The first (and last) MeeGo phone

Nokia announces MeeGo-based N9 smartphone

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Nokia N9

A staff member displays a Nokia N9 mobile phone during the CommunicAsia expo in Singapore

Photo credit: REUTERS/Tim Chong

One of the first new devices Nokia has released since the its partnership with Microsoft was announced got rolled out for public viewing yesterday at the Nokia Connection event in Singapore yesterday, giving us all a first look at Nokia's first Wind--wait a minute...

Is that a MeeGo device I see? Why yes, yes it is.

The Nokia N9, scheduled to ship "sometime in 2011," was rolled out with MeeGo 1.2 on board, making it the first (and likely last) MeeGo phone to hit the market. (Previous MeeGo devices were Internet-only.) The N9, which is the successor to the N900 device, also features 1 GHz CPU, 1 GB of RAM, and 16 of 64 GB of storage. There's a 720p camera on board, as well as GPS, Bluetooth, and near-field communications (NFC) capabilities.

[Also see: MeeGo mobile effort offers baseline code]

A lot of industry analysts were scratching their heads about the choice of MeeGo, but it's clear that the N9 must have been well along in the pipeline before all the Microsoft hullabaloo and the subsequent layoffs of 7,000 employees and outsourcing of Symbian activities to Accenture.

There were clues this device was coming. During an earnings call October 21, 2010, Nokia CEO Stephen Elop announced they would release its first MeeGo-based device in 2011, and way back in June it was widely reported that Symbian would be replaced by MeeGo on its N-series smartphones. (Of course, at that time, we all though MeeGo would be the future of Nokia smartphones, not Windows Phone 7.)

Still, given the upheaval in the Nokia operation, I think we could all be forgiven for still being a bit surprised the company actually followed through on the MeeGo release.

So here we are, a working MeeGo phone.

And, predictably, no one cares.

It's not that reviewers don't like the MeeGo interface. Indeed, very early reviews seem to favor the interface. The N9 will use Nokia's Ovi app store (instead of Intel's AppUp store), and the quick look I took at Ovi this morning showed me a decent supply of available apps (though nowhere near the number of iOS and Android apps out there). The phone's hardware specs are decent, too, and there's more than a little buzz being generated about the NFC feature that will enable the N9 to act as a credit card/mobile wallet device.

But the overall consensus, which I happen to share, is: this is nice, is this what Nokia has planned for Windows Phone 7?

I think so. The irony of using the Linux-based MeeGo interface as a faux mockup of what a Nokia Window 7 smartphone might look like and feature is not lost on me, but there you are. The N9 is most likely a stop-gap to keep Nokia's skin in the smartphone game as they work with Microsoft to get Windows devices ready for market. The new added features the N9 does sport are previews for those upcoming devices.

Barring any miracles, this may well be the last Nokia MeeGo phone we ever see. And I have to wonder: will this be the last MeeGo device of any kind we'll ever see, period?

The MeeGo site says MeeGo is designed for "netbooks/entry-level desktops, handheld computing and communications devices, in-vehicle infotainment devices, connected TVs, and media phones." So that's a lot of platforms on which MeeGo can live.

While Nokia's opting out of MeeGo deployments moving forward may mean there won't be any MeeGo phones anytime soon, that does not mean MeeGo won't be popping up here and there. On netbooks, for example, there's the Asus EeePC X101 and Lenovo Ideapad S100 in the works.

But there's a lot of pessimism in the marketplace since Nokia's abrupt departure. Despite the Linux Foundation's stewardship, all of the funding and marketing for MeeGo comes Intel, and there's a real sense on the market that Intel is pretty much the only thing keeping MeeGo alive.

There's probably some truth to that. So where will Intel take the platform? "Media phones" are all but cut off without Nokia, and unless MeeGo makes a killer offering in tablet-space very soon, there's little to no chance they will make a dent in that sector either. (I think that moment's come and gone, actually.)

Handheld devices are DOA because everyone wants a unified phone/Internet device now. If I want an Internet-only device, I'd rather spend the extra money to get a bigger tablet screen.

That leaves in-vehicle infotainment devices and connected TVs from MeeGo's list. A new Smart TV working group was announced by the Linux Foundation in March, so maybe MeeGo's backers see that as the one last shot for MeeGo market penetration. (Curiously, one of the participants in this new working group is Nokia.)

So, while things don't look great for MeeGo now, there are opportunities out there. Will they be enough to keep MeeGo alive?

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