it must have come as something of a surprise when the media began to fawn and fall over themselves with compliments for the N9, which looks beautiful and is an advance on much of what we have on the market today, with a user experience that is distinct from Android, iOS and the others (no keys on the front, with a very swipe-friendly interface, and a really attractive, slightly curved screen).

To many people’s dismay, despite the good reviews, it began to emerge that Nokia didn’t have plans to sell the N9 with operators in several markets (including the U.S. and the UK) — presumably because it wants to clear the decks to introduce its new line of Windows Phones.

These N9s, therefore, may well only be available to you “SIM-free” — that is, without any tie-in to operator calling and data plans (and subsequently without the subsidies that operators often attach to devices to make them cheaper). Nokia says the prices for the N9, which comes in either black, cyan or magenta, will be an eye-watering €480 for the 16GB model ($650) and €560 ($758) for the 64GB version.

It’s not clear how many people will want to pay that and invest in an ecosystem that will not be portable to future devices — although Intel (NSDQ: INTC) and Nokia do keep insisting MeeGo is not dead, we have yet to hear of any more handsets being made using the platform.

But for those who love the look of the N9, fret not: it appears that even if Nokia does not make another MeeGo phone, will be using it as a template for how it delivers Windows Phone, and how it might further customize the Windows Phone experience in future devices. That customization will be key as Nokia starts to rub elbows with HTC, Samsung, ZTE and the other OEMs who are building smartphones on Microsoft’s OS.