Nokia has unveiled its N9, and it looks great. What looks particularly great is the Linux distro it's running, MeeGo.
Not that you could tell it's running MeeGo from Nokia's press releases or promotional bumpf: the OS's name is nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. I find this hilarious, and I think it's a strategy that — maybe, just maybe — could backfire.
Quick context now. MeeGo is the bastard child of Nokia's Maemo and Intel's Moblin, unveiled in February 2010 and dumped precisely one year later when Nokia revealed a new tie-in with Microsoft over the Windows Phone platform. As part of that deal, Symbian will be phased out over the next couple of years, and MeeGo... well, MeeGo gets a single handset release.
That'll be the N9, then, the contractual obligation record. MeeGo may have more success in the tablet and netbook arena, but as far as phones go, barring a fork down the road, this is it — well, this and the N950, but that's a developer-only phone. Thing is, the N9 looks great. It appears smooth, well-designed and intuitive, and there's the problem.
Who are Nokia's customers right now? Mostly Nokia loyalists, I'd imagine, people who don't care about the OS all that much — otherwise, they'd have left Nokia behind a while ago. Imagine a Nokia loyalist walking into a store and seeing a Symbian phone next to the N9. Bearing in mind that Nokia hasn't delivered its Windows Phones just yet, I'd call it a no-brainer.
The N9 offers the most important apps — yes, it has nowhere near the ecosystem of its rivals, but Nokia's video ad shows it has Twitter and apps of that ilk, which is all some people may want (stay with me here; I'm playing devil's advocate) — in an attractive package. It certainly looks a million times more usable than Symbian, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some of the UI design elements reappearing in Nokia's implementation of Windows Phone.
What is more, ignoring the handset's OS name might work in favour of actually selling the thing — don't start that conversation in the first place, and you stay out of the fight with Android and iPhone, to some extent.
So, depending on the price and Nokia's will, there is a vague chance that the N9 might take off. If that happens, it would utterly undermine the Microsoft tie-in. If nothing else, Nokia will have to get its first Windows Phone out as close as possible to the release of the N9.
I've asked Nokia whether the company intends to throw its full promotional weight behind the N9. I'm intrigued to hear the reply.
UPDATE (Wednesday): "There is no particular reason why it wasn't in the press release," a Nokia spokesperson has just told me, adding that MeeGo is mentioned on the N9 data sheet and the company will be "fully supporting" the handset. I'll leave analysis of that information up to you, good reader.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSZssHGR-Qg Nokia N9 UI demo, also without a single mention of MeeGo