Nokia: Losing faith in MeeGo?

Co-founder of MeeGo may itself be moving away from MeeGo

Meanwhile, in the mobile sector...

The future of the MeeGo platform has become more uncertain ahead of an anticipated strategy shift within Nokia, one of the world's largest mobile phone manufacturers and, with Intel, a co-founder of the MeeGo software project.

Rumors are surrounding Nokia's Espoo, Finland headquarters this week as the company struggles to halt the sharp decline of device sales in the face of extreme competition from Apple Inc.'s iPhone and the myriad of Google Android-based smartphones on the market.

On the fact side of the equation, a report this morning from the Wall Street Journal reveals an internal memo from Nokia CEO Stephen Elop that highlights just how bad things have gotten for the mobile device maker:

"'Nokia, our platform is burning,' Mr. Elop writes in the memo, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. 'It will be a huge effort to transform our company,' he adds."

The memo comes on the eve of Friday's scheduled investors meeting in London, where it is anticipated that Elop and his executives will reveal a grand new master plan for Nokia. It is this new plan that is the source of the rumors.

Topping the rumor list: that Nokia may drop the MeeGo platform in favor of another operating system.

If true, this would be a huge blow to the MeeGo project, which has not enjoyed much progress in the mobile sector. Nokia contributed its Maemo platform to the MeeGo initiative, along with Intel's Moblin operating system, so if effectively one-half of the founding team abandons MeeGo for another OS, that could spell the end for MeeGo's future chances of success.

Fueling this rumor is Elop's direct mention of MeeGo as one source of Nokia's troubles.

"We have some brilliant sources of innovation inside Nokia, but we are not bringing it to market fast enough. We thought MeeGo would be a platform for winning high-end smartphones. However, at this rate, by the end of 2011, we might have only one MeeGo product in the market," Elop's memo read.

Anyone who has followed MeeGo (and Moblin and Maemo before it) knows that this lack of products to market remains one of the project's biggest challenges. It's impossible to gain significant market share, or even mind share, without tangible products for customers to use. Elop is forthright in his acknowledgement of this situation.

A situation, it seems, that may be getting even worse. Overnight, a story from Reuters has hit the wires saying that Nokia has halted development of its first MeeGo phone.

"Nokia has ended development of its first smartphone using its new MeeGo operating system before it was ever launched, two industry sources close to the company said. A spokesman for Nokia declined to comment," the article leads.

If the Reuter's article turns out to be correct, then there will be an even bigger delay for MeeGo phones from Nokia. It could also be a sign that, as the other rumors suggest, Nokia is planning on dropping the platform altogether.

That certainly seems to be on the minds of Europe's cell network providers. Monday, the Financial Times came out with a story that indicated the network operators "are hoping [Elop] will this week rule out using Google's Android smartphone operating system in the Finnish company's devices."

The reason to avoid Android, the article goes on to explain, has to do with a lack of available competition between networks. If all the phones are either Android-based or an iPhone, they are reasoning, then it will be all that much harder for the networks to differentiate themselves from the competition. The executive interviewed for the story said Nokia should even consider Windows Phone 7 before Android--which tells you how desperate they are for a choice in the market.

And if anyone's looking for the Linux Foundation, who are the current stewards of the MeeGo project, to step in and help save the project, they may be disappointed. While giving MeeGo to the LF as a neutral party was a good move to encourage community participation, the fact is that it has always been Intel and Nokia driving the development of the mobile platform. [Disclosure: I was an employee of the Linux Foundation from 2008-2010.] That's not a slam on the LF; it's just not within the scope of their stewardship to decide who adopts MeeGo and who doesn't.

For my part, I hope the rumors are off-base, and Nokia comes out with a new, unique plan to save their company. I have nothing against Android, of course, but it would be a shame to see the efforts of MeeGo die before even really hitting the market.

But if one of the project's founders has lost faith in the platform, how can anyone else but their faith in MeeGo?

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